The meatballs are back at La Dolce Vita, situated just so on top of white tablecloths at the signature Frank Sinatra booth. Things are how they’ve always been at this Beverly Hills staple, which has been cooking up classic red sauce Italian dishes and pouring wine since 1966 — or at least that’s what owners Marc Rose and Med Abrous want LA to think. In truth the Call Mom hospitality group (Genghis Cohen, the Spare Room) has done a lot of work under the hood at this LA institution since taking over last year, starting with a new chef and focused menu that highlights the best of LA today while maintaining the comforting foods of 50-plus years ago.
“It was important to have a through-line to the menu to what this place was,” says Abrous. “We needed to achieve that familiarity.” For many Beverly Hills residents, La Dolce Vita is familiar, indeed. The restaurant has been a stalwart dinner spot since the days of Tom Ford and Sinatra himself, and keeping those low-lit design touches and big, saucy flavors was the most important part of the redesign process. “It takes restraint,” says Rose. “These types of restaurants are our inspiration. We want to understand the art of being a maître d’, the art of old-school hospitality, and to introduce that to a whole new generation of diners.” The legendary Christos Kalabogias of Tower Bar and San Vicente Bungalows fame is on to lead the dining room for precisely that hospitality purpose.
To execute that vision on the culinary side Abrous and Rose brought on chef Nick Russo (Ink, Nightshade) to run the tiny kitchen, turning out said spaghetti and meatballs as well as chopped salads, tuna tartare, and one seriously sturdy veal parmesan. “I think the menu is reflective of classic red sauce Italian places,” says Abrous, “or classic ‘fine dining.’ Nothing is tweezer plated.” Michael Toscano will oversee the stiff classic cocktail list, including a housemade limoncello and a few other surprise details for diners.
“Everyone who sits down is going to be greeted with a complimentary tipple,” says Rose. “We were inspired by places like Ma Maison, where everyone used to walk in and get a kir royale. We want people, when they come through the door, to let themselves go.”
It’ll be easy enough to do at the windowless restaurant. Time fades away inside burgundy leather booths, beneath bolted plaques that tick off the names of famous past patrons. Victoria Gillet (We are Dada) helped to oversee the extensive renovation, including retro looks like a cheetah-printed carpet and refurbished Italian chairs from nearly 50 years ago. Even the staff will fit the bill, outfitted in Denis Frison-designed uniforms.
“That pomp and circumstance, those steps that it takes to create an experience,” says Abrous, “we take that very seriously.”
“We know where we are,” adds Rose. “This is the most famous zip code on the planet. We want to embrace that.” They’ve done just that with the redo, pulling diners in with both arms for a night close quarters, veal parm, and cocktails. It’s a welcome back for the meatballs and for La Dolce Vita as an idea, the kind of place that, if done right, will always feel timelessly chic.
“This has been here since ’66,” says Rose. “We would really be messing it up if it wasn’t here for another 50 years.”
La Dolce Vita reopens on Friday, March 24 at 9785 S. Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hils, CA 90210. The restaurant keeps hours from Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.