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How to impress a restaurant guest who’s not easily impressed

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Recently, my brother contacted me to say that he and his wife were coming up from their home in North Carolina for a visit. We decided that the four of us would spend a few days at the beach towns in the area around Belmar N.J. We had a great time.

Liz was talking with a friend of ours about our upcoming escape to the shore. She told Liz that we had to try La Dolce Vita on Ocean Avenue in Belmar. They had visited this restaurant a few weeks earlier and really enjoyed it. I decided to make a reservation for the four of us.

When we arrived at the restaurant, it was a Tuesday evening and the restaurant was extremely busy. I took this as a sign that they must be doing something right. Keep in mind that this was the first time I ever tried this restaurant.

After a short wait, we were greeted by a hostess who immediately made us feel like she was genuinely happy to have us there. Another good sign. We were seated in the roomy dining room.

We looked through the menu to fi nd several dishes I would like to try. Our waiter, Michael, had been doing the usual pre-sets of water, bread, and dipping tapenade. He asked for our beverage order. I opted for a Chianti Classico Riserva. We were sitting near La Dolce Vita’s extensive wine room that was enclosed in glass to allow viewing of the racks. I was impressed.

At this point, a couple of things happened. Our waiter was fun, personable, and a perfect balance of informal, friendly, and fully knowledgeable about the menu. My brother and I asked about the bone-in veal chop parmesan. Michael’s response was “It’s great! I hope you are hungry because it’s big.” My brother and I both ordered it. Liz said that she wasn’t really hungry. She decided to order the meatball from the appetizers with a small side of rigatoni. Michael responded by telling Liz that she had made a good choice. Another special feature of this restaurant is all their pasta is made in-house. My brother’s wife ordered the chicken parmesan with pasta.

The next thing that happened was the food was delivered to the table. Liz’s meatball appetizer was gigantic. It came with what looked to be a pint of freshly made ricotta and a not-so-small side of their rigatoni with Sunday gravy. Her eyes popped open and her jaw dropped when she saw this monster appetizer. All of us had to taste this enormous meatball. It was perfectly prepared, juicy, and delicious. The chicken parmesan was placed in front of my sister-in-law. It was picture perfect. Our veal chops arrived. We were astounded at how large the chops were – a good half-inch thick, expertly pan fried so the breading remained crisp while the meat was tender and juicy, and fi nished with their Sunday gravy and house-made mozzarella.

Just for perspective, I am by no means a small guy. The veal chop was larger than both my hands together. This was accompanied by their freshly made rigatoni with one of the best bolognaise sauces I ever tasted.

The dessert menu was presented. Although we were full, we could not resist trying a piece of their tiramisu. We were well trained at this point. So, we only ordered one piece to share. That was more than enough for all of us to enjoy. The dessert and the espresso were every bit as good as the rest of the meal.

Being a restaurant guy, there were nuances that I noticed about the operation and the service. Michael, our waiter, readily engaged in conversation when we included him. During the service, he remained available when needed while never being intrusive. This for me was the perfect balance of service. I was also impressed to see that there was a well-dressed gentleman regularly passing through the restaurant. He was obviously keeping a close eye on every aspect of the operation. We later discovered and met him. It turned out that he was the owner of La Dolce Vita. He stopped by our table to check in. Then prior to us leaving, he shook each of our hands and warmly thanked us for visiting his restaurant. I complimented him on the experience and his food which he was excited to hear and appreciative of our enjoyment.

As Liz will tell you, I am not easily impressed. But La Dolce Vita gave us a truly memorable experience. We thoroughly enjoyed the food, the atmosphere, and the service. I highly recommend this restaurant if you are ever in that area on the Jersey shore. The prices were on point for the quality and style of the restaurant. Whatever we spent on that evening was well worth the price.

If you discover a restaurant that impresses you beyond normal expectations, let the management know. More importantly, let those that you care about know. That is a win-win formula. I have every intention of making my way back to that area specifically to enjoy this restaurant again. It was a truly memorable experience.

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