With one strip mall after another filled with waxing salons and chain restaurants, West Kendall is a place where a pleasurable dining experience is a particular joy.Trattoria Dolce Vita in the sprawling London Square shopping mall is one such pleasure. Chef-owner Omar Morillo greets you at the door with a kiss on each cheek and a warm “buona sera.” A corkscrew tucked in his back pocket, he’ll seat you at one of the 10 white table-clothed tables, walk you through his carefully crafted menu — and offer to cook to order anything else you might like. The decor conjures Rooms to Go more than Tuscany, and the small wine list has a surprising number of French labels for an Italian restaurant. But from the warm, house-made rolls that start the meal to the complimentary house limoncello at the end, diners feel cosseted by Morillo’s hospitality and love of food. The Italian menu nods at Latin America and Spain with items like an open-face Cuban panini (slow-roasted pork and caramelized onions on house-made ciabatta) and an affordable tapas selection of meats and cheeses. Pastas dominate, but not the heavy lasagne and giant meatballs typical of storefront Italian restaurants. Here there’s fresh gnocchi in pink vodka sauce and pear ravioli, a delicate sweet-salty balance of ricotta and fruit stuffed in light pasta squares and blanketed with a truffle-infused Gorgonzola sauce. Meats include an 8-ounce top sirloin served with a cabernet demi-glace, skin-on smashed potatoes and mixed greens. Plates may be prettily rimmed with chopped fresh parsley, but portions are on a grandmotherly scale. A salad-plate-sized portobello mushroom stuffed with artichoke truffle mousse, Parmesan and pomodoro sauce satisfied four of us as an appetizer. Specials live up to that designation. One night they included creamy, house-made burrata with fresh tomato slices, salty prosciutto and peppery arugula dressed with a vinaigrette of garlic, basil, oil and lemon. Heaped onto grilled ciabatta wedges, the appetizer was as glowing as the sunset over Tamiami Airport across the street. A perfectly pan-seared red snapper fillet with a lemony piccata sauce melted in the mouth. Morillo apologized when a champagne risotto topped with grilled squid came out a few minutes behind the other mains — he’d had to redo his apprentice’s rendition, he explained — but the rich, creamy rice and smoky seafood were worth the wait. From the traditional Italian dessert menu of panna cotta, spumoni and profiteroles, our favorite was Morillo’s tiramisu, minus the heavy coffee flavor and served with a raspberry coulis and toasted almonds. Originally from Venezuela, Morillo, 37, moved to Miami at the age of 12. The Coral Gables High grad bussed tables and worked in the kitchens of restaurants including Norman’s, Caffe Abbracci and Ortanique on the Mile. After studying hospitality management at Florida State University, he said, he trained for three years in Italy, where one chef told him, “Your cooking is horrible, but I like your passion, so I’ll teach you.” He learned well. The only dish that disappointed us was an overly sweet bolognese sauce served on a night when Morillo was absent, so you may want to make sure he’s in the kitchen before booking a table.
If you goPlace: Trattoria Dolce Vita
Address: 13630 SW 120th St., Miami
Rating:★ ★ ★ (Very Good)
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Prices: tapas 3 for $16, appetizers and salads $7.95-$12.95, entrees $13.95-$18.85, dessert $4.50-$6.50
FYI: Wine and beer. In southwest corner of London Square shopping center, across from Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport.