Piccolo Sogno Review – Tasty Eye for Detail

Piccolo Sogno is open for both lunch and dinner

 

Aha!  We have now found an authentic taste of Italy in Chicago!

 

The trees and flora of the garden are mainly European-- chosen to give the feel of Italy

 

You only need to spend a little time in Italy to realize that the moniker “foodie” makes little sense on that terrain.  EVERYONE in Italy is a foodie, after all, and there is no shortage of passion on what makes quality, whether you are talking about cheese, honeyolive oil, cooking or of course wine

 

On the way to the summer garden dining you walk through the interior of the restaurant, clearly seeing that it has many alcoves and spaces within

 

Perhaps the most important open secret of authentic Italian cuisine is that the universal digestif seems to be congeniality and warmth. 

 

Unlike most Chicago outdoor restaurants where you are contending with the sounds and fumes of traffic, Piccolo Sogno's garden is away from the street and immediately gives you a sense of peace as you enter

 

Alfredo Padilla has been at Piccolo Sogno for six of its seven years. He is both a sommelier and ever watchful eye attending to service

 

How nice to know that we can experience this closer to home at ever-so-happening Piccolo Sogno,

 

We were surprised to see crowds beginning to fill in the garden as early as 5 PM on a Tuesday evening, which should be a slow night. By 7 PM the garden seemed to be at capacity. Make reservations!

 

where even on the slowest night of the week the crowds pour in to taste carefully crafted cuisine paired with some of the 700+ bottles mainly chosen from Italy’s smaller vineyards.

 

Chef and co-owner Tony Priolo is an llinois Restaurant Association board member and known for his support of local charities, most recently including Meals on Wheels Chicago, Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation and SOS Children's Village

 

Co-owner Ciro Longobardo moved to the United States from Italy 18 years ago. He returns to Italy several times a year, in part to continually source new ingredients for Piccolo Sogno

 

Piccolo Sogno, which in English means “small dream”, was and is just that for restaurateur co-owners, chef Tony Priolo and sommelier Ciro Longobardo

 

Most of the 700+ wines served at Piccolo Sogno come from Italy's smaller vineyards

 

That we felt as though we were back in Italy is exactly what Priolo and Longobardo would hope.  Priolo says, “90% of our clientele have been to Italy.   We want our family here at Piccolo Sogno-- our clientele-- to feel like they are in Italy for the two or three hours that they are here.

 

Our waiter Miguel was not only extraordinarily congenial but also very knowledgeable about the menu, for example explaining the various ingredients and cooking preparation for the boar ragu

 

To meet that goal Priolo and Longobardo have given considerable thought to the small details of your experience to combine them in a way that is ever so Italian.  

 

The garden was at full capacity, but tables seem to be arranged in ways that allow you to hold private conversations

 

For example, Priolo, a self-described garden enthusiast, points out the many European trees and foliage in Piccolo Sogno’s lush garden, then confiding that if he didn’t have a new baby at home he would probably be spending more time feeding his gardening passion.  Longobardo, who moved here from Italy 18 years ago and who travels back to Italy frequently to source new ingredients for Piccolo Sogno-- and “to visit Mama”, of course—points out that the balsamic vinegar in what will look to many more like a perfume bottle on each table is of 15-years age vintage, saying “We could have a 5 year balsamic but we don’t.  We have the best. This is how we do it.”

 

Piccolo Sogno is not the place to go to if you are on a carb-free diet unless you are willing to break the rules. Don't miss the bread-- rosemary focaccia and bread sticks with a fennel aftertaste especially. All bread is baked daily by Piccolo Sogno. Note the perfume bottle of 15 year balsamic vinegar -- quite tasty!

 

It’s that attention to detail that came across consistently in the cuisine and the wine pairings in the tasting menu we sampled. 

 

Alfredo chose various wines to accompany our tasting menu, all delicious, and starting with this Prosecco to clear our palate

 

For example, the beet salad “Barbabietole” balanced its many ingredients (beets, shaved fennel, ricotta, greens, citrus infused oil) successfully but it was the near whipped cream texture of the imported buffalo ricotta from Naples that made it a standout. 

