More Than Puff Pieces: Profiteroles are much like cream puffs, but at Dolce Bella Chocolate Cafe, they are elevated by homemade chocolate sauce, vanilla bean ice cream and puff pastry that has a crunchy edge. Photo by Kristine Bautista.

At Dolce Bella Chocolate Café, owner Audrey Vaggione knows how to indulge the taste buds. Her perfected recipe for molded chocolates sell by the thousands during the holidays, have captured several awards, and have most recently earned Vaggione the title of Master Chocolatier, a coveted name by the International Chocolate Salon. Besides chocolate, Dolce Bella also serves up small plates and light fare, as diners prepare themselves for some truly stunning desserts.

Produce for the restaurant is organic and much of it is picked right from a community garden nearby. Our starter was the Baked Goat Cheese Salad ($7): a medley of fresh greens, dried cherries, fennel and white balsamic vinaigrette. Cubes of herb-crusted goat cheese lay in a playful jumble on top and really lifted the spirit of the salad. The fairly simple elements, combined, were good and also sort of retro (see: baked goat cheese, ’90s). The Quinoa Salad ($7) with cranberries, almonds, kale, scallions and greens, had a clean, fresh taste, but could have used a little more dressing to accent the ingredients.

The Mediterranean Panini ($8) was more up my alley. Made with house-baked focaccia, it was packed with flavor and had a beautiful crunch. For a vegetarian sandwich, it was savory and satisfying. The Meatball Panini ($8), with house-made meatballs, marinara and mozzarella was just as promised—a meatball sandwich. No complaints there. My dining companion ordered the summer garden pasta ($9) featuring an array of the café’s home-grown vegetables and an heirloom tomato sauce. Unfortunately, the vegetable portions were a little sparse and left something to be desired.

The plates were cleared and the dessert menu loomed. Usually, I meet this moment with a little woe: at any given restaurant one is often presented with a very predictable, uninspired dessert menu: a chocolate cake, a cheesecake, fruit compote, maybe some homemade ice cream. I was pleasantly surprised to find some things different here, from fondue to affogato, all of them made in house.

I had the chili hot chocolate ($4) as an introduction. No whipped cream, just an organic presentation with a delicate layer of chocolate froth. The more pure, cacao flavors were evident: it had a robust chocolate flavor with a slightly spicy, peppery finish. It warmed the body while leaving a little sass on the tongue.  I’m still thinking about it days later.
“What’s your most unique dessert?” I asked the server, and she suggested the profiteroles (1 for $3, 3 for $8). “I’ll take one of those,” I said, before asking her about the Pot de Crème. ($5)

She closed her eyes for a brief second. “It’s very good.”

That was the best marker of server confidence I’d seen in a while. I ordered that, too.

In a few minutes a server swung through the kitchen doors with our two creations. The Pot de Crème came as promised, a chocolate custard, topped with chocolate shavings and served with a toffee shortbread cookie. The custard was supple and light, but infused with a deep, arresting flavor that made it a very tasty contradiction. But the star of this dish was the toffee shortbread that was buttery and smooth and wildly addictive. (The cookies can be purchased à la carte for $1 each.)

The towering profiterole was more predictable—it is essentially a cream puff—except that it was stuffed with vanilla bean ice cream and the “puff” had a crunchy edge to it that made it more exciting to eat. The homemade chocolate sauce didn’t hurt, either.

It felt good to see dessert treated as a serious course. Service can be a bit spotty, as the restaurant is a hybrid of order-up café and table service, but the desserts are certainly worth the wait. At other hours, Dolce Bella also hosts breakfast, with morning pastries from their oven, and in the late afternoons, beer and wine to pair with their plates.  I hear that the restaurant is expanding, opening another dining room up and charging up a new culinary team.

The desserts were definitely its strong suit, but I look forward to seeing how Dolce Bella evolves as a unique entity in the Saratoga area.

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