Piccolo Sogno: The Little Dream

IMG_1222Since last summer, I had been meaning to take a trip to one of Chicago's best new restaurants, Piccolo Sogno.  Many accolades, including Chicago's best outdoor dining, have been given in such a short amount of time.  My wife and I were finally on our way to enjoy some Italian food!

Piccolo Sogno means "small dream" in Italian- a vision created by co-owners Chef Tony Priolo and Ciro Longobardo.  The space is very smart, located on the southwest corner of Halsted and Grand.  We entered from a small valet controlled parking lot (free for lunch, $6 for dinner).  After we were greeted at the host stand, we were escorted past the busy wall bar, around the corner to our table.  The room is painted lively blue, with intimate tables bookended by an open kitchen and the entrance to the outdoor patio.  We were presented with our menus and the wine list, and we dove into our studies.

Now for a bit of background.  I worked with both Tony and Ciro at Coco Pazzo Restaurant for three years.  It was there I saw Tony grow into a great chef, with his many trips to Italy, working, learning, and creating natural, authentic, and fabulous Italian cuisine.  His winning staple is Italian imported food and ingredients accompanied by local meat and produce.  Ciro was a very likeable and professional General Manager and host, who I always shared a great connection with: he grew up where my family emmigrated from, Napoli.

It didn't take long for Tony to stop by the table for a visit.  We talked about his new restaurant, our current happenings, and old times.  Even though he was busy running the line in the kitchen, he seemed to make his way to almost every table to chat with guests.

The wine list is very impressive- an all Italian selection of over 400 bottles.  You can find values from all over "the boot", with some of the most moderate restaurant pricing in town.  From classic lighter styles like Valpolicella, Barbera, and Piedirosso, to the heavy hitters like Barolo, Amarone, Brunello, SuperTuscans, and Aglianico.  Glass pours were numerous- over 40 choices, ranging from $4 on up.  I really wanted to start with the sparkling Aspirinio, a wine I've only tried once at A16 in San Francisco, but it was off the list.  So we started with a sparkling Pinot Nero rosé from Veneto, which was crisp and fruity.  We later moved to a bottle of 2006 Maculan Brentino, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, also from Veneto.  This wine worked well through our meal, as it had supple tannins, floral notes, and rich dark fruit.  The long flavor winded down with a bit of oak.  A steal at $38.

Now for the meal.  We were immediately presented with an amuse-bouche of truffled potato croquets and soft house-made breads.  We wanted to share many items, so we could experience most of the menu.  To start off, we had to try the pizza napoletana style- thin crust, cooked in a wood burning stone oven, topped with fresh ingredients.  Verdict: this is as close as you can come to Napoli in Chicago.  The thin, crisp and doughy crust was topped with fresh cheese, olive oil, and arugula.  We also had the Burrata con Culatello- thinly sliced prosciutto topped with Burrata, a cheese from Puglia made from mozzarella and cream.  The combo of the melt in your mouth salty pork with the creamy cheese is amazing.

IMG_1214Next, we went with the Insalata Barbabietole, which came out in gorgeous presentation.  Locally grown beets topped with shaved fennel, greens, and ricotta, surrounded by citrus oil.  This was a pleasant, clean, and delicious salad.  We also had the Griglia Mista, a mix of grilled seafood surrounding greens.  There was not much seafood, and the baby octopus was a bit scorched, but the calamari was crisp with light char and big sea flavor.

For pasta, we split the Gnocchi di Spinaci, small spinach and potato dumplings in a sauce of herbs, sundried tomatoes, IMG_1215and mushrooms.  The care in the house-made pasta was evident, as they were soft and subtle with each flavor hint.  The sauce was so fresh, I could not help but scoop every drop up with bread.

IMG_1219For our secondo piatto, we went with the Porchetta alla Romana.  This is a very authentic and simple dish from Lazio, of pork rolled in olive oil and herbs, wrapped with Pancetta, and wood roasted.  It was sliced, accompanied by roast potatoes, and topped with pan drippings.  The smell was so intensely delicious, we received comments from the table next to us, commending us on our selection!  The palate matched the bouquet- rich and flavorful. 

IMG_1221On to the sweets.  For chocolate lovers, go for the Torta con Gianduia.  It is a warm flourless chocolate cake, with an oozing center, accompanied by hazelnut ice cream.  The Millefoglie, IMG_1220meaning "thousand leaves", is a multi-layered puff pastry, encasing a chocolate chip custard- almost tastes like cookie dough.  This is a "do not miss" dessert!

I highly recommend coursing your meal at this restaurant.  You will be able to experience all the authenticity they have to offer.  Also, the food quality to price ratio leaves the consumer in a huge winning situation.  This spot will be pleasing Chicagoans and tourists for years to come!