732 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo, NY 14222
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Buffalo Desserts Italian
"We had anticipated a fairly plain Italian bakery, but between the interesting gelatos, good cakes, and solid cookies, we could definitely see ourselves stopping back in again."
How often can a person visit two similar but sharply contrasting businesses on the same street just by walking a couple of blocks? Start at the center of Elmwood Avenue - say, around the Globe Market - and locate Delish, a colorful, flashy bakery with some of the most eye-popping display cases we've ever seen at a dessert shop. Then walk a couple of blocks to Dolci, a smaller, almost dour Italian place with plain display cases and an inconspicuous freezer sitting in the back corner. Now try and guess without tasting anything which one has the better desserts - Delish, right? Wrong: after a couple of visits to each place, Dolci actually turned out to be the one we wanted to patronize again.
At Dolci, the dessert choices are simple on the best of days, and they were simpler on the occasion of our first visit. Based on a reader tip, we had come to try the gelato, but on this day, it happened to be out of stock, and wouldn't be replenished for three days. Modestly disappointed, we went in a different direction, grabbing miniature circular cakes and cookies instead, in hopes of sampling a variety of the non-gelato offerings.
Best of the bunch was a soft, wonderfully moist $4 flourless chocolate cake, generously topped with ganache and a bon-bon like nugget, then placed atop a tiny golden serving platter. Roughly the size of a hockey puck, this little piece of cake was delightful for the five bites it lasted, each one deep with chocolate flavor and melting in our mouths - the piece was just right-sized for those of us still contemplating diets. Served at the exact same size and price was a piece of cherry-topped cheesecake, notable more for its fresh, buttery graham cracker crust and sweet fruit topping than its standard cream cheese body. Satisfying but not thrilling, this piece would please any cheesecake purist, though it benefits from quick consumption or refrigeration: it was decidedly softer and a little less appealing as it made its way from person to person in our group than it was on its first bite fresh out of the fridge. Less appealing was an $11 espresso chocolate cake, which used dabs of frosting to make a tall but otherwise plain brown miniature cake seem fun. The chocolate cake proved to be a little too dry inside, and the slices were all too dependent on overly light-tasting, thick layers of espresso frosting for filler.
We also sampled three different cookies, all of which are sold by Dolci at a bulk rate of around $14 per pound; two were memorable more for their gentle approach than any overwhelming doses of flavor. Both a chocolate macaroon cookie and a peanut butter and chocolate cookie were interestingly served cross-sectioned, their centers bulging with bright white coconut and yellow peanut butter, respectively, and their chewy bodies making the mouth acutely aware of every bit of their slightly dry tastes. A Sicilian double chocolate ball wasn't cross-sectioned, but rather glazed to lock in both moisture and a stronger push of the expected flavor; it was like a rum ball, only with a more powerful chocolate body. Any of these cookies would please a fan of Italian pastries.
What about the gelatos? While we've had more luxurious versions at places such as San Francisco's Melt, we were ultimately pleased on our second visit by the variety and execution of flavors. Hidden in that back corner freezer were 13 gelatos and three sorbets, from which we selected four: a blueberry zabaglione was light and creamy, initially hitting both the nose and tongue with an obvious blueberry flavor that receded within seconds. Espresso spice was heavy on nutmeg essence and light on coffee, a rich brownish red color, while Nutella was oddly mixed - a modestly sweetened and hazelnut-flavored cream alongside a massive chunk of the spread, frozen hard but not too hard to chew through. Finally, out of curiosity, we tried the lemongrass gelato, a nice white in color and powerfully gifted with the flavor of the slightly spicy, lemony herb. Individual balls were $2.75 each, with doubles at $4.25, pints at $5.75 and quarts at $9.95. All were good, but none wowed us in depth or richness.
Taken as a whole, Dolci's desserts were better than we expected when we first peeked in the door: we had anticipated a fairly plain Italian bakery, but between the interesting gelato options, the good cakes, and the solid cookies, we could definitely see ourselves stopping back in here again in the future. Under a quarter-star rating system, Dolci would have received 2.75 stars - markedly higher than Delish - but we use half-stars, and weren't so wowed by anything we tried here to say that Dolci merited a full 3-star rating. We'd recommend the chocolate cake if you're looking for maximum flavor and satiation, and the gelatos if you want something lighter and more novel to challenge your palate.
Our dual review continues with Delish, covered separately here.
Updated May 25, 2009: Based on a reader tip, we came back to sample Dolci's cannolis, ordering one in each of three versions - chocolate chip-dipped, almond-dipped, and mixed. While we liked the smooth, sweet filling of each cannoli, and the dip options were nice, the cones were plain and a bit hard, indistinguishable from store-bought boxed ones. There wasn't anything remarkable about these desserts overall, but they were good.