Walking into the Italian supper club La Dolce Vita in Beverly Hills, my friends and I felt as if we stepped back in time. The restaurant was opened in 1966 by former Villa Capri waiters Jimmy Ullo and George Smith. Investors included Frank Sinatra and movie star George Raft who were looking to dine at a traditional New York style Italian restaurant. Off the beaten track on Little Santa Monica Blvd, this location didn’t attract as much attention from photographers as did other celebrity dining destinations during the 1960s.
The interior looks like a movie set. It was designed by five-time Academy Award winner Lyle Wheeler, the premier set designer of 20th Century-Fox Studios.
We sat in “The Reagans” red leather booth and my friend regaled us with illustrious stories about loyal patrons, Frank and Barbara Sinatra. One night, Sinatra gave each server $100, after learning the wait staff was a little disappointed with the guests’ tips. Another time he gave one of the dishwashers his gold watch. One of Sinatra’s favorite staff members was Ruben Castro, the maitre d’ for over 40 years. One evening in the 1980s, Frank and Barbara pulled up to the restaurant in a Jaguar, and the paparazzi were in full force. Castro offered to drive the couple home after their dinner in his own 1960s Pontiac to throw off the photographers. Sinatra was so appreciative that he wanted to give Castro a Rolls Royce, but Castro politely declined.
I recognized my colleague, and legendary restaurant reviewer Jay Weston, sitting in the dining room. As he left his booth, he stopped by our table and told us he dined with Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. in the Sinatra booth 50 years ago.
Celebrity stories aside, we settled in for a traditional Italian dinner. General Manager Katie McInerney. She recommended a glass of white Anaba to pair with the creamy mushroom risotto with shaved black truffles. “It stylistically is a true chardonnay, rich with an essence of clove, vanilla and buttery on the nose. It’s refined and restrained,” she said.
The bartenders shake up classic cocktails and update the drinks with farm-to-bar ingredients. One of my favorites is the Aviation made with Plymouth gin, lemon, luxardo maraschino liqueur and crème de violette. The Aviation cocktail was originally created by Hugo Ensslin, head bartender at the Hotel Wallick in New York City in 1911. This cocktail has a purple glow.
Many staff members have been at La Dolce Vita for quite some time, like our waiter Jose who has been there for 20 years. “I’m a newbie, compared to some that have been here 35 and 40 years,” he said.
The large menu in an old-school leather folder offers classic dishes like pasta, scampi, veal, steak and chops. The sand dabs remain on the menu in honor of Nancy Reagan. A few new items include uni and crab Alfredo, Chilean sea bass and pastas made from scratch. The Caesar salad is infused with garlic, lemon juice and parmesan cheese that gives it a zip with each bite.
We enjoyed the shrimp Fra Diabolo served with angel hair pasta. The name means “brother devil” or “spicy” in Italian. These shrimp pack a slight heat kick and are delicious.
For entrées, we ordered the signature chicken parmesan and the signature steak Sinatra. It was the crooner’s favorite. On the plate was a prime 8oz. filet mignon with sautéed peppers and a flavorful, burgundy colored Chianti demi-glace sauce. The chicken parm was delizioso!
Be sure not to skip the tiramisu at La Dolce Vita – it is one of the best in Los Angeles and the perfect ending to our meal.
The restaurant is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Throughout the year, owner Alessandro Uzielli is offering exclusive celebratory events. La Dolce Vita was recently named one of the best Italian restaurants in Beverly Hills.
$$$ The restaurant is open for dinner Sunday-Thursday from 5–10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday from 5–11 p.m. 9785 Santa Monica Blvd. (310)278-1845.
This article was published in the June 23, 2016 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News – http://beverlypress.com/2016/06/la-dolce-vita-new-york-style-supper-club/.