 

Barbabietole - mixed beets, shaved fennel, imported buffalo ricotta, greens, citrus infused oil. Photo courtesy of Piccolo Sogno

 

Not usually fans of Rose, we found this pairing with the beet dish to be entirely refreshing

 

Thankfully we had the chef choose our tasting menu, because if left to our own devices we might have skipped the “Margherita Pizza” thinking it too mundane, which would have meant missing how ample fresh basil can transform it into tantalizing appetizer that leaves you wanting more.    

 

Margherita pizza. Photo courtesy of Piccolo Sogno

 

Perhaps our top pick was a special of the day—and there are always daily specials in addition to four menu changes for each season—was the handmade ravioli stuffed with ricotta.  Here the pizzazz was black Umbrian truffles that complemented the subtleties of the ricotta and pasta without overpowering them.  Truth to tell, we had recently experienced many truffle dishes in Tuscany but this dish from Chicago-based Piccolo Sogno was better, though we couldn’t discern if this was more from the quality of the truffles or in the preparation.

 

A tasting portion of (right) Pappardelle con Cinghiale (wide flat pasta, spiced wild boar ragu), (middle) risotto with fresh cremini mushrooms, and handmade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and served with black Umbrian truffles

 

The menu caters both to meat lovers and those who are less carnivore or vegetarian. 

 

Fiori di Zucca - squash blossoms from a farm in Indiana stuffed with a Tuscan fontina, tomator and olive oil puree with arugula

 

Carnivores will find, among other dishes, “Pappardelle con Cinghiale”, a wide flat pasta spiced with a wild boar ragu, and “Rosticciana”, braised beef short ribs, soft polenta, pea shoot, red wine and aromatic vegetables.  This is tender meat where slow cooking brings out the maximum flavor.  The complexity of the boar ragu was intriguing, and we learned from our server that it is marinated in red wine with cinnamon, fresh herbs and fresh orange, then cooked with onions and celery. 

 

Rosticciana- braised beef short ribs, soft polenta, pea shoots, red wine and aromatic vegetables

 

Another favorite dish—and by the looks of it not just by us but by many a Piccolo Sogno patron dining in the garden—

 

The wood fire grilled sea bass is presented to you by your server before it is deboned

 

The sea bass is deboned and served

 

was the woodfire oven cooked sea bass (Branzino) with braised fennel, cooked in a white wine reduction with citrus caper sauce. 

 

This white wine was a perfect pairing with the wood fire grilled sea bass

 

You won’t find this on the regular menu but we heard it is almost always a daily special.  Your waiter will present it to you at your table and then take it away to debone prior to serving. 

 

This seems to be a space where a large party could have a private space. Photo courtesy of Piccolo Sogno

 

While both of the desserts we sampled were delicious—“Tortino di Gianduja”

 

Tortino di Gianduga- warm hazelnut and chocolate cake with hazelnut gelato, candied hazelnuts and chocolate sauce. Photo courtesy of Piccolo Sogno

 

and “Torta di Ricotta”

 

Torta di Ricotta, from chef Priolo's grandmother's recipe -- Sicilian ricotta cheese cake, strawberry sauce and mixed berries

 

--it was difficult not to especially love the latter because we learned that Chef Priolo first learned to cook at his grandmother’s side and this is the one dish from her kitchen that has a permanent place on the menu.  We are after all, now part of the family.

 

While we enjoyed the garden space it was clear that the lush interior would be warming in winter. Photo courtesy of Piccolo Sogno

 

Piccolo Sogno

464 North Halsted

Chicago, IL

312- 421 – 0077

 

Visit the Piccolo Sogno website.

 

Reservations Recommended! – especially for weekends on Open Table.

 

Lunch hours – Monday through Friday – 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM

 

Dinner hours – Monday through Thursday – 5:30 PM to 10:30 PM

 

                          Friday – 5:30 PM – 11:00 PM

 

                         Saturday – 5:00 PM  - 11:00 PM

 

                        Sunday – 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM    

 

-30-

 

Photos:  Peter Kachergis, unless otherwise indicated 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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