Restaurant Reviews

Piccolo Delizioso

November 2013

By Diane Hudson

Everything–from the ricotta to the lardo, the pasta, the sausages–is house-made, southern Italian… and favoloso.

PiccoloOne-eleven Middle Street has undergone many restaurant reincarnations in 40 years. Now comes Piccolo, offering Italian fare influenced by the chef-owner’s Abruzzi and Calabrian ancestry .

What has never changed is the size–tiny –currently only 14 seats plus five at the bar. We worry we’ll feel crowded–tables lined up inches from each other, rubbing elbows with strangers. But within seconds of a warm welcome, misgivings evaporate in the celebratory atmosphere.

The big story here is the complexity of flavors extracted from simple, fresh ingredients. We savor the cavolfiore ($6) and can’t wait to go home and see if somehow we can make cauliflower taste this good. “Charred” to golden brown, the luscious florets’ flavors are enhanced with  mixed olives and anchovies. Stop us from licking the bowl, please.

Then the Sarde ($14). These tantalizing, whole grilled sardines flown in from Italy take you to the Old World big time, here with roasted peppers, chickpeas, and red onion–a memorable experience.

From a smart selection of quality Italian wines we choose and happily quaff the suitably leathery Taurino Salice Salentino riserva, Puglia ($38); a fine contribution to continuing flavors.

After great debate we pass by the cavatelli, a pasta chef-owner Damian Sansonetti, former executive chef at Manhattan’s Bar Boulud, remembers making with his grandmother, ordering instead Porcellino ($25). The tender, slender slices are served on top of a delicious bed of sautéed Swiss chard, garlic, and marsala; each bite invites the next.

Patrimonio ($24) features “Abruzzi style” pork sausages that simply melt in our mouths. Think an ever so lightly orange touch, with a subtle mix of herbs and no gristle. Alongside creamy polenta and fennel, this is a dish worth remembering and ordering again.

Desserts by bakery chef Ilma Lopez, who studied under culinary masters Albert and Ferran Adrià and Daniel Boulud, are in a league of their own. We select the tasty tiramisu, a fine finish to a delightful and refreshing adventure. Affogato, a heavenly indulgence of rich vanilla cream served with strong French-press coffee to be poured over it, begs to be tried next time. A welcome incarnation, indeed–may it enjoy a long and healthy life! Ciao, Piccolo.

Piccolo–111 Middle St., Portland
Wed.- Sat. 5 to 10:30 p.m., Sun. 4:30-9:30
747-5307, piccolomaine.com.