One year ago, LDV Hospitality, the team behind over twenty restaurants and bars including Rec Room and Regent Cocktail Club, opened up Dolce Italian at The Gale Hotel in South Beach. In the following interview with Eater, John Meadow, co-founder of LDV, reflects on the madness that was Dolce's opening day, the restaurant's first year, how proud he is that Dolce's become "a part of the fabric of the local community," and what's in store for the future - Get ready Downtown Miami, a whole lot of things are coming for you. Here's what John had to say:
How did you guys come up with the concept for Dolce?
Dolce … the concept of Dolce was to do –if you look at all the beach clubs on the Italian coast- you have this very kind of classic, elegant, yet whimsical, communal certain sensibility in the Italian beach club world. And practically, the notion of doing a truly authentic Italian menu, olive oil based, not this new American butter approach to Italian cuisine – a clean contemporary take on the classics. We feel that that was appropriate for the Miami Beach concept. In terms of design concept, again, it's to take this kind of simple, charmed, nostalgic, beach culture and make it relevant for 2014 in Miami. What was fun about Dolce is that it's an Italian concept that we developed specific for Miami as opposed to just trying to plug and play and force another brand extension.
Do you remember what opening day was like?
So, we did a dinner last year in a pre-opening phase one night, I think it was like November 30, one night prior to Art Basel starting. Literally the kitchen was turned over to us I want to say a Thursday at noon and we did a dinner for 100 people that Friday night. It was the fastest turn-around we've ever had and thankfully we have a fantastic team that was able to pull through it led by our chef, Paolo Dorigato. That was a nail-biting, crazed experience.
How was the restaurant initially received?
I think really well. I think people were very impressed and surprised by the cuisine. Chef Paolo is … the notion of doing authentic Italian cuisine with minimal, modified interpretation, I think it takes an Italian chef and I think Paolo brings fantastic technique. He's had great experience working with Le Cirque, but ultimately he's doing the classic Italian cuisine that he grew up with and I think people were very pleasantly surprised with the menu. It reads very approachably, yet it's done at a very high level. Fundamentally, it's Italian cuisine about taking quality, seasonal ingredients and treating them with a great reverence as opposed to overly trying to manipulate them, which is, effectively, the core of Italian cuisine – Paolo gets that and I think he's been extremely well-received in the process.
Overall, how was the first year?
The first year was – It's been a fantastic experience at Dolce. The Gale as a whole with Dolce, Rec Room and Regent, we have so much activity there and it literally just opened with this big boom and day one it was just cranking. So it's exciting and at the same time just crazy because there's so much happening in that building. And it was kind of nice to get to September-October when we finally got to breathe a little, kind of recalibrate, we've done certain tweaks to the menu and it was kind of a crazed year-long opening. There was no easing into it, it was crazy from day one and I think now, finally, we're comfy breathing and doing what we do, it all becomes a lot more fluid.
What were some of the challenges that you faced this past year?
We have never done a restaurant and a nightclub side by side like Rec Room and Dolce, so those worlds coming together has been an interesting experience for us. In the end it's working because it gives this whole other character to the restaurant and makes it this fun, later night scene that's I think somewhat unique to what Dolce would be if Dolce was just on its own, separate from The Gale. Nonetheless, all these moving parts, Regent, Rec Room, Dolce, all functioning together – more from an operation standpoint I think – was certainly challenging. At the same time, it makes the whole thing because it turns The Gale openly into this fantastic food and beverage funhouse and you can start your night at Dolce at 9p.m., have a full dinner and then go to Regent and then go down to Rec Room and you never have to leave, which is ultimately why we did the project in the first place.
Finding the right pizza team was also challenging. The pizza is such a critical component of the concept itself, just being the ultimate kind of comfort food and to do authentic Neapolitan-style pizza … it was challenging to find those that got it, but ultimately we got there. And the pizza's my favorite thing on that whole menu, so we're very happy.
What, if anything, has changed over the year?
We started with … Italian cuisine to me, it's not about haute-cuisine, it's not about super unique culinary technique, it's about paying homage to the classics. I like simple, quality Italian food and so do our customers, but we found when we did stuff like the truffle tastings and the higher-end wine pairings that ultimately, it wasn't as basic as just spaghetti pomodoro and branzino. For me, in that beach environment when we were developing the menu and the core identity for Dolce, it was supposed to be this very carefree approachable thing and we found that our customer base, every time we would do this kind of higher-end tweaks, it was very well-received. So we still have something as classic and simple as spaghetti pomodoro, but we added other menu items and overall, we've slightly elevated the menu so as to reflect what our guests have been asking. But we'll never get rid of the pizza.
What has been Dolce's biggest success so far?
Biggest success… Again, look, we are a New York-based company and we've always been active in Miami. Miami is a market that our biggest concern was to be perceived as a generic hotel restaurant and I think we're most proud that we became a part of the local community and any night of the week, whether it's hanging out on a relaxed Sunday or rocking out on a Saturday, we're getting the same, repeat customers and Dolce is a Miami restaurant. Regent is a Miami bar and Rec Room is a Miami club and it doesn't feel like this generic, Collins Ave. hotel amenity, it's a part of the fabric of the local community. And that was our objective with this project, to give us more of a tangible, Miami base. Miami is practically a second home to us. We're expanding the company in a lot of different markets, but Miami .. we're doing a lot more in Downtown, Miami going forward. That was the biggest goal to be met, for Dolce to be received, respected and to become a part of this local fabric of a social dining community and that's happened and we're very proud of that and we're very grateful for that.
To celebrate turning one, Dolce launched some new menu items, what are some of your favorites?
So, my favorite one is the lemon risotto, which is relatively simple, but absolutely spectacular with the gulf shrimp. The beef carpaccio pizza is – we have 24 restaurants total now, across the company and for me, my single favorite dish out of all the restaurants is Dolce's beef carpaccio pizza. There's a lof of other items, but those are my favorite two additions.
Does it feel like it's been a year?
It does feel like it's been a year. It's gone fast, but it's been a year. What's interesting about Miami is that its phenomenal that August is a busy month now and 10 years ago it wasn't, but to get to know the various changing seasons and so on and so forth comes with certain change and kind of stretches out a year because the restaurant itself has a sort of "morph with the seasons" that doesn't happen as much in other markets and, therefore has required some work. It was such an electric opening that it was just go so fast, it was fast from the beginning. So, it went very fast, but there was a lot of work so it feels like a year. It is what it is.
What's in store for the future at Dolce or aside from Dolce?
We're doing four projects in Downtown. We really do believe in Downtown Miami for some of our other brands we're looking to grow. In store for Dolce, we're excited for this new menu and I think we just keep doing what we're doing.
· All Coverage of Dolce on Eater [EMIA]