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Dish Osteria & Bar offers wealth of Italian options

| Thursday, April 26, 2012, 1:18 a.m.

Dish Osteria & Bar is a modest building from the outside, a sunny splash of yellow with white string lights tucked away on 17th and Sarah streets. Patrons will probably have to circle the block a few times for parking, but it's worth it to find the genuine European-style bistro that has been a South Side fixture since 2000.

Food has played an integral part in owner and chef Michele Savoia's life from a young age. After his mother died in New York, he moved as an infant to Sicily and blossomed under the watchful eye of his grandmother, Margherita.

"My grandmother was an old Sicilian woman. She would get up very early to cook and would take me with her when she went shopping," he says.

When he was older, he moved to northern Italy and began to expand his palate. "When I was with my friends, we would always try to find new places to eat."

After high school, he returned to New York City to work as a waiter. He felt an "immediate connection" to the action unfolding in the kitchen.

Shortly after, a woman from Pittsburgh also piqued his interest.

"My brother was working at an Italian restaurant across the street ... one day, I saw this bartender and she was from Pittsburgh," he says.

The bartender, Cindy, soon became Mrs. Savoia and the couple traveled, staying for several months in Costa Rica. When they stopped in Pittsburgh, it was time to make a decision — either stay here for a while or return to New York. They opted to rent an apartment on 17th Street in the South Side.

"I thought the South Side needed a little bistro. I was on the phone with a guy and he mentioned a building at 17th and Sarah that might work," Savoia says. "I poked my head out the window and saw a neon sign down the street. I said, 'Is that it?' "

The Savoias were able to squint through the smoky windows of then-Irish pub McCain's to see the building's potential.

Savoia, who used to paint "surreal landscapes," channeled his artistic talents into creating an inviting, sensual space. Embossed tin walls are painted a pale citrus yellow-green. The bar is a sheen of hammered copper glistening under miniature hanging Tiffany-style lamps.

The cozy dining room, a shade brighter, flickers with votives. A hefty gilded floor-to-ceiling mirror reflects diners.

Many of the male patrons wear black button-down dress shirts and skinny dark-wash jeans, with chunky black or brown glasses. Ladies mostly don simple spring dresses and skirts. But there is an undeniable air of glamour.

Behind us, a young model discusses a fashion shoot with two men, presumably the photographers. Black-and-white portraits of women in Lucite platforms in various states of coy undress dot the walls behind them.

Michele and his brother, Andrea, both striking figures with long salt-and-pepper curls, pause to fix a wobbly table and chat in Italian with some of the tourists stopping in to have a taste of home.

"Lately, for some reason, Italian travelers come," Michele says, "also some people filming movies ... they were filming that 'Love and ... Drugs?' last fall."

He mentions the film's stars, "Jake" (Gyllenhaal) and "Anne" (Hathaway), as if they were any of his regular diners, because above all Michele is a family man, and treats guests as if they have joined his for dinner.

He eats with his wife and son, Nico, 7, at Dish at least once a week. "I tell Nico, 'Do whatever you want in life ... cook if you want, but do not open a restaurant!'" jokes Michele.

Dish has a number of tapas-sized portions, in addition to their entrees. Offerings have a Sicilian bent, but show traces of Northern Italy as well.

Bruschetta ai Funghi ($5) sang with a hearty mixture of sauteed portobello, shiitake and cremini mushrooms, tossed with fresh basil and splayed out on three ovals of smoky grilled ciabatta bread. It complemented our Zuppa Di Pesce ($8.50) a colorful peasant soup brimming with mussels, clams, delicate shrimp, halibut and dry cod fish in a light tomato broth. The soup was a perfect balance of fresh-catch Sicilian cuisine and the dried fishes of the northern region.

The Tuesday night specials included Orange Marlin Carpaccio ($9) and Sardina Alla Griglia ($5), two fish not always seen on Pittsburgh tables. The marlin carpaccio was beautiful to behold, sliced in thin circlets around a cluster of spicy micro greens. A fragrant lemon caper dressing topped everything off.

The large, grilled sardine's slight saltiness was tempered with delicate carmelized sweet and sour onions.

For dinner, I chose a hefty portion of Fettuccine Con Gamberetti ($18.50) that needed little more than garlic, parsley, red chili pepper and Sicilian extra-virgin olive oil to accentuate a blend of white Caribbean shrimp, baby artichokes, cherry tomatoes and arugula.

Steak lovers will revel in the decadence of the Bistecca alla Griglia ($27), a thick cut of New York strip, accented with sauteed spinach greens and pan-roasted Yukon gold potatoes, laced with prosciutto and sage.

And no dinner would be complete without one of Michele's desserts. The Chocolate Bread Pudding ($5), served warm with Grand Marnier sauce and silky, fresh whipped cream, snuck up on us with its smoldering, complex spices.

Additional Information:

Dish Osteria & Bar

Cuisine: Italian

Hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays; kitchen closes at midnight

Entree price range: $15-31

Notes: Major credit cards accepted. Specialty drinks and extensive wine list. Happy Hour specials. Handicapped-accessible. Reservations are recommended.

Address: 128 S. 17th and Sarah streets, South Side.

Details: 412-390-2012 or website

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