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Restaurant Review: Dolce

Rancho Santa Fe’s Dolce serves some of the finest dishes with a single oven and a lot of skill

Fettucine and Clams, white wine & pesto sauce
Image Credits Photography by Vincent Knakal

We live in a day and age where, thanks to the likes of KitchenAid, Cuisinart, and Instant Pot, almost every form of modern cookery is available to home cooks. Fryers (oil or air), smokers (indoor or outdoor), immersion circulators (sous vide, anyone?) — they’re all just a click and an Amazon checkout away for any domestic gastronome. Meanwhile, the kitchen team at Dolce, one of Rancho Santa Fe’s busiest restaurants, has none of the above, nor is there even a stovetop upon which to set a standard stock pot. Not that one would know it from the quality dishes they’re putting out.

Take a peek into the intimate kitchen at Dolce and you’ll see but a singular mode of heating: a high-temp wood-fired oven. A tricky vessel, it requires strategic positioning and well-orchestrated shifting to keep from overcooking (or incinerating) the items going in. It’s not something one picks up in culinary school. Knowledge of the ins, outs, and in-betweens of this red-hot receptacle can only be gained through trial, error, and lots of time. That degree of difficulty tacks added allure to the already impressive achievements of Dolce’s back-of-house squad.

Dolce’s Tuna Tartare, mango salsa, salmon roe, chipotle aioli
Dolce’s Tuna Tartare, mango salsa, salmon roe, chipotle aioli

As would be expected from an Italian concept, layered slabs of lasagna and pastas — four-cheese mac, shrimp fettuccine in white wine sauce, penne with spicy ’nduja sausage and peppers, spaghetti with pomodoro or Bolognese — are warmed by the oven’s flame. The pizza oven also fulfills its intended purpose, putting out a septet of thin, crispy flatbreads ranging from meaty varieties (braised short rib, sausage salumi with bacon) to vegetarian (Margherita, Bianca with garlic cream sauce). Inside tip: eat like a regular and add a fried egg to your ’za.

Six-ounce filet mignon and a daily butcher’s cut make their way into the mix as well. Prime beef is no stranger to high heat, but the same can’t be said for salmon and chicken, both of which are accustomed to milder oven temps. No matter, plump salmon filets are served with a brilliant crust giving way to flake-apart fish sweetened by a dip in saba (a condiment made from Italian wine grapes). And somehow, half chickens and skewered dark meat emerge from the oven charred on the edges yet juicy as the day is long, making for something that can’t be replicated at home. Another tip (for more formidable palates): a house blend of sriracha, chili powder, garlic, and cayenne pepper renders both chicken dishes “angry,” lending a clean, substantial heat of an entirely different kind.

Dolce’s Caprese and Mushroom & Spinach Flatbread
Dolce’s Caprese and Mushroom & Spinach Flatbread

A pair of desserts — a brownie (served with vanilla ice cream) and cherry bread pudding — arrive on white linen sporting deep, crunchy crusts belying soft centers. It’s a texturally rich juxtaposition that’s positively delightful.

The oven’s where it’s at, but don’t sleep on room-temperature items. A cheese and charcuterie board featuring cured ham, wild boar, brie, wine-rind goat’s cheese, espresso-rubbed cow’s milk cheese, honeycomb, quince paste, and more is a tasty mix-and-match adventure for the entire table. Meanwhile, standard salads are given twists. Iceberg is switched out for Bibb lettuce in a would-be wedge with candied bacon and a sparingly drizzled, light crème fraîche dressing that’s the antidote to the sometimes gloppy standard. And a beet and goat cheese salad is lifted from earthy-only territory by orange and grapefruit supremes.

Standing L-R: Leo Olivarez, Hector Ramirez, Raul Rosas, Johnathan Rios; Seated L-R: Jose Mendoza, Chef Emerson Rosales, Sous Chef Omid Karimi
Standing L-R: Leo Olivarez, Hector Ramirez, Raul Rosas, Johnathan Rios; Seated L-R: Jose Mendoza, Chef Emerson Rosales, Sous Chef Omid Karimi

The deftness and ingenuity of Dolce’s kitchen team take what could be a shortcoming and use it to their guests’ advantage, creating recipes that work in their workspace. Though not unique at their core, the resultant dishes are unlike what diners are likely to find elsewhere, making this a classic go-to eatery. 858.832.1518, dolcersf.com

Golden Forks

Service 5
Timeliness 5
Ambience 4
Culinary Innovation 4
Food Quality 4
Wine List 4
Craft Cocktail Program 3
Craft Beer List 3
Value 4


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