by Damon Noisette // photo by Agnes Lopez
When Pele’s Wood Fire closed last year, it barely seemed like a moment had passed before construction began anew on the space and Il Desco, a modern Italian and pizza restaurant from the owners of Bistro Aix and Ovinte, was opened in November.
Il Desco is an extensive gut and rebuild of the former Pele’s; design firm DCOOP removed the upper tier booths along the windows against King Street and uncovered the original terrazzo floor. Hugo’s Fine Furniture designed the restaurant’s leather booths, sleek marblesque tabletops and built the 20-seat community table with antique reclaimed wood from the old Bostwick Building Downtown.
The two wood-fire ovens from the restaurant’s previous incarnation remain and that is a good thing. Il Desco’s Neapolitan pizzas, which are fired for 90 seconds at 900 degrees before hitting the table crispy on the edges and a little viscous at the center, rival the pies from any top pizza joint in town and just might be the best options on the menu. The Brussels pizza ($18), with roasted sprouts, garlic, smoked mozzarella and salty pancetta, hits all the right flavor notes. And as unconventional as the duck sausage pizza ($17) sounds, with strawberries, Gorgonzola cheese, pecans, and a 12-year-aged balsamic glaze, it is a masterful combination of toppings that results in a special pie.
There have been changes in the kitchen and the menu since Il Desco opened in November, with Zeke Mears coming over recently from Bistro Aix to take the helm as executive chef.
While I couldn’t have been more pleased with the smoked fish spread ($14), which on the day I visited was made from snapper and served colorful with watermelon radishes, the spaghetti tacos appetizer ($12) managed to just be an interesting idea—and too messy to hold. A safer starter is the Il Desco Caesar ($10), a fine salad elevated by its delicious soft polenta croutons.
The lobster cavatelli ($29) had too much spice for my liking, making it a hot and difficult dish to finish. I found the marinated grilled skirt steak ($23) and the short rib bolognese ($16) to be solid in their execution and a better value.
The pear crostata ($6), a European-style tart served with a house made ice cream, is a much denser dessert than it appears, and the tiramisu ($8) manages to stay light and fluffy, even while covered in a luscious mascarpone anglaise. I must say the previous restaurant was a bit more generous with the number of bomboloni ($8), Italian doughnuts served with vanilla, pistachio, and hazelnut cream dipping sauces, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t order them.
Fresh oysters, clams and a catch of the day crudo are offered at market price from the raw bar along with a rock shrimp ceviche ($9) and “bubbly oyster” shooter ($4).
Park On Park
Street parking is available along Park and King Streets. Valet is offered Thursday through Saturday evenings.
Isn’t That Special
Il Desco has brunch on Sundays, a special Sunday night prix fixe menu ($28), and happy hour specials that run from 2-6 PM weekdays and 3-5 PM on weekends.
Il Desco 2665 Park Street 290-6711 ildescojax.com