Dolce Vita

Rating: ?

Where: 2401 Colony Crossing Place, Midlothian

Phone: Phone: (804) 639-7411

  Smoking: Non-smoking inside; smoking allowed on outdoor patio

Hours: Hours: 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday

Entr?e prices: $5.95-$15.25

Check for two: $62 (including shared appetizer, two entrees, shared dessert, alcohol, tax and gratuity)

“Dolce vita” technically means “the sweet life,” but depending on when you dine at Midlothian’s newest place for “pizza, pasta and a whole lot more,” you could leave on a sour note.

A glowing neon oasis at the end of Powhite Parkway, Dolce Vita has been packing them in since its spring debut. The extensive menu includes Italian must-haves, such as eggplant Parmesan ($8.50) and chicken Alfredo ($10.95), a large variety of subs ($5.95-$6.95) and specialty pizzas ($9.70-$15.25).

Even the children’s menu ($4.25) can satisfy the pickiest of tots with options such as a bambini burger and spaghetti and meatballs.

What’s not to love?

Not much except for the rapid transition from well-oiled machine to “are we still open?” as the clock ticks past 8 p.m.

Dolce Vita is Olive Garden without the Olive Garden. By that, I mean it has the universal appeal that keeps the place packed but thankfully lacks the chain’s manufactured charm.

Rather than screaming “I’m an Italian restaurant!” with grape vines and faux stucco at every turn, Dolce Vita’s d?cor is humble. Beige walls, roomy booths and a smattering of crooked landscape prints create a comfortable environment perfect for large parties.

When tables are filled, a marching band of servers and food runners zip around with bottomless drink refills and trays piled high with tomato-sauced plates. However, when the crowds become more manageable, service becomes less acceptable.

A recent Friday found us waiting up front on comfy benches as a steady stream of take-out pizzas passed by. Having had ample time with the menu, we were ready when our waitress was tableside before we could remove our coats.

Drinks include a basic wine list ($4.50-$7 glass; $20-$88 bottle) and beer’s usual suspects.

Starting with the Dolce Vita Sampler ($7.25), we were pleased to find substitutions easily accommodated. Instead of onion rings, we tried bruschetta alongside toasted ravioli and fried calamari.

The ravioli, crisp and full of molten cheese, was complemented by sweet tomato sauce. The calamari was a surprising delight. Delicately breaded rings and tentacles were tender and well seasoned, needing only a squeeze of lemon.

Topped with fresh basil, green and black olives and diced tomatoes, the bruschetta had an interesting brininess, but the soft bread couldn’t withstand the excessive olive oil bath.

Our waitress was quick to recommend the baked pastas and veal entrees, so we tried meat lasagna ($8.50) and veal limone ($11.95). After orders were placed, however, her enthusiasm and attentiveness dwindled, leaving us with a lengthy wait.

Despite arriving at a volcanic temperature, the lasagna was pleasantly mild. Sweet ricotta and chunky meat sauce bubbling beneath browned mozzarella, it was a cut-to-the-chase stomach filler at its finest.

Like calamari, veal is something many restaurants frequently overcook. However, Dolce Vita’s generously sized medallions were tender. The lemon butter sauce was refreshing, not greasy, but overwhelmed by an obscene mountain of mushrooms.

As parties left, service went sour. Our waitress vacuumed around diners as we watched drama unfold in the open kitchen. Food runners argued a little too loudly with cooks as entrees solidified under heat lamps.

Some time after ordering dessert from our check-toting waitress, a bouncy assistant appeared with tiramisu ($4.25). Thin sponge cake layers were soaked in a decent amount of espresso. The cocoa-dusted mascarpone top was appropriately rich, but we had difficulty tasting liqueur.

We left as remaining diners appeared embroiled in the same attentiveness drop-off we experienced. Their bulging bellies said “satisfaction” but their ticking watches disagreed.

Dolce Vita offers no-surprises Italian cuisine for a wide-ranging audience. I might return for another taste of calamari, but I’ll be sure to arrive early in the evening. Then again, those take-out pizzas looked pretty tempting.

Freelance writer and graphic designer Dana Craig considers dessert the most important food group. The Times-Dispatch pays for the meals on her unannounced visits to restaurants. Contact her at [email protected].