Dish Osteria and Bar: still on top of its game

Well-prepared seafood, pasta and meat entrees stand out at the 12-year-old South Side favorite


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It's rare for a restaurant to resound in a city for a decade or longer. Time can wear edges. A menu loses luster. The dining room fades.

Like a statue, a restaurant of this rank may resonate for those who pay tribute to the past. Fickle dining crowds may miss it in search of the newest restaurant with buzz.

It would be a mistake to pass by Dish Osteria and Bar, the vivacious 50-seat spot on the South Side.


Dish Osteria and Bar

Food:


2 1/2 stars = Recommended+
Ratings explained

Service:


3 stars = Excellent
Ratings explained

Atmosphere:


3 stars = Excellent
Ratings explained

Overall:


3 stars = Excellent
Ratings explained

128 S. 17th St.
South Side
412-390-2012
www.dishosteria.com

  • Hours: Monday-Saturday 5 p.m.-midnight, bar open until 2 a.m.
  • Basics: Dish Osteria and Bar is a charismatic neighborhood restaurant with an intriguing menu of seafood, seasonal vegetables, house-made pasta and hearty meat entrees.
  • Recommended dishes: Carpaccio di tonno -- bigeye tuna with sea asparagus in vinaigrette ($10); Polpo alla griglia -- Spanish octopus with fingerling potato salad ($9.50); Capesante -- scallops with beet salad and fennel ($10); Fromaggi e salumi -- meat and cheese board ($9-$17); Spaghetti ai frutti de mare with calamari, shrimp, scallops and mussels ($19); Tagliatelle ai funghi ($15); Bistecca alla griglia -- rib eye with sauteed spinach and potatoes ($29).
  • Prices: $5-$17 appetizers; $15-$20 pasta; $23-$32 seafood and meat entrees; $5 sides; $7-$9 cocktails; $5-$7 desserts.
  • Summary: Wheelchair accessible; parking on street or in lots can be difficult; credit cards accepted; reservations encouraged; corkage $15.
  • Noise level: Low to medium-loud.

The Steve McQueen of Pittsburgh restaurants, Dish has cultivated a style that set precedent for neighborhood eateries. Despite that it's 12 years old, the place remains engaging and even progressive.

Nestled several blocks from the Carson Street melange, the Dish row house is aglow on a dark block of 17th. Inside the front room, mirrors and a polished copper bar enhance just-right lighting.

Along the back rail, ponytailed owner Michele Savoia consults with the host and a guest. He still has his Sicilian accent. He talks with his hands.

Mr. Savoia and his wife Cindy opened Dish as a neighborhood bar in 2000, eventually working in small plates and a nightly pasta and meat course.

"All of a sudden, I found myself with a restaurant," he said in a phone interview.

Today, the menu showcases a dozen first courses, a half dozen pastas and short lists of fish and meat entrees.

On shelves behind the bar, a glassy performance of bottles align, a display of Italian amari the most seductive among them. A digestif from Italy, these bitter liquors made from herbs, roots, citrus peels or bark display complex flavors and aromatics.

"Amaro is an essential Italian drink," Mr. Savoia said.

Amari include an array of vermouth, murky Fernet, Rabarbaro made from rhubarb and an artichoke base that's the flavor of Cynar.

Mr. Savoia curates the cocktail list of clear liquor drinks for warm weather, brown booze for the cold.

No drink requires squeeze bottles of liquid garnish or rococo lists of ingredients found in many cocktail bars right now.

At the back dining room, there's serious eating going on.

"This is no red sauce place," said a frequent visitor who sat at a table of five. He was surprised that each person ordered seafood for first courses.

They include a buttery polpo alla griglia ($9.50). Poached then grilled, octopus is served with a bright vegetable salad of fingerling potatoes, celery, red peppers and green onions.

Each of three scallops in the capesante dish ($10) is expertly caramelized for a pan-finished crust on fresh, sweet shellfish, paired with roasted beets, fennel and arugula.

Bigeye tuna, the carpaccio di tonno ($10), is coveted for its near-translucent slices in a citrus vinaigrette served with sea beans.

Of the moment items are codfish balls -- polpette di baccala e patate ($8). Light and airy like a salty doughnut, they're filled with house-cured cod and potatoes then pan-fried and finished in the oven.

No wonder there's so much seafood here.

"When I lived in Sicily, the fishmonger was my favorite place to visit," Mr. Savoia said.

He recalled the Gothic building that housed a market from his childhood.

"People selling were yelling and singing by the fish counter. I loved to see this and I thought, you know what? This is the soul of the place."

Not to worry. Those who prefer anything besides fish will not be disappointed.

Polpette in brodo ($7), veal and beef meatballs as a first course are savory and delicious, served in chicken broth with Parmesan and tiny fregola pasta.

Grilled eggplant, buffalo mozzarella and basil is drizzled with olive oil and 15-year aged balsamic vinegar. This melanzane grigliate con mozzarella di bufala ($9.50) displays the beauty of artisanal condiments paired with fresh ingredients.

There's always the variety of meats and cheeses ($17) to share with the table, served with jams, pickles, olives and other pairings.

An Italian classic of house-made pasta and wild boar ragu, the gnocchi al ragu di cinghiale ($21) is among the most popular menu items. Pillowy pods Mr. Savoia learned to make in Italy, gnocchi he offered occasionally is now a daily dish.

Vegetarians appreciate the balance of portobellas, shitakes and creminis layered with spinach in the tagliatelle ai funghi ($15). This simple plate displays umami flavor dressed with olive oil and Parmesan.

A pan-roasted pork chop, the costata di maiale ($18.50), is marbled with fat, stuffed with the decadence of truffle cheese, speck and sage. Deglazed with marsala, this dish also sports Mr. Savoia's gnocchi.

Whether it's the food, ambience or seamless service, it's natural to linger at dinner here. Friends are their most charming selves. Conversation flows with wine. Diners meet customers at adjacent tables.

The server brings a creamy, bright limoncello cheesecake ($6.50) to delight a table. A too-firm cold panna cotta ($4.50) disappoints.

To extend the night, a frothy cappuccino is in order. Or perhaps a guest prefers a glass of grappa, a sharp, boozy Nardini Bianca ($10).

"Lighter fluid," says a diner teasing her companion.

Though wine made from grape skins may be an acquired taste, dinner at Dish is a crowd pleaser.

restaurantreviews

Melissa McCart: mmcCart@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1198 or on Twitter: @melissamccart.


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