review: Dolcezza

yes, they used the ‘a’ word

see myaffogato wars of DCpost

Our final stop on our tour of DC gelato/specialty coffee shops is the Bethesda, MD outlet of Dolcezza. An area chain that is up to nine locations, including inside the Hirschorn Museum at the Smithsonian, they are noted for producing their own very high quality gelato (they use terms like crafted and artisanal quite a bit), and fitting out their shops beautifully. The Bethesda shop is a spot I know quite well, as for the past two years it’s been the nearest place to home to get a decent espresso.

The shop is a narrow sliver of a space in Bethesda Lane, a pedestrian walkway between two streets in the Bethesda Row retail section of the town. High traffic, high end area, impossible to get a parking space on summer evenings and weekends but it doesn’t stop any of us from trying. The passage has a few tables and chairs set up, which helps alleviate the small space.

The inside of the shop is a gem. Light and airy, thanks to high ceilings and walls of windows at the front and along one of the long sides of the store. The finishes are mainly in white with gray and black accents, heavy on marble and subway tiles. There are a few cafe tables along the wall of windows that are nice if the shop isn’t crowded, and the staff is usually cheery if very young.

My only concern with the layout is it not the most efficient. You enter right at the gelato case, which is well presented, but then you have to maneuver along the side of the counter to get to the register and the coffee. Exiting the store means a u-turn back to the front of the very narrow space. Easy enough when it’s not busy, but a little confusing to first time visitors and really awkward when there are a lot of customers and the line goes out the door.

While the staff are generally quite young (my son will his high school classmates behind the counter), they are well trained in making espresso. The machine is an older Marzocco, and they used to carry Stumptown beans, then switched for a time to Sey Coffee Roasters; the bags in the shop now have the store’s own label, though I believe they’re still provided by Sey.

There was a barista working in the shop for some time who was excellent. I haven’t seen her in a while but they must train their staff well because the coffee is still consistently good. Not quite as good since they stopped carrying Stumptown, but certainly still the best in the specialty coffee market in Bethesda which is very short on quality, and that held true on this visit.

I went with blackberry and cream for my gelato. Brighty, real fruit flavor with a base of creaminess, not overly sweet. The blackberry really shined. While not too rich, of the gelatos (gelati?) I enjoyed in this taste test it was the heaviest, and this was the one visit where I left feeling too full.

This was the first stop I made in the affogato series, and this one was a revelation. Creamy, delicious, not overly sweet gelato, the first few tastes with the spoon and the espresso was a really nice accent. As I worked my way through it the melting gelato and espresso blended together so well, making for a treat that was a cross between an iced coffee with milk and a coffee milkshake, but somehow better than either.

The affogato was served in a to-go cup with a very healthy scoop of gelato filling the bottom of the cup, and a judicious pour of espresso. On a later trip, my affogato was served in a porcelain cup with a bit less gelato and a lot more espresso. I liked the ratio much better the first time around.

Grateful to have Dolcezza close, and appreciate the quality and the lovely setting. All that comes at a cost, though, as the small gelato (2 scoops) is $5.70, and the affogato is $6.25 ($7.25 for a larger version).

7111 Bethesda Lane, Bethesda, MD (eight other DC locations)

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