Restaurant of the Week: Dolce

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Dolce Cafe and Bakery, 8821 Central Ave. (at Arrow Highway), Montclair

Located in a retail center that includes Tokyo Kitchen and Bombay Bistro, Dolce opened in 2007 in the anchor spot. The interior space is cavernous, probably two or three times larger than strictly necessary, with high ceilings and a wooden floor. They ought to roll the furniture away at night and hold ballroom dance classes.

Dolce does breakfast, lunch and dinner in a bistro setting (a very large bistro), everything from muffins and shrimp crepes to panini sandwiches and salads to pizza, pasta and steak au poivre. Its website describes Dolce as a “Euro Asian inspired bakery” with “an eclectic Italian inspired menu.”

Ambitious. I haven’t tried the $10 to $16 dinner entrees, but I’ve been in for lunch a couple of times this summer.

The chicken canneberge (pictured) ($7.25) was chicken salad with cranberries and candied walnuts, apple slices and romaine in a garlic herb pocket. For $1, I upgraded from a salad to the tomato basil soup. I was pleasantly surprised.

On a later visit I had the chicken florentine panini (also $7.25), with grilled chicken, bacon, sundried tomatoes, provolone and spinach artichoke spread, accompanied by a side of slaw. Not bad.

The setup is slightly confusing, in part because the space is so large it’s hard to know what to do. (The website has a video that gives you a fair idea of the layout.) If you want a baked good, go to the case to your left. If you want to be waited on at a table, go to your right and take a seat. If you want to avoid paying a tip, go straight ahead to the U-shaped serving stations, where you can order, pay and have your food brought to you.

There weren’t more than a half-dozen customers on my two visits. I can only guess that Dolce got a sweet deal on the rent and that the catering side of the business brings in the dough.

The food is pretty good, and items like Bistecca alla Portal (“sirloin smothered in a red wine reduction and topped with tomato mango chutney”), Pork Chasseur (“tender center cut pork chop with a rich mushroom and tomato infused gravy”) or Fire Grilled Vegetables certainly sound delicious. This might vie with Cafe Montclair as the city’s most ambitious restaurant. Just know that you may have most of the dining room to yourself.

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