Piccolo Sogno Due – 340 N Clark Street – Chicago, IL
It was around -10 degrees out last night, and a post call Monday left me with no energy at all to cook even a nearly completely prepped dinner – yes, I’m super lazy. Sara felt the same way after dealing with her crap all day, so we got on open table looking for a quick, close restaurant week option. The decision ended up pretty simple – Piccolo Sogno or it’s sister restaurant, Piccolo Sogno Due – both had a good number of choices for each option for the lower $33 price. Apparently, there was one dish that caught Sara’s eye so down Clark St to Piccolo Sogno Due it was.
There’s obviously no shortage of choices for Italian food in Chicago, but Piccolo Sogno has cemented itself as a fixture in the River West area with a great selection of italian wines, a focus on fresh vegetables, house-made pasta, and pretty swank patio that gets overrun in the summer. It had a pretty good following for awhile and was almost impossible to get in a good spot in the summer. Enter PS Due, which opened up about 2 years ago has a very similar style and feel, but a completely different menu. I haven’t looked at them side by side, but I believe there’s no overlap between the two menus.
For restaurant week, this place was a solid choice, and if you’re going as a couple or a large group, there’s 6 or 7 choices for each appetizer / entree / dessert selection which is perfect because there’s something for everyone, but not enough to overwhelm the extremely indecisive (like myself). Plus, what is put in front of you is a full sized portion, which makes your $33 go a long way.
The bread service was solid – a rosemary foccacia which was suprisingly the weak link of the four, a garlic salt crisp, sourdough which was perfectly soft with great flavor, and a squid ink wheat bread that had that great, near-black squid ink color and a subtle tastiness. Piccolo Sogno’s house olive oil is a bit light, but pairs well with the bread and just a touch of black pepper.
To start, I decided to go with the polpo – a healthy portion of grilled octopus. One of the highlights of PS and PS Due is the wood-fired oven, and the octopus (octopi?) had that great wood-fired char, which you could smell even as the waiter approached with the plates, something I wish came through in the pics (one day smells will be generated by your computer, until then, use your imagination…). The octopi slices were medium sized – big enough to get that good tentacle texture, but not so huge that it lost its tenderness – sometimes when octopus or squid gets a little big it can get a little firm and chewy, but not here. A few tentacles were served atop a plate of smallish roasted fingerling potatoes and some nicely charred roasted red peppers.
Sara got the butternut squash soup, which in the end looks better than it tasted. The base of the soup was pretty standard, but well executed; however, the drizzled balsamic that looks all pretty in the picture unfortunately overpowered the dish, and balsamic is pretty easy to overpower any dish.
For her secondi, Sara went with the black spaghetti dish. Essentially a squid ink pasta that provided a nice base for a minimally spicy seafood stew with fresh mussels, calamari, and well cooked plump shrimp. The sauce had a touch of some sort of liquor in it (Pernaud maybe?) to complement the deep seafood flavor. A solid dish.
For my main, I went with the Poletto, a well roasted half Amish chicken served atop a bed of polenta and wood-fired mushrooms. The polenta had a nice consistency, similar to that of baba ghanoush or creamy mashed potatoes, and nice contrast to the firmer, but still quite tender chicken. The chicken was “spatch-cocked” according to my culinary guide, which is when they remove the backbone of the chicken to flatten it for more consistent cooking when they grill or roast it. The result is a nice even consistency; the skin had a nice crisp to it to add to the complex texture of the dish.
Pretty stuffed at this point, particularly since it took awhile to get our first few dishes, allowing myself to gorge on the bread basket, but we had some great choices for dessert, and it was 15 below out, so why not. A cup of deep flavorful coffee to get us ready for dessert.
Sara was initially set on the Tavoletta, a chocolate mousse based dish, but called a last minute audible when the coffee came and switched over to the Panna Cotta, perfectly cooked with great texture, and as you can see from the picture, a healthy dose of vanilla beans, giving it a great appearance, and an even better deep vanilla flavor.
I, of course got the gelato – the waitress had told me what flavors were available tonight – straciatella, coconut, and strawberry. I asked for as scoop of straciatella, after which she proceeds to tell me I get THREE SCOOPS as dessert . Did I mention I was stuffed at this point?!! But I can’t turn down gelato, so three scoops it is! Served in a frozen stainless steel bowl, the gelato at PS is freshly made with good ingredients, shown by the slightly paler but real pink color of the strawberry. The gelato here had a good consistency and a deep fresh flavor.
Overall, what Piccolo Sogno Due is nothing flashy or overly memorable, but solidly done. The choices are diverse, the ingredients are fresh, the preparations are pretty traditional but with a bit of twist to make it still interesting. Fresh housemade pasta is always a huge plus, as is fresh made gelato. And for $33, this is probably one of the best restaurant week deals you’re going to find on the menu.
Thanks everyone for reading – Sara has gotten jealous watching me amass followers and views, so we’ve decided to continue my blog as a joint venture. The idea is to for me to continue to help you find the best spots to grub in Chicago, and at the same time, to chronicle our attempts at creating interesting dishes in our own kitchen. And to top it all off, we’re tackling a kitchen renovation starting this spring, so we’ll give you updates and you can follow us through the process, from cabinet design to appliance picking, and finally to demo and construction. Honestly, the demo entries might be quite memorable, especially if you get a sledgehammer in my hand….
The new site will be http://eatsindinesout.wordpress.com
Thanks everyone for following so far, and hope you’ll continue to check it out…