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In a strip mall on Stickney Point  Road, just before it becomes Clark, a new little Italian gem has popped up. Next to the popular Mexican restaurant El Torro Bravo--and just down from a favorite Italian bakery, Paisano's--La  Dolce Vita opened a little over 2 months ago, in a space that seats just 38 people with white-and-blue decor that aims to soften the strip-mall feel. But at Dolce Vita, it's about the food--and the food is very, very good.

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Fried calamari with tomato dipping sauce.

I wasn't planning on ordering an appetizer, but changed my mind when I saw the fried calamari at a nearby table. Served in a paper cone with housemade, tangy tomato sauce, the calamari is dusted with semolina flour, which gives it a crispy crunch on the outside while keeping it tender inside. I'll definitely order this again.

We opted to forego a salad, but two served at another table--Caesar and one with fresh burrata--made us realize we need to try those on our next visit, too, along with some bruschetta.

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Spaghetti and meatballs. 

Here is what we did try:

Spaghetti con polpette, a.k.a. spaghetti and homemade meatballs. (Clearly a house favorite).

Saltimbocca di Vitello Romana: tender veal, floured and sautéed with melted cheese, fresh sage and Italian ham. Yum.

Scialatelli gamberi: incredible al dente pasta (homemade, of course) with asparagus and sautéed shrimp.

Paccheri frutti di mare: more homemade pasta, this time larger and tube shaped, with clams, mussels, shrimp and octopus simmered in tomato sauce with wine. This is one for the seafood lover. 

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Paccheri frutti di mare.

The wine list is simple and affordable, and the Chianti reserve a nice choice. 

Speaking of our next visit, and there will be several, most tables were filled with guests that had dined at La Dolce Vita on a weekly basis, some stopping by to tell me it was their third time in a week.

However, like so many other restaurants in our area, La Dolce Vita is having a hard time finding qualified servers, so patience here is important. Think of it like dining in Italy. You don't run in for a bite, you linger. Service is thoughtful though a little frantic, but everyone is so nice and they are trying to keep up with La Dolce Vita's immediate popularity.

In short: from the homemade bread that starts your meal to the creamy, authentic limoncello and Italian wedding cookies served with the check, La Dolce Vita is a welcome addition to the Sarasota dining scene, and owners and husband-and-wife team Mauno and Tina are destined to become Sarasota restaurant darlings if they continue to serve food of this caliber. 

La Dolce Vita is located at 2704 Stickney Point Road, Sarasota, and is open 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. For more info, call (941) 210-3631.

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