There's a sign outside La Dolce Vita Ristorante proclaiming the restaurant's 20th anniversary. Any eatery that survives that long must have something going for it.

In the case of La Dolce Vita, it's a pleasant, family atmosphere and admirable interpretations of classic Italian sauces. Oh yeah, there's good dessert, too.

We took the kids to La Dolce Vita for a recent weekend dinner. They were immediately charmed by the checkers set in the lobby, and I liked the rag-rolled warm peachy-brown walls. The decor is Italian-cum-Victorian, and it works. It really is like stepping into someone's house for dinner.

A big house, that is: La Dolce Vita is in a long, L-shaped building broken into several dining areas. Each one has its own warm ambience.

We started with a duet of mozzarella appetizers, the mozzarella alla caprese for me and the mozzarella sticks for the rest of the family. The sticks were light golden-brown, crisp and plump, served with pizza sauce and ranch dressing.

The mozzarella alla caprese showed off well the thick slices of milky fresh mozzarella, with tomatoes liberally drizzled with balsamic vinegar and oil and lots of fresh, sharp basil sprinkled on top.

I also tried the minestrone, which had a nice variety of beans, pasta and other veggies but seemed a bit overcooked.

Italian food is one of the most kid-friendly cuisines. Our kids enjoyed their meals of cheese pizza, cheese ravioli and pasta a gratte, but they snitched regularly from our plates, as well.

My husband had the calzone napoletano, a big, squared-off pastry stuffed full of sausage, pepperoni, mortadela meat and three kinds of cheese. The variety of meats gave interest to the calzone, and the cheeses and marinara sauce on top kept it from being too heavy.

I had the night's special, chicken marsala accompanied by pasta a gratte and rigatoni. La Dolce Vita's marsala is almost a stew. The wine-flavored sauce adds incredible depth and flavor to big, moist chunks of chicken and thick-sliced mushrooms.

The pasta a gratte had a delectable sauce, "beciamella," otherwise known as bechamel, made with ricotta, provolone and Parmesan cheese and baked with penne pasta. The pasta was cooked just a tad more than I like but retained its shape and texture, as it did in the rigatoni, which was baked in mild Ragu sauce.

For dessert, the husband and kids made short work of La Dolce Vita's seven-layer chocolate cake with its thin layers of cake and ganache-like frosting. I was torn between the tiramisu, always one of my favorites, and the traditional tiramisu, served in a cake-like wedge.

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I couldn't decide, so I tried them both. The traditional uses a more dense, crumbly sponge cake in the place of ladyfingers, and its mascarpone filling is sweeter. On the whole, I preferred the darker, less sweet taste of regular tiramisu, but both were good — and even better the next day, after a night in the fridge.

Appetizers $3.25-$6.95, soup and salad $2.50-$8.95, entrees $6.95-$13.95, kids' meals $3.95-$4.95, desserts $2.50-$5.95.

La Dolce Vita

Rating: ***

Where: 61 N. 100 East, Provo

Hours: Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday noon-10 p.m.; Closed Sunday

Payment: Checks, credit cards

Reservations: Accepted

Phone: 373-8482

Stacey Kratz is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: