Life is sweet when dining at Dolce Pane E Vino in Rancho Santa Fe

Hamachi: Sushi-grade fish with capers, shallots, ginger, citrus, pasilla aoli, and Okinawa potato chips. Photos by Daniel K. Lew
Hamachi: Sushi-grade fish with capers, shallots, ginger, citrus, pasilla aoli, and Okinawa potato chips. Photos by Daniel K. Lew

By Daniel K. Lew

There are plenty of wine bars and fine-dining establishments in the area, but Dolce Pane E Vino merges those concepts as a wine bar, restaurant and cheese/wine shop all-in-one. Dolce, which means "sweet" in Italian, aims to provide its guests with an overall sweet experience in wine, cuisine and service, said owner Anthony Smith.

Dolce is the first restaurant for Smith, a management consultant and co-founder of the Leadership Research Institute in Rancho Santa Fe, but he said he has "always had a passion to create a warm and whimsical environment where you can enjoy wine and wonderful food."

Opened in 2010, Dolce has been discovered by locals, many of whom visit a few times a week. Smith said he is proud Dolce has already become like a "Cheers" bar, where everyone knows your name — with friendships formed among customers and employees. "What I am most proud of is the staff, from the kitchen staff to everyone in both the back and front of the house," said Smith, who added he is fortunate to have "sweet, lovely people with a friendly vibe and passion for serving customers."

Dolce appeals to anyone looking for Italian-inspired California cuisine served in an area with artisan furnishings, glass-blown lighting; and communal, custom-carved wood tables. "I really wanted this place to feel like a living room, like you’re coming over to my house, instead of a restaurant," said Smith, who intentionally hired a home builder to help with some of the design.

The open-view kitchen also adds to the comfortable setting, especially with a large, wood-and-brick-fire oven as the primary cooking source. The unconventional kitchen does not have any burners or standard ovens. The kitchen staff, headed by chefs Jon Weimann and Jonny Fussell, have developed a knack for the intricacies of using a single oven to dish out a variety of dishes: flatbread pizzas, panini sandwiches, roasted vegetables, and many choices for small plates or big-plate entrees.

The chefs also follow a "farm to table" philosophy of getting much of its ingredients from local sources, including the much-lauded Chino Farm only minutes away. Flatbreads, made with hand-stretched dough and topped with a variety of ingredients, are the most popular. The bestseller is a Salumi Flatbread with sausage, bacon, crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese.

Carlsbad Mussels (locally farmed with herbed tomato broth and crostini) and Hamachi (sushi-grade fish with capers, shallots, ginger, citrus, pasilla aoli, and Okinawa potato chips) are the signature small plates.

Dolce's usage of a 700-degree oven to prepare entrees makes dishes like its Cedar Plank Scottish Salmon (with charred asparagus, lemon, and saba) and Half-Chicken Roasted Under Brick (with roasted potatoes, haricot vert, fried farm egg, and chicken reduction) result in a unique take on traditional entrees. The high heat produces a crispy texture on the outside of meats while sealing in the juices inside, along with smoky flavor from the oven's mesquite and pecan woods.

"We keep the dishes simple and let the fresh ingredients speak for themselves," said Steven Flowers, general manager and sommelier.

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