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Dolce Vita Adds Market, Cantina

Italian venue expands in Fairfax.

Authentic Italian wines, sauces and drinks are available in a new Italian market in Fairfax.

Sfizi Deli Café opened Oct. 18 in space attached to the Dolce Vita Italian restaurant on Lee Highway. In addition to Italian products on the shelves, Sfizi offers prepared food and coffee to be enjoyed at home or at one of the tables set up in the market. It also has a catering menu.

The market is owned by brothers Giuseppe "Joe" and Lino Ricciardi. “It has been a long time, but it’s worth the wait. It is important to have quality,” said Lino Ricciardi.

The brothers are from Avellino, Italy, near Naples, where they learned to appreciate food from their mother. After Joe Ricciardi moved to Long Island with part of the family, he took a kitchen job at a local restaurant. Two years later, at age 18, he moved from dishwasher to restaurateur, opening a restaurant called Teresa’s. Two years later, he was the owner of a second restaurant, Enrico Greentree, a dinner theater featuring operas and short musicals.

When Lino Ricciardi joined his family from Italy, he too became involved in the restaurants, also starting work in the kitchen. But while Joe Ricciardi stuck to the food industry, Lino Ricciardi experimented with fashion, opening a few boutiques in Manhattan, and art, making his own designs. One of Lino Ricciardi’s masterpieces is on display at the deli — the Sfizi sign on the floor at the entrance is signed with the initials L.R.

“I know that when my mother walks in here, she will be proud,” said Lino Ricciardi. The Ricciardi brothers pride themselves on the quality and authenticity of their products. Citing their mother as the biggest inspiration in food preparation, they tell stories of how much pride she took in cooking the meals for the family. Joe Ricciardi’s wife, Sharon, said that going on a date to eat something was nearly impossible, because Ricciardi’s mother would be insulted.

“What we are trying to do here is educate the people about Italian food," said Lino Ricciardi. He hopes that Sfizi, which takes its name from the Italian word for “a strong craving,” will satisfy the strong cravings of the people in Fairfax by taking Italian products and recipes and reaching out to the customers by providing “authentic, fine and simple Italian food.”

While not everything the Ricciardis had hoped to stock is on the shelves, the deli is ready to open. The shelves are stacked with a wide assortment of Italian foods, with cheeses including real buffalo mozzarella. “The idea of a deli is to come in and enjoy the food,” said Lino Ricciardi.

BESIDES SFIZI, DOLCE Vita is opening another addition to its establishment. Joe Ricciardi and a co-owner of Dolce Vita, Ricardo Bellucci, a native of Florence, Italy, have bought the vacant building by the restaurant to use as a cantina for private parties. The cantina will seat 35, said public relations manager Bunny Polmer.

Customers can order any food they want for their private party at the cantina, and the chefs will make it, demonstrating cooking techniques as they go. “Anything that’s Italian, I can make,” said Joe Ricciardi. Sometimes the room is used for wine tasting parties, and during those parties the restaurant prepares special appetizers and pasta. The use of the cantina is free of charge Sunday–Thursday night, and a $250 fee is charged for its use on Friday or Saturday night. However, that charge is waived with a $1,000 purchase of wine and food. Like the food, the seating in the cantina can be arranged according to the customers’ preference.

DOLCE VITA ITSELF seats about 70 people. The main room takes the diners to Italy through its painted walls, showing scenes of Italian countryside and cultural elements. The most noticeable mural shows Rome’s Spanish Steps. On the other side of the room, the mouth of a relief face of a patrician Roman serves as the kitchen’s oven. This is “one of the only wood-burning brick ovens in Fairfax,” Polmer said.

The restaurant offers live entertainment Wednesday through Saturday night. On Thursday nights, a piano player entertains diners, while on other nights the restaurant features a guitar player. “There is just something about [the guitar player],” said Sharon Ricciardi. “He is not the greatest singer, but the way he carries himself is amazing.” She said that customers often call the restaurant asking for the guitar player to play at their private parties on the weekends, but Joe Ricciardi refuses to give up his star. “He works here on the weekends,” he said.

Joe Ricciardi takes pride in providing his patrons with good quality food. He understands that today’s market is diet-weary, and he supports that. “We don’t put junk on people’s plates,” he said. He also said that because of the research done on wine, showing that red wine contains compounds that battle a protein linked to heart disease, the restaurant sells much more red wine than white. Dolce Vita sells 25-30 cases of wine weekly over the summer, and 40-45 cases weekly during the winter months. “Of the 30 cases sold,” said Joe Ricciardi, “one to two cases are white wine.”