Last week, I was invited to check out a friends-and-family dinner at the newly opened DISPENSA ITALIAN CHARCOAL KITCHEN. If you would have told me I’d be having a dinner with table service and Italian wines at a restaurant on Taylor and Turk 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. Chef Michele Bevilacqua (a Venetian chef) partnered with Stu Gerry (previously an owner of Cafe Flore and currently a realtor at Zephyr Real Estate, he helped secure the location after quite the search); Tiziana Costamagna (Vinity Wine Company) is doing some consulting for them. It’s conveniently near the theaters, and they’re happy to offer something different for the neighborhood.
It has a minimalist style, warmed up with wood tables (which Michele made by hand), modern chairs with wood dowel legs, and brick walls. The space is more than 100 years old, and Michele did a tremendous amount of work to reveal its amazing bone structure (including some beautiful wood beams)—it was previously a wedding cake bakery. The black-and-white photographs on the walls are by Tiziana.
The main feature of this unique restaurant is in the open kitchen. There’s no oven, and no range, or grill, or fryer. But there is an X-Oven, which is an eco-friendly oven from Italy, the first of its kind in the U.S. It burns green charcoal made from vegetable waste—there are three drawers on the side where cooks can slide in skillets to roast and cook everything. The majority of the smoke goes through the ventilation system (although you will note some smoke when you come into the space). It’s completely self-contained, with no gas or electricity. It’s a pretty amazing little unit, and the kitchen crew is ramping up their expertise in using it—it has a lot of potential uses and clever applications.
While the restaurant’s name is Italian for “pantry,” the menu is more Californian than Italian, and very simplistic in its flavors and presentations—well, except for the spicy calamari stew ($15), one of those classic ugly-but-so-good Italian dishes (it was one of our favorites).
There’s also tender grilled octopus ($16) with a simple salad of frisée, Gaeta olives, and cherry tomatoes, and there are a variety of vegetable dishes, from rainbow carrots with goat cheese and sesame seeds ($14) to potatoes with lemonaise ($10)—all have a smoky kiss from the charcoal. There are also a couple of salads ($15) and three mains from the charcoal oven: pork belly ($20), roasted Mary’s chicken ($22), and a thick grilled pork chop ($25). The dishes also come with vegetable sides, so make sure they don’t duplicate what you may have ordered as an appetizer. Chef cares about his ingredient sourcing, but is also keeping things priced affordably for the neighborhood.
The wine list is all-Italian, with 12 by the glass, ranging from $11-$19. There are also a couple of local beers and a Ninkasi Pacific Rain pale ale from Oregon. Open Tue-Sat 5pm-10:30pm. Lunch will be coming soon. 39 Taylor St. at Turk.
The dining room and open kitchen at Dispensa Italian Charcoal Kitchen. All photos: © tablehopper.com.