The Castro is a neighborhood where food has long been an afterthought with the exception of Frances and Poesia, and the occasional dish at the new Fable. Thus every new opening brings a sense of hope that this might be turning around, and so it is with Dante's Table, the Poesia spinoff that is softly open in the former Nirvana/Dancing Pig space at 455 Castro Street. Owner Franceso D'Ippolito says he envisions the new restaurant as a "point of encounter" where people can meet up for a drink and a bite before hitting the bars in the neighborhood.
With that in mind, he's importing the tradition of aperitivo from restaurants and bars in northern Italy, in which complimentary snacks are served during the pre-dinner hours of 5 to 7 p.m. to tables enjoying drinks. There is a full bar, as well as an Italian-focused wine list.
As for food, pizza is a focus, and there will be Italian small plates and larger shared plates as well. Mornings will feature coffee and pastry, and there will be lunch service as well. The chef is Treviso-born Andrea Cesca, an experienced pizzaiolo who previously worked at Cotogna. And unlike a number of nearby restaurants, the kitchen will be open here until midnight. We'll get a menu and cocktail list to share as soon as we can. Update: See the dinner and drink menu here, and the wine list here.
D'Ippolito is a fan of Italian poetry, especially Dante's three-part Divine Comedy, which is why he named his first restaurant Poesia. For Dante's Table, he hired muralist John Baden who also did the mural of Harvey Milk at the Human Rights Campaign Action Center across the street, which was also once Milk's camera store to do bold and colorful, Dante-inspired works for the walls of the restaurant. The main dining represents Dante's seminal epic poem, Inferno, with the hallway leading to the rear being Purgatorio, and the back dining room and patio being Paradiso. (D'Ippolito will be making the rear area and the garden patio available for private events.) For now, as the patio gets renovated, they have a tarp up that reads "Paradise is Coming..."
The rest of the interior got a refresh as well, with a new copper countertop for the bar, and quotes from Inferno, in Italian and English, lining the beams.
D'Ippolito says, "Dante's Table is to fulfill my dream to provide a community gathering place... [I want it to be] that sort of place where you tell your friends, 'Hey, let's meet at Dante's Table for a drink or a bite and decide from there what we want to do.'"
They may be softly open as of this weekend, but the official grand opening will be Wednesday, May 1.
Dante's Table - 544 Castro Street between 18th and 19th - 415-529-2797 - Initial hours 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., with extended and morning hours starting soon.