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Normally my column consists of a review of a restaurant and overviews of restaurants serving similar cuisine. But, when a restaurant wins the title of “Best New Restaurant” in a nationwide competition, I think it’s earned the right to stand in the spotlight all alone.

Last spring Bravo aired a series in which 16 restaurants competed for the title “Best New Restaurant.” In a series of tests, each restaurant was judged on both food and service as an all-around experience. In the end, South Beach's Dolce Italian faced off against New York City's L'Apicio and emerged victorious.

John Meadow, owner of LDV, which operates Dolce Italian said, "What was so special about the premise of the show is that, unlike the vast majority of television shows and media awareness centered solely around the chefs of restaurants, “Best New Restaurant” showcases the human reality that the restaurant business really is a group effort. We couldn't be more proud of our team.”

I decided to give Dolce a little time to bask in the glory of the win (and for all the hubbub to die down) before trekking down to South Beach to check it out. When we first arrived, there was a little bit of confusion about our reservation, and I thought it didn’t bode well. However, the staff couldn’t have been nicer and we ended up being seated quickly. It was time to settle in and see if Dolce lived up to its title.

Not only does Dolce deserve the title, but it far exceeded my expectations. A lot of that is due to our personable and efficient waiter Ennio. For many European waiters, service is not a job, it is a profession. In Ennio’s case, it is a calling. I have never felt more pampered, even in restaurants costing five times as much.

That’s another surprise about Dolce. Given its location, the high level of service and impeccable décor and furnishings, you’d think that you’d be paying a lot more. By ordering wisely, you can easily enjoy a three-course meal with a glass of wine for around $50. Now, that’s not a cheap meal, but it is a bargain given the quality of the food and service.

For our first course, my hubby raved about his corn and crab soup. I tasted it and it was delicious, but even it paled in comparison with my choice, grilled octopus. Octopus is a true test of the chef’s talent. Cook it a few seconds too long and it is rubbery. At Dolce they poach the octopus the night before and let it rest overnight, then they grill it to order. This results in flesh that is as soft as a marshmallow and bursting with flavor. It is served on a bed of chickpeas and farro, then splashed with pistachio vinaigrette. It is quite simply the best preparation of this dish that I’ve ever experienced. Even if you don’t think you’d like octopus, I urge you to try this. You’ll be hooked (and spoiled-you’ll never get it prepared as well anywhere else).

We decided to split a salad and a pasta dish for two separate courses. The Caprese salad is a house specialty, and it is a delight. House-made mozzarella fairly oozes onto tasty heirloom tomatoes and basil, then splashed with an aged balsamic syrup and olive oil. We also split the lobster ravioli, which proved to be the sole disappointment of the night. The sauce was delightful and featured sizeable pieces of lobster meat along with shitake mushrooms, but the pasta filling was bland and the pasta itself was thick and chewy; more like a pierogi than a raviolo.

Our entrees restored the luster of Dolce. My husband’s pan seared Skuna Bay salmon was perfectly prepared. It was accompanied by roasted fennel, asparagus and olives. My veal Milanese, presented as an entire butterflied bone-in chop, had a perfectly crisp exterior, which encased buttery soft flesh. Either entrée could have easily been split by all but those with the heartiest appetites.

The selection of wines by the glass is small, but very well chosen (though a tad high-priced.) However, many full bottles are very reasonably priced, so if you’re going to have more than two glasses at the table, order a bottle. The desserts were quite nice, but neither the tira misu nor the gelato blew us away. To be fair, it may well be that we were sated and only ordered dessert so I could report back to you. Oh, how I sacrifice for my readers!

If you want to save even more money, stop by for lunch where all entrees sandwiches and pizzas are less than $20 or check out the happy hour offerings; a number of wines are available for $8 a glass, cocktail are the same price and draft beer is $4. Appetizers are also $8 and include; broccoli rabe with sausage, frito misto, meatballs on polenta, tuna tartare and gnocchi with tomato sauce.

Dolce Italian
1690 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach