Lombardy Cuisine Puts Desco on the Map in Oakland
At Desco, the new restaurant in Old Oakland, one feels immediately at home. It could be the original brickwork of the 1876 historical building, or the dark, solid wood tables and chairs, or the towel-size linen napkins with a red-stripe border that evoke a notion of quiet comfort—or all of the above.
Shiny copper pans hang over a prosciutto slicing machine, and Edison fixtures of various sizes hang over a bar area, as if to emphasize the spare dining room—cozy and inviting, intimate and romantic.
A single golden “D” shines on a street sign above the glass doors of the entrance. There is a reason for that: Desco is owned by executive chef Donato Scotti, who made his first initial a symbol for the best Northern Italian cuisine in the Bay Area with his Donato Enoteca in Redwood City.
Chef Donato, originally from Bergamo, Lombardy, knows good food. When asked how he makes his ingredient-driven Italian staples so memorably delightful, he usually says, “It’s simple. Simple preparations.”
Taking charge at Desco, chef Simone Ferrara, also from Lombardy, carries on the handicraft of simply irresistible preparations.
Piatto della casa seems to be a starter of choice for the majority of Desco patrons. The tender, house-made smoked duck breast, succulent lamb prosciutto, and flavorful rabbit terrine medallions with balsamic reduction are served on an oval cutting board and garnished with baby greens and a spoonful of strawberry jam.
Polipetti salad is composed of crispy fried baby octopi on a bed of wild arugula and sided by squid-ink blackened toast. Toy box tomatoes and red pepper purée finish up the dish with a splash of color.
In the hand-made pasta department, nothing beats Casonsei—chef Donato’s hometown family recipe. Plump, fresh ravioli are stuffed with mortadella, prosciutto, ground pork, and … amaretto cookie crumbs! Topped with dry cured bacon and grated Grana Padano, they are utterly indulgent bathed in brown butter with sage.
While it’s hard to choose from the Desco menu where everything sounds equally enticing, when it comes to pizza I usually know what I want. I have due respect for all artisanal chef’s creations, but in my book mushroom pizza takes superiority over all others. The bubbly, pliable funghi e erbe pie with fresh tomato sauce and fontina cheese doesn’t disappoint.
Perfectly pan-roasted young chicken with white wine reduction and rosemary is called Galletto in the main course section of the menu, and it’s good to share since it is imperative not to overstuff oneself at Desco. House-made desserts are simply divine.
Torta di madorle e albiococche translates as almond torte with organic apricots, vin santo, and hazelnut gelato.
Tortino di cioccolato con salsa al caffe doesn’t really need a translation, because it disappears from one’s plate too quickly. (And what part of cioccolato or caffe wouldn’t one understand?)
Desco is located at 499 9th Street in Oakland, California. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call (510) 663-9000 for reservations.