For years, Piccolo Sogno has enticed patrons with its Italian cuisine. However, more recently, Piccolo Sogno Due ( 340 N. Clark St.; piccolosognodue.com/ ) has opened in the River North area, and has unveiled its spring menu.
Due is just as beguiling as the original restaurant, even though the spinoff sports more of a coastal Italian cuisine. Affable Chef/Partner Tony Priolo has greeted spring with items that emphasize local produce, light flavors and intriguing presentation. Arugula, squash blossoms, ramps, peas, fava beans and local cheeses are some of the items in his homemade pastas, pizza and fresh seafood at both restaurants.
The newer spot features antipasti such as polpo ( grilled octopus ), seppia ( poached cuttlefish ), burrata and prosciutto. Salads include Tuscan kale ( delicious, according to my dining partner ), Caprese and barbabietole ( with roasted beets, Capriole goat cheese, watercress, hazelnuts and citrus ).
The calamari appetizer I had was among the best I've sampled, and I absolutely fell in love with the orecchiette ( ear-shaped pasta with sausage rapini, chili flakes, garlic and olive oil ). Even though I tend toward being a carnivore, the ravioli ( artichoke-stuffed pasta, English peas, fava, spring onions and parsley ) were also pretty tasty.
Concluding this meal was a panna cotta di limone that was just as light and airy as the rest of the repastand the decor. It's all a perfect accompaniment. Now it just needs to warm up ( a little bit ).
Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House
Everybody seems to buzz about Gibson's steakhouse, but the adjoining Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House ( 1024 N. Rush St.; www.hugosfrogbar.com/ ) deserves just as much, thanks primarily to the work of Chef Randy Waidner. ( Note: There are other locations in Naperville and Des Moines, with the latter only allowing those 21 and older. )
Waidner is extremely friendly, but a talk with him also showed a very serious side of himat least, about business. Waidner ( who started as a busboy at a country club ) told me, "You gotta love what you do, but you also have to be a businessman. So many people have a passion for cooking, but they don't understand the business end."
He added that Hugo's has seasonal itemswhich makes sense, as seaoof tends to have peak periods throughout the year. Also, Waidner said that the items at the restaurant are "thoughtfully sourced"from farmers, fishermen, etc.
Even having a quick lunch, it was easy to see why Hugo's has been so acclaimed. Service was impeccable, the place is full of history ( including a Winston Churchill booth ) and the food was impressive. The sumptuous crab bisque was topped with a fluffy mound of crab. Also, the Bass Ale-battered cod and chips were really good, and the meal concluded with a mountainous slab of "Yo Mama's Apple Pie." ( However, considering that the pie/cake prices run between $9.50 and $17.25, you SHOULD expect something huge. )
My only criticism of the place involves the setting. There are many tables in some spaces, and they seem too closemeaning you can become involved in other people's conversations almost too easily; also, it can become difficult to maneuver between tables. However, overall, Hugo's is place the public should definitely experience.
By the way, here's some trivia: Many people think that the spot got its name from serving frogs' legs. However, here's the truth: "Frog" was the nickname Hugo Ralli called his grandfather, General Bruce Hay of Her Majesty's Imperial Forces.