The dream translates to Italian

Chalk up another culinary success for Andrew Weissman! Taking a cue from his long-standing and justly praised Le Rêve (set to close after this month, so the chef and father can pursue more family-friendly ventures), this summer he opened up Il Sogno (also translated as “the dream,” this time in Italian) at the Pearl Brewery. Less formal in décor and menu than Le Rêve, Il Sogno still features the Weissman touch with first-rate chefs and line personnel, perfectly trained servers, and attention to every detail, including the vases of bird-of-paradise stems, the muted, pin-point spot lights, and the top-of-the line stemware. Contributing to the feeling of casualness however, Il Sogno does not require coats and ties at dinner, and at breakfast and lunch shorts and sandals are not uncommon. Le Rêve, with its underlit setting and its formally dressed servers, has an elegance that befits French haute cuisine. In contrast, Il Sogno is playful, expressed by such features as the chandelier of descending wine bottles in the center of the dining room, the white papers laid over the tablecloths, the industrial look of exposed ductwork, the takeout boxes of clear plastic, and the seven outdoor tables with Pellegrino-signature umbrellas. As you enter you meet the maitre’d, who takes names (no reservations). If you avoid rush hours (noon-1 at lunch, 6-7:30 at dinner) the waiting time is not excessive, except on weekends. Executive chef Luca Della Casa from Turin, who moved over from Le Rêve, is likely to be in the kitchen directing nearly a dozen other staff. It’s hard not to salivate as you watch them work. Mounted on the kitchen wall is an appropriate motto: “Excellence isn’t our goal. It’s where we begin.” The lunch menu is about a dozen items including a couple of salads, several pastas, a pizza, a panino, and most days, a meat course (scaloppine di miale the day I was there) and a fish dish. A hungry eater might want to sample the antipasti table ($9 for a choice of three, $12 for five) as a starter course. The selections vary, but usually include roasted vegetables, prosciutto, and a delicious cold octopus and potato salad. For the main course I glommed onto the gnocchi alla caprese, potato dumplings the size and shape of knuckle bones, with a rich bolognese sauce and more than ample mozzarella, served bubbling hot with a big chunk of focaccia. In Rome, gnocchi are a traditional Thursday dish, but at Il Sogno it’s on the menu every day. The wine list contains an ample listing of Italian regional vintages. Although you could spend $400 for a bottle of 2006 Tenuta San Guido “Sassicaia”, at least half the list is under $40, and you can start with a glass of Prosecco for $6. We enjoyed a particularly fruity Pinot Grigio from the Veneto region of northeast Italy. In the evening the menu is longer and more complex, and while an Italian might have no qualms about tackling the antipasti, a first course of pasta, a salad, and a fish or meat course, plus a dessert or cheese, most diners we observed were quite content with at least one course less.  Very thin bread sticks are laid out on the table, and water is offered with a choice of citrus slices. After inspecting the antipasti table, my companion and I decided  to sample the tomini (sheep’s cheese), mixed seafood salad, white bean mousse with garlic, roasted vegetables, and the affettati (cured meats). Selection took a while, and we passed over at least as many delectable-looking options as we picked. The bean mousse really was a winner — delicate, with just enough garlic to get your attention without overwhelming the bean flavor. We split a salad of asparagus with a truffled egg and bits of bacon, and took a pass on the great-looking pastas that passed our table, like the risotto with black squid ink, bits of tentacles, and sweet peas — both to spare our budget and to leave room for the main courses and dessert. My companion had the merluzzo, a thick piece of cod in a saffron broth with leeks and a couple of sizeable prawns. I barely kept my fork from going back to her plate, while devouring every bit of my spezzatino di cinghiale, wild hog in slivered bite-size pieces over a polenta with Taleggio. The gaminess of the meat was nicely balanced by the polenta. It took me back to my years in Tuscany, and the cinghiale that turned up on fall menus throughout Florence, served with wild mushrooms or chestnut puree. Desserts are primarily chocolate-based or laced, and since neither of us has the chocolate gene, we had the fruit tart, a tasty mélange of pear and peach. We noticed other diners working on the tiramisu and the nutella tart with chocolate gelato, a favorite we remembered from Le Rêve. Somehow, two hours had sped by. We called for the check and said grazie e arrivederci. •
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