BY SOPHIE BROSS
At last, outdoor dining has returned to Chicago. After months of take out, delivery and cooking at home during the Covid 19 lockdown, we can finally partake in the long-awaited Chicago season of al fresco dining that we affectionately refer to as summer. As restaurants reopened this past week, customers immediately flocked to sidewalk patios and gardens. The mood was happy and lively. My very first reservation after the reopening was at Piccolo Sogno, my favorite outdoor patio in Chicago.
Piccolo Sogno is Italian for “little dream” and is considered one of the classic Italian restaurants of all time in Chicago. This is where chefs go to dine when they want Italian cuisine. Restaurant partners Chef Tony Priolo and Ciro Longobardo opened Piccolo at 464 N. Halsted in Chicago’s River West neighborhood over 10 years ago and it is still a packed house every night. Piccolo’s outdoor patio is a rare garden space in Chicago filled with illuminated trees and surrounded by privacy fences. It’s a refuge from the noise and the hustle of the city. The environment is serene and very European in its feel.
With the exception of masked servers and spaced out tables it appears that nothing has changed. Everything is just as amazing as always and the staff is eager to be back. It’s great to see familiar faces and it’s wonderful that Piccolo was able to retain many of their stellar staff post-Covid. The basic menu is unchanged with the exception of the seasonal dishes that are adjusted every few months by Chef Tony based on the availability of fresh ingredients. The homemade pasta and paper-thin Italian pizzas are great to share or enjoy as main courses. I’m particularly fond of the pappardelle with wild boar ragu and the gnocchi with garlic, spinach, and gorgonzola cheese. As for main courses, the branzino is one of the best in the city. It is crusted with sea salt and prepared in a caper citrus reduction. For those of you looking for something a bit heartier I highly recommend the braised beef short ribs with polenta. On special when available is the veal milanese which still ranks as my all-time favorite dish at the restaurant.
Perhaps international travel isn’t possible for now but you could easily imagine being in Tuscany while dining outside in the garden at Piccolo Sogno on a beautiful day. We are all so good at virtual meetings and social events post-pandemic. This is your virtual visit to Italy. Enjoy and welcome back Chicago!