Coral Gables shoppers wishing to purchase authentic Italian products need not look any further than Lejeune Road, where Bottega La Dolce Vita is located. While it’s been open for more than two years, this hidden gem tucked away in the strip mall where Whisk was formerly located, is easy to miss.
Franco Di Blasi and Joan Bavaresco, both of Italian heritages, opened La Dolce Vita because they weren’t able to find any stores in Miami that carried authentic Italian products. According to Di Blasi, even though there are Italian markets, most of them carry American products with Italian names. Even the Nutella found in local grocery stores, is made in Canada and contains less hazelnut (and more oil) than the Italian version.
“When I have a customer from Italy, or an American who lived in Italy, walk into the store, their face lights up when they see our products,” says Di Blasi, relaying a story of a customer who stopped into the store on the way home from the airport to buy gifts for her friends.
“She didn’t want to lug all the gifts in her suitcases, so she stopped here because she knew we had the products she wanted.” Without the extra luggage fee, the Miami Dining Examiner might add.
Bavaresco is from Venezuela, but his family is from the Piedmont region of Italy. Di Franco, from Sicily, grew up watching his mother and grandmother cooking every weekend.
“I love to cook,” says Di Franco, “Italian, of course and we missed having the Italian products to cook with.”
The big news at La Dolce Vita is that panettone has arrived for the holiday season. This isn’t the panettone you find at Publix (which is actually made in Brazil), but authentic panettone from several different companies, in an assortment of unique and delicious flavors.
There’s the original, with candied fruits and raisins, but also chocolate, lemon, chestnut, prosecco, amaretto, fig and cinnamon with pear. They carry several unique and different brands of panetonne including: Loison, Perugina, Fiasconara and Tre Marie.
The packaging of these light and delicious breads is beautiful, making them perfect for gift giving. There are also smaller versions of panettone, a bread which has been made in Italy for five hundred years. It is $4.95.
Pandoro, another typical Italian holiday treat known as “gold bread”, is also available. This sweet yeast bread, comes in flavors such as chocolate and zabaglione.
Biscotti, made by local baker Tobi Richards, is available in a variety of flavors. Located in glass jars at the front of the store, there are almond and coconut versions of the crunchy cookie available.
There are more than twenty-three flavors of homemade pastas, including short rib ravioli, lobster medallions and goat cheese and hazlenut. These pastas are locally made and not sold in retail stores.
More than forty-five different cheeses, from Bastardo (a blend of cow and goat milk from Veneto) to Pecarino Pepato, a sheep milk which pairs perfectly with a strong red wine, are available for purchase.
The wine sold in the La Dolce Vita covers all the districts in Italy. It’s sold by local distributors and isn’t carried in any other retail stores.
“If you buy a bottle of wine here, this is a bottle you’re not going to find any place else,” explains Di Franco.
In the refrigerated section in the back of the store, there’s all kinds of cured meat: from speck, a juniper flavored ham perfect on pizza or in carbonara sauce, to duck prosciutto, perfect with sliced pear, crackers or by itself.
For hungry customers, it’s also possible to order sandwiches to go, made on focaccia bread with any of the available cured meats. Cannelloni, for those with a sweet tooth, are also made to order at $3.50 each.
Fresh bread by Zak the Baker tempts customers in baskets by the front of the store. The owners also sell their homemade arancini (rice balls) in different flavors, as well as a variety of homemade pasta sauces.
In addition to the unique and homemade products, there are also balsamic vinegars, olive oils, vegetable pates, wine jellies, truffle spreads, olives, marinated vegetables, dried pasta and Italian crackers, as well as countless other products available.
Di Blasi and Bavaresco also cater.
“We go to our customer’s houses and cook,” explains Di Blasi. “They like to watch how we prepare dishes.”
On Saturdays, and two or three times a week, they offer wine tastings with some cheese or pasta. They like to have customers sample the new products that have arrived.
It is, in fact, difficult to leave the store without being offered something to snack on. The first time the Miami Dining Examiner visited she was given an almond biscotti, the second time, a slice of white truffle salami and the last time, a limoncello chocolate.
And with that, this customer has to proclaim she’s happy Bottega La Dolce Vita is in Coral Gables; life is sweeter because of it.
Bottega La Dolce Vita
4710 South le Jeune Road
Coral Gables, FL 33146