I love January. I think it’s due in part to the fact that by about Jan. 2 or 3, the holidays are mostly a memory. I am no Scrooge, but from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s Eve, I spend about as much time stressed out as I do celebrating. There’s a break in January where the weather’s still nice and the next big holiday is a month and a half away, and I feel like I can take a deep breath – at least until Carnival starts ramping up. All bets are off then.
I guess it’s passé to refer to things in a pre- or post-Katrina context, but at the moment I’m listening to Steely Dan and wearing a jacket that was made during the Eisenhower administration, so I’m clearly already passé.
Anyway, one of the best trends we’ve seen in the last eight years is the growth of casual restaurants that take food seriously, and there’s really no better example of the movement than pizza joints. Restaurants such as Ancora, Domenica, Amici and more recently Dolce Vita Wood Fired Pizzeria (1205 St. Charles Ave.) are putting out pies cooked at super-high temperatures with thoughtful toppings that don’t overwhelm the crust, which is where the focus of real pizza should be.
Chef Bogdan Moceanu is a native of Romania, but he cooks Italian food, and more specifically pizza, in an oven hand-built in Napoli. The menu isn’t expansive – a few pies, a couple of pastas and salads and a few specials are your choices, but when everything is executed properly, that’s all you need. Most of the tables in the Spartan dining room are communal, and that’s entirely appropriate for a pizzeria.
The focus – apart from a few televisions hung in strategic locations on the wall – is on chef Bogdan and his bright red pizza oven. It is a beautiful object capable of cooking a thin-crust pizza in 90 seconds. As I suggested above, the true measure of a pizza is the crust, and you won’t be disappointed at Dolce Vita; at least as long as you’re a right-thinking person and recognize that pizza crust should be thin, somewhat charred and flavorful.
You won’t go wrong with the basics at Dolce Vita, but look for specials like roasted chicken with olives, feta, spinach and lemon-basil vinaigrette, or Tin Roof-braised brisket. Pasta specials run the gamut from porcini-vegetable risotto to hand-made tagliatelle with bolognese sauce.
Dolce Vita is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays. You can reach them by calling 324-7674.
Kingfish opened earlier this year and at the time I recall talking to folks there about their plans for the adjacent space. Those plans – to open a casual deli-style spot focused on take-out, have been realized. The new location is called Counter (335 Chartres St.), and it offers salads, sandwiches and soups designed for take-out as well as dining at one of the 20 or so seats in the relatively small shop. Look for a version of the muffuletta that goes by the decidedly un-PC “Doo Woppalata,” which features capicola, salami, mortadella, provolone and olive salad on a traditional sesame-seed bun; and the D.A.T. features coffee-cured duck bacon, arugula, tomato and aioli on rye. There is a bloody mary bar with a ton of options for individual customization, too.
Counter is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can reach them by calling 587-0908.
District Donuts Sliders Brew
True to its name, the offerings at District Donuts Sliders Brew (2209 Magazine St.) are donuts, mini-burgers and coffee. If that sounds mundane, you should check the place out. Because while they do have the basics in each category, you’ll find the most joy in the specials. They do two or three slider specials in addition to the cheeseburger, fried chicken and veggie options always on the menu; on a recent trip I tried a fried oyster with pork crackling and a tarragon aioli-slaw that was outstanding, and another featuring roasted pork belly with an anise-mustard and pickled red onion that was good, if not quite up to the standard set by the fried oyster. There is a veggie slider on the menu that’s served with locally produced tofu and wrapped in lettuce in place of a bun.
They go further with donuts. They start baking early in the morning to have donuts available at the 7 a.m. open, and start the last batch around 7 p.m. They can’t make more than 10 dozen in a batch, meaning it’s an ongoing process.
Like just about everything else in the place, the glazes, fillings and other garnishes on the donuts are almost all made in-house. There are usually eight to 10 different donuts in the small display case at any one time, but the selection changes throughout the day.
The brew end of the equation isn’t exactly ignored, either; they feature coffee from a roasting outfit in Athens, Ga., called 1000 Faces Coffee, and have a host of coffee and coffee-related beverages on tap.
District is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the week and until 10 p.m. on the weekend. Call 570-6945 to find out more.