Last night I was invited to a customary media dinner for two at Desco in Old Oakland. Desco is the new, refined Italian restaurant a block west of 9th Street and Broadway. For a guest, I brought my roommate, Cameron Hearne, who was moving out soon. We talked what we planned to do for our last year at UC Berkeley as he drove us to Oakland.
At Desco, they have outdoor seating by the London Plane trees and a full bar, a wood oven, long and small tables inside. Their ambiance made it feel as though we were guests inside a modern Victorian home. It was relaxed and unimposing, as classy as it was cool. They sat us at a bench with back pillows next to the front windows, and gave us menus. From Piemonte to Sicilia, their wine list draws widely from Italy. The staff knows how to pair drinks, so we had one with every course.
For the antipasti, we had a Venetian spritz and glass of lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna with prosciutto di parma; for the paste, a glass of zuani collio bianco vigne with their signature casonsei (pronounced |cass-on-say|). The casonsei, hands down one the best pasta dishes that I’ve ever eaten, is egg pasta wrapped around extremely juicy and soft pork, doused in brown sugar butter and topped with grizzled pig cheek (which my roommate referred to as the most perfect piece of bacon. It’s technically not bacon but perhaps, more poetically, you wished that all bacon tasted this way). By the end of the second course, my roommate and I were in food heaven.
Between courses, Juan Morante, the manager, told us that Desco had opened last Monday and that it had branched off of Donato Enoteca in Redwood City. He pointed out the owner and chef, Donato Scottin, who wore a white, double-breasted jacket and a toque. Chef Scottin looked but a few years older than us. Later, our waitress told us that Chef Scottin is from Bergamo, a small town in Northern Italy where casonsei is a specialty. No wonder the casonsei was phenomenal.
A couple were laughing at the bar and saying sweet nothings to each other. The clientele around us was business professionals and groups of friends who looked like they had been out of college for a few years. Desco is ideal for dates, birthdays, and visits from your parents. The entrees and pizzas are priced at $11-20; desserts, drinks, and appetizers at $7-12. The serving size and the richness of each course make it easy to share.
The ambiance is refined but welcoming, so it felt natural to enjoy a long dinner. As we did, we thought about life after college. It was exhilarating. Cameron, a microbiology major, pointed across the street at the perfect building for his dream-firm. I wished that I had a grown-up job so I could lounge on the patio of Desco, taking swigs of their refreshing Venetian spritz on a sweltering afternoon. For our last two dishes, we had red wine – renato ratto langhe nebbiolo – with their funghi e erbe (pizza topped with sautéed mushrooms, fresh herbs, tomato sauce and fontina), followed by their Angus loin tagliata with grilled potatoes and fresh arugula. The pizza was soft and delectable. The Angus was soft and juicy. It was prepared sous vide, which means it was cooked in a sealed bag steeped in warm water. Like the casonsei, we were taken by its utterly delectable taste. We liked the look of it from the second it hit the table, and let our inner carnivores indulge.
Sitting back against the bench, we gazed out the broad windows next to us for a view of the sunset in August. The dinner was long but each dish was rushing. Altogether, it was a feast. By the end of it, we didn’t know where we were. We got lost several times on the way back home. Having taken the wrong freeway, we ended up on the Bay bridge where we held up the line fumbling for cash for the toll. We had tipped our waitress down to our last dollar.
In the end, everything turned out okay. Cameron put on Imagine Dragons as we drifted through traffic on the drive back to Berkeley. Although we had been lost, I thought it was suiting after a great dinner to take in epic views of San Francisco at night; the new, majestic Bay Bridge on the rise.
When you go to Desco be sure to order the casonsei and tortoni di cioccolato con salsa al caffè, a chocolate cake that skates in a lake of espresso and creme. Desco had just opened a week ago, but it warrants an experience worth savoring.
Desco is located at 499 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607. Call (510) 663-9000 to make a reservation.