Trattoria Dolce Vita

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.

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 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.

Ambience: 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.

What Worked

  • Fresh gnocchi in pink vodka sauce
  • Pear ravioli – a delicate sweet-salty balance of ricotta and fruit stuffed in light pasta squares and blanketed with a truffle-infused Gorgonzola sauce
  • An 8-ounce top sirloin served with a cabernet demi-glace, skin-on smashed potatoes and mixed greens
  • A salad-plate-sized portobello mushroom stuffed with artichoke truffle mousse, Parmesan and pomodoro sauce
  • Creamy, house-made burrata with fresh tomato slices, salty prosciutto and peppery arugula dressed with a vinaigrette of garlic, basil, oil and lemon and heaped onto grilled ciabatta wedges
  • A perfectly pan-seared red snapper fillet with a lemony piccata sauce that melted in the mouth
  • A rich, creamy and smoky champagne risotto topped with grilled squid
  • Morillo’s tiramisu served with a raspberry coulis and toasted almonds

What’d Didn’t Work

  • An overly sweet bolognese sauce (served on a night when Morillo was absent)