Nobody looks beautiful for a beautiful room anymore. The other day, at, I watched some dude stroll through Kevin Heisner’s golden space in a dusty V-neck T-shirt and a backward Cincinnati Reds cap. I didn’t even blink. But a few nights later at Piccolo Sogno Due, where the only hats in sight are on women from the Kentucky Derby school of sartorialism, I could barely believe my eyes. It was beauty, and it was everywhere: From the natty crowd to the regal room, where the dark blue ceiling contrasts with the blinding white tablecloths, to the bread basket, which cradles no fewer than four made-in-house specimens: focaccia, sourdough, squid-ink sourdough and whole-wheat crackers. (Actually, the bread just looks like bread. The beauty is in the effort.)
For their second restaurant, Ciro Longobardo and chef Tony Priolo brought on Todd Stein, who for the last couple of years has been hotel hopping (first theWit, then the J.W. Marriott). Stein has become known for his carbonara, which he put on the menu at both hotels. I like that dish, but I was happy not to see it here, where the menu reflects a more mature chef. This time, Stein’s gone simple and subtle, and he’s put trust in the eater—trust that we don’t need to get knocked over the head to recognize something has flavor.
That said, Stein does sometimes lean a little too subtle. His perfectly fried white bait cries out for salt, and his thick strands of scialatielli, though tossed with monkfish, tomatoes and garlic, fails to pop. But his trapanese—tender shellfish set in a spicy tomato broth and dotted with punchy almond pesto—is a dish that’s impossible to stop eating. Same goes for his pasta pockets with foie gras, which despite their richness are things your fork will go for again and again. Stein’s roasted octopus might be the most tender in the city, and his rabbit loin is surely among the juiciest. But his meatballs and his pizzas? They can only be called inoffensive.
And yet the less successful dishes do offend. Set against an otherwise perfect setup—great room, strong service, nice wines—a lackluster dish (gelato that’s already melted before it hits the table, for example) can induce disproportionate disappointment. It’s not exactly fair, but it’s Piccolo’s own fault: The restaurant is so singularly special that customer expectations fly high. It’s a phenomenon called caring, and it comes with a cost. But, personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.