I've been tossing out a bunch of stuff to make room for all the gifts we got this Christmas. It's hard to part with some things that no longer serve me. But even if I have to build an addition to make things fit, there are other things that are staying. Stuff I'd never give up if you paid me.

That's how I feel about La Dolce Vita in Provo. Like a good, reliable tool, it's there making great food, just as it has been for the past 16 years. My family and I started going there in 1986, and it's been our favorite place for birthdays, lunches and even just for nights when no one feels like cooking. In fact, after a while, we nicknamed it La Dolce Yum-Yum. Then it just became Yum-Yum. (As in, "What do you wanna eat tonight?" "Yum-Yum sounds good to me.")

La Dolce Vita is an all-purpose sort of place that's always good. And I mean always. This northern Italian-style restaurant is the paragon of consistency.

A hallmark of La Dolce Vita is the calzone (pronounced kal-TZO-neh). There are two kinds: the spinach and the Napoletano, the latter of which has meat. My favorite is the spinach. Picture a flat loaf made of pizza dough nearly as wide as the plate. It's stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella and spinach and smothered with the best ragu sauce around (meatless sauce is also available). I dare you to finish the whole thing on the spot. I count on taking half home for later, and I rarely share.

The calzones are a great value. For $9.25, each plate is served with a dinner salad and a thick slice of buttery, crackly toasted French bread.

Another thing La Dolce Vita is known for is its house dressing. It's a zingy, light vinaigrette with bits of carrot as a base. It's so good, they've even bottled it.

Over time, the dinner salad has improved, going from the serviceable iceberg lettuce to a bright, leafy romaine.

If it's Thursday, and you're hungry, go for the gnocchi. With the same value as the calzones, these pillowy dumplings will certainly fill you up, yet leave you wanting more . . . until next Thursday.

I look forward to visits to Yum-Yum so I can have a favorite treat: San Pellegrino Limonata and Aranciata. If you don't know what I'm talking about, these are imported juice sodas that aren't overly sweet. They put American sodas to shame. The restaurant also serves the Italian root beer called Chinotto, but I've never taken to it.

La Dolce Vita isn't high cuisine, but it is quality. Skip the serenades and the nouvelle presentations. This is straight-up, authentic northern Italian cooking.

Other favorite entrees of mine are the lasagne and the cotoletta alla Bolognese, which is a breaded beef cutlet with ragu sauce and mozzarella.

Desserts are mostly already made, but the tiramisu is worth trying. Another good one is the amaretto mousse cake.

Feeding children is easy. There are four pasta bowls to choose from. My kids like the fettuccine alfredo. The creamy, buttery sauce is mild enough for kids and definitely rich enough for grown-ups.

Chalk one up for Utah County; it holds one of the state's best treasures. If that county were a closet to be cleaned out, La Dolce Vita would definitely be a keeper.

Prices for entrees $8-13 (lunch $6-7.50), pizzas $4-11.25, children $3.95, dessert $2-3.75.


La Dolce Vita Ristorante

*** (out of five)

Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Location: 61 N. 100 East, Provo; 373-8482

Payment: major credit cards, checks


E-mail: stephanie@desnews.com