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Dolce: Service with a smile

May 22, 2010|By OMNI VORE
  • Moldavian chicken, filled with potatoes, peppers and tomatoes, is one of the Eastern European specialties of Dolce on Frederick Street.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer,

I found Dolce restaurant in a one-story cinder block building painted in cream and pumpkin about a block south of Potterfield Municipal Pool on Frederick Street. I went in to be sure I had discovered the right place and was immediately embraced in the warmth of Julia's welcome.

"Come in, come in," she said. "Here is some bread for you. And some water. Sit. Eat."

I could not stay then, but my first impression touched my heart and I knew I would return for Julia's Eastern European food.

The Professor also was looking forward to this meal because his ancestry is Central European. We ordered from the part of the menu called "European Dinners." I chose Moldavian chicken ($11.50) and the Professor chose Tochitura Moldoveneasca ($11.99). Other options included cold subs and hot subs, calzones and stromboli, Italian dinners, pizza, grilled meat and seafood, soups and sides, salads and desserts.

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Julia told us she was from Moldavia, which is the eastern region of Romania. The history of this area is painful and the people there still suffer. The television set in the corner reported world hot spots. That stark reality contrasted with the joy that fills this heavenly little restaurant.

Turning from the news, I looked with pleasure on the plate set before me. The salad was fresh, crisp and cold. A glass cup from a punch bowl held the house dressing of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. We spooned it over the lettuce, peppers, red onion, carrots, cucumbers and shaved white cheese. With the salad, Julia served fresh hot bread with garlic and butter.

The one room restaurant seated about 30 people. More and more people came as the evening progressed - families with young children, adult children with aging parents, couples, friends. All were greeted with a hearty hello and welcome from owners Julia or Franco.

From the kitchen came a counterpoint of male and female voices speaking Romanian. To us it sounded like an opera in a foreign language. But Julia and Franco spoke Italian for their elder customers and fluent English for all the local people. The lilt in their voices sounded like my mother-in-law, a cheerful energetic sound. Their voices contrasted with the radio, the TV and the conversation of the customers. The room was filled with sound.

Julia was dressed all in white from the tip of her shoes to the top of her gorgeous chef's hat. She seemed to dance as came from the kitchen and set the main courses before us.

The Moldavian chicken, steaming hot, was a stew of potatoes, chicken, peppers and tomatoes. On top of the stew was a lot of green threads that might have been parsley. When we asked Julia what it was, she was not sure of the English word. The Professor thought it tasted like celery. Julia said it was a green herb that was good for your blood pressure. Friends brought it over the mountain to her, but that she would like to grow it herself. The Professor, loving to learn, took this problem home with him.

But for the moment he was eating the quintessential Moldavian dish, which was hearty, nourishing and delicious.

Essentially, Tochitura Moldoveneasca was a rustic dish of pork and polenta (called mamaliga in Romanian). The Professor prodded each piece to discover its identity. Chicken livers, chunks of pork and a sausage (like Kielbasa) were swimming in a paprika and tomato sauce with an incredible amount of garlic.

In the center of the plate, chunks of feta cheese covered the fried egg, which was on top of the polenta that was formed like a griddle cake. Not for the faint of heart, this dish carried memories of a far away place. And it was very good, indeed. The Professor ate every bit of it.

Then we heard singing from the kitchen. I peeked in. Julia smiled to herself as she put cheese on the pizza, and then slid the pizza into the pizza oven. The next thing we knew Franco was at our table, holding a bowl for us.

"Gogoshi," he said, beaming. "In Italian, zeppoline."

The Professor translated to French, "Beignets!"

"Ahh," I said peeking in the bowl, "Doughnuts."

Hot, fresh, covered with confectioners sugar, this gift was given to everyone in the restaurant and even pressed upon the man who was picking up pizza.

Generosity wins my heart every time I encounter it. This kind gesture made me feel I was being fed by a loving parent. When this authenticity happens, the meal is elevated to a happening, a party, a fiesta. All of us in the restaurant were saying "Thank you. Thank you" in our own languages while Franco and Julia laughed as they called back "You're welcome, You're welcome."

I peeked into the kitchen again. Franco was back in the kitchen, his sunglasses down around his chin.

With a look of intense concentration, he was cutting chunks of dough into diamond hunks and pressing down with his full body weight until little circles were formed and these he placed on a tray to be baked. This was the bread we had been served upon arrival.

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