Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with bars and restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Ask Bogdan Mocanu if he's using his bright red Stefano Ferrara oven to make Neapolitan-style pizzas, and he'll quickly tell you that the type is strictly his own. His admiration of pizza began when growing up in his native city of Constanța, Romania, but working in various kitchens across Italy and in the U.S. informed his pizza-making style.
The oven alone drew me inside Mocanu's newly opened Dolce Vita to grab a menu. Potentially finding a different style of pie was a compelling reason for an in-depth look. After misunderstanding that the cook time would be four minutes in a roughly 700˚ oven, a Margherita ($12) emerged squealing and steaming in less than 90 seconds. The cheese on the bottom did look unique, but the pattern of char and lift in the edges begged an unavoidable comparison to Neapolitan-style.
Mocanu explains that he loves the pizza in Naples for what it is: Fast and flavorful food for residents of an impoverished city, not an overly fussy quasi-deified object. In mind, many of his own methods and ideas are used in making his pies, and he's squarely in the corner of not following any set of rules.
After graduating from the Louisiana Culinary Institute (LCI), Mocanu began a stint at Domenica. He moved on to more executive positions in Baton Rouge, but then decided to strike out on his own with a wood-fired pizza truck. "Everyone including my wife thought I was crazy." he said. The truck was a popular success, but was totaled while parked. Friend and mentor from LCI Charlie Ruffolo stepped in as a business partner, and a brick-and-mortar location quickly ensued.
Warmly encouraging his customers to call him "Bogdan," he's often available to visit at the sales counter while pizzaiolo Jeremy Jourdan, also formerly of Domenica, makes the pies. Mocanu expounds on specific reasons for every step and ingredient—he even has a log-splitter on-site to create the perfect-sized pieces for the fire.
Components like prosciutto di Parma, and Parmigiano-Reggiano are in the mix because, he explains, they are optimal. California tomatoes were chosen over imported because of their consistency. A combination of natural starter and yeast are used to make the dough. Caputo 00 pizzeria flour is also used because of its quality, but Mocanu notes that there are other suitable flours on the market—there's no sticking to any specific item because of prestige.
Fire-roasted piglet, duck, and house-smoked salmon have already appeared as specials. Dolce Vita also features soups, salads, desserts, and pizza by the slice at lunch. Wine is available, along with both imported and local Louisiana craft beers on tap.
Sleek contemporary red and gray metal chairs at earthy wood-and-metal tables offset a spare neutral space that matches Bogdan's philosophy about Neapolitan-style pizza. Dolce Vita is located along the streetcar route at the edge of the Lower Garden District and Central Business District—a short walk from a dense assortment of residences and businesses.