In the South Side of Pittsburgh, on 17th about a block and a half south of Carson Street is a small house with a green awning. Under the awning is a door and a sign that reads: DISH Osteria and Bar. From the outside, the door is just another door in another blue collar Pittsburgh neighborhood. It’s a skinny street with a beat up sidewalk lined with cheap looking row houses as far as the eye can see. But, if you walk through the door, you are transported to another place entirely. The place on the other side of the door is not of Pittsburgh at all. It is DISH, and it is fabulous.
Drinks and Specials
It’s about 7:30 on a Wednesday night. We usually get there earlier, and with reservations, so we’re not even sure we’ll be seated. We end up sitting in the bar area rather than the main dining room. This is actually a feature, since the bar is where all the interesting people are anyway. Directly behind us is a large man and his girlfriend. The man’s hair is an accidental sculpture of protein and gel, and his girlfriend’s seems sympathetically rumpled, like how owners always look like their pets. They are having a good time with drinks and just a little food, a couple of appetizers. They are loud, but not obnoxiously so. In fact, this is true of the whole place. There is a general atmosphere of a lot happening, but not in the normal American way where you can hear all the conversations. Instead, they float underneath the music coming from the bar. The music is an eclectic mix of genres that I don’t usually listen to. But, unlike most music in restaurants and bars, it does not make me feel like I have to hop over the bar and put a blunt weapon into the CD player. It’s actually enjoyable.
One conversation that we can hear are two gentleman in black who appear to be ordering food to eat at the bar, since the dining room is too full. They commiserate with the bartender, the waitstaff, the chef, and anyone else close by.
Ten minutes in, we get drink orders and the specials menu. Hand rolled pasta with a saffron sauce, shrimp, tomato, maybe zucchini; a pork “t-bone” chop, and a halibut filet, pan roasted with a saffron seafood risotto and spinach on top. The food is described with a lot of words, but none of them are stupid.
We order appetizers and main course and then settle in to watch the show. The man couple at the bar have started act one of their eventual drama, delaying their food so they can run some errands. One leaves and begins an apparently endless cell phone conversation out on the street.
In a while, we get our first round of appetizers. A basket of bread and the house special mix of olives. These are presumably the same olives that you get at Penn Mac out of those huge buckets. We take them home and they taste like brine. DISH bathes them in some kind of magic elixir with oil, vinegar and dried herbs and they are transformed into little green and black works of art. We have to physically restrain ourselves from getting sick on the olives. My wife remarks that we never remember to come and just get the olives takeout. I remind her that ten years ago she didn’t like olives at all.
The guy on the cell phone returns, and his partner gets up and runs outside, muttering something about cigarettes. Later we can see both of them out in the alley smoking. Our second round shows up. I have pan-fried shrimp with olive oil, grape tomatoes and a bit of basil oil in the middle of the plate. Karen gets a panzanella salad. Greens, ciabatta, oil, vinegar, tomatoes and cucumber mixed up in a bowl. Simple food, well-prepared.
As we finish the appetizers, the bar fills with people waiting for tables. An absolutely huge party gets up and starts filing out of the main dining room. Maybe 10 or 15 people, all young, all well dressed, all beautiful. They are from a dimensional reality that Pittsburgh has little contact with, but to which DISH seems to have a secret conduit. Even as they file out, one suspects that others from the same Eurohip clan will soon appear to replace them.
I get the halibut. Karen gets the strip steak, but with the sides from the filet because she wants the mushroom risotto. Her steak is a perfect medium rare. Not uncooked and raw in the middle like I got at Ruth’s Chris. Not teetering on the edge of well done and gray like I got at the Lidia’s brunch. Maybe I have bad luck with steak.
The fish is a calculated risk, as is all fish in Pittsburgh. But, for once the guy in the kitchen can make me a fish which is better than what I can do at home with the stuff from Whole Foods. I can’t remember the last time this has happened to me in Pittsburgh (or in the rest of the country for that matter). I have pretty much given up on cooked fish in restaurants. But this halibut restores my faith. The risotto and the vegetables are also great, although, as always, the risotto is just a little bit undercooked.
As we enjoy the food, the man-couple returns to the bar. The cell phone guy puts his phone away and starts berating the cigarette guy. He finally slams the phone on the counter, mutters about how he can fucking argue with both of them until the end of time and stalks out of the place. His friend sits stoically at the bar and then just says “bring it on.” The bartender assures the cigarette guy that his cell phone guy “will be back”, she “just knows it.” Cigarette guy despondently asks for the food to go.
Just as I have polished off my risotto, another huge crew of the pretty people file out of the main dining room. As they leave, a new couple shows up at the bar to replace them. Then a tall blonde woman appears and chatters into her phone in fast Italian. She sits down and has a cigarette. So, fair warning to all you people who are paranoid about secondhand smoke. The bar at DISH may not be your place. But, that’s fine because it means more food for me. So, by all means, for the sake of your health, stay away.
It’s at this point in the meal when we always wonder why they let us in. We guess that they have to have a certain quota of normal people to maintain the dimensional stability of the portal. Otherwise the whole thing would collapse and get sucked over to San Francisco.
Our dessert arrives as the take out order is finally finished. The cigarette guy picks up his bag of food and hands over a pile of cash to the register. As he plods out of the place, the bartender tries to reassure him, but it doesn’t seem to help. When he’s out the door, she just sighs and mutters “unbelievable” under her breath.
Dessert is a chocolate bread pudding with raspberry sauce and some unfortunate strawberries on top. The berries are the only clear loser for the night and the only indication that we have not been dimensionally transported to some other city where there might be berries this time of year.
The coffee comes, and along with it yet another couple in the endless stream of fashionable people that appear and then disappear at a constant rate.
Both the pudding and the coffee are great. We pay the bill. We get up to leave and on our way out the door, we run into the Italian woman’s friend. As you can probably guess, she too is tall, well dressed, blonde, and beautiful.
We go out the door, and we are back in Pittsburgh, on the South Side, walking up 17th street towards Carson. It’s dark now and the lights are on in all the row houses, and the trash is out on the sidewalk for pickup tomorrow.