When Italian-born executive chef Donato Scotti decided to open a second venue to complement his home-country regionally inspired four-year-old Donato Enoteca in Redwood City, he settled on Old Oakland.
His new restaurant, Desco, which translates from Latin as “dinner table,” adds to Oakland’s growing list of destination spots worth the short drive across the Bay Bridge or Bart trip from San Francisco. It has a menu that honors freshness, seasonality and tradition (the house-cured smoked meats, for example) and an ambience (the brickwork, the wood, the way the vast windows) that invites you to linger.
When two of us ate there on a recent Sunday evening, we shared a cold and a warm antipasti for starters in the form of the Piatto Della Casa, which gave us tastes of Desco’s in-house prepared and cured smoked duck, lamb prosciutto and rabbit terrine drizzled with balsamic ($10) and Pancia — pork belly, which we were told by our super-helpful waiter had been slow-cooked for 18 hours and which comes with cannellini beans ($9).
For a salad side, we went with the recommended Polipetti ($8) — crisply baby octopus from Monterey Bay on a bed of wild arugula.
On to our two chosen “mains”. My favorite item taste-wise came from among the seven “Paste” (pasta) options.
The Casonsei ($12), we were told, is a Chef Scotti home-town (Bergamo) dish. It comprised chewy little pinched ravioli packages with prosciutto, mortadella, ground pork, Amaretto (almond cookies) crumbles, in-house cured guanciale (an Italian style of dry-aged bacon made from hog jowls) and brown butter with sage. Our other main was the Angus loin Tagliata ($19) — slices of the loin with aceto balsamico served on a wooden platter with thin slices of grilled potatoes.
For dessert we shared the Torta di Mandorla e Albicocche (organic apricot and almond torte with vin santo and hazelnut gelato) and the Sfogliatina alla Zabaione (puff pastry with mixed berries and chilled zabaione) — the latter light as a cloud and delicate as its dusting of powdered sugar. All desserts are $8.
The menu offers pizza, both traditional and stretched (priced $11 to $13), and there is a wood-fired oven. Just to note, each dish was beautifully plated and presented and service was friendly, professional and helpful.
Chef-owner Scotti grew up in the small town of Bergamo in Italy and studied at the Istituto Alberghiero di San Pellegrino culinary school. He then moved to the United States and subsequently held positions of increasing responsibility at such restaurants as the legendary Valentino in Los Angeles and Il Fornaio in Sacramento.
In 2004, Scotti designed and opened La Strada in Palo Alto, before establishing Donato Enoteca, and now Desco.
Scotti has worked with wine director Eric Lecours on the wine list, which is comprised entirely of Italian varietals. There is an impressive and list of 50 to choose from, about 20 of which are poured by the glass or caraffe. The full bar showcases classic cocktails, traditional Italian aperitivi and digestivi and Italian bottled beers.
There is an afternoon happy hour with Italian bar snacks.
The 50-seater dining room has a relaxed fine-dining feel. There is outdoor sidewalk seating for up to 16, weather permitting. The building housing Desco is an historic structure erected in 1876 and a portion of the restaurant's mosaic and tile flooring has been in place for the better part of a century.
Desco is at 499 9th Street, on the corner of Washington Street in Oakland, California. Open daily for lunch and dinner. See more on the Desco website.