March 2- 8, 2006
Mio Sogno tinkers with the formula, but retains its South Philly charm.
The entrance is predictablea lively bar to the right, a small dining room to the leftwith scarlet walls decorated with antique posters and mirrors, beaded lamps and, of course, Old Blue Eyes on the stereo. This is definitely Old South Philly, but there is a catch, because the young chef-owner, Joe Polutro, is trying valiantly to bring new life to the menu; new concepts or not, the customers come in regardless. Still, this self-taught chef does change the offerings seasonally, and makes all his sauces from scratch. And believe me, you can taste the freshness in the tomato sauce draped over the tower of eggplant Parmesan, which he tops with mozzarella and the unexpected creaminess of ricotta cheese. He's put in a reasonably priced, mainly Italian wine list from which we chose a Brusca di Barbi, a lively Tuscan red. He placed a dish of pickled carrots and celery on the table with some good bread, but why, with all of this enlightenment, were there paper-wrapped packets of butter alongside?
: Michael T. Regan
Polutro bakes wild mushrooms with rosemary and thyme and beds them beneath crabmeat and Asiago cheese, for a triumph of earthy creaminess with a touch of the sea thrown in. But his grilled polenta, topped with the bitterness of sauteed broccoli rabe, was a model of restraint, and the polenta was crisp without and creamy within. They'll even turn out a pizza on certain nights.
They had a gnocchi specialricotta gnocchi with tomatoes, peas, zucchini and the dry saltiness of ricotta salata. The gnocchi were light, the sauce complex, but I fell for the rigatoni con salsiccia, which is simply rigatoni with crumbled Italian sausage in a veal porcini ragu. That's a fairly standard preparation, but there was a bit of ricotta to mix into it, and a crunchy touch that Polutro proudly identified as sauteed bread crumbsan old Sicilian trick that made the dish irresistible.
EveryonePolutro, the friendly waitress, the busboyrecommended the costata di maiale as an entree, and my companion succumbed, reaping a huge center-cut pork chop bursting with Italian sausage, prosciutto and smoked mozzarella, and bathed with a porcini sauce. Oh yes, and they throw in creamed sweet pea risotto and string beans, as if there weren't enough on your plate. Dear reader, sometimes overkill can be wonderful, for this dish is delicious on many levelsthe tender meat, the mingled flavors of the stuffing, the dusky sauce. However, my mantra is "always try a simple veal cutlet, and that's how you measure an Italian restaurant." There are many memorable cutlets around town (certainly Panorama's comes to mind), but this rendition is great. Two cutlets covered the plate and were so crisp and flavorful that they didn't even need the lemon. It came with slivers of provolone and a side of verdant spinach.
Would we make it to dessert? The offerings, which change regularly, included a trio of créme brûlées, a caramelized banana split and an amaretto cake that was moist with almond paste, and was grand with the coffee.
Polutro sure is trying, and by the looks of the crowded room, he is succeeding. Perhaps there is too much cheese on some dishes, perhaps he puts too much together on one plate, but the quality and the love that he puts into his cooking is palpable. I will be back for the veal cutlet alone, but Mio Sogno promises so much more. And I'll be anxious to see how he wrestles with introducing new dishes in such a solidly entrenched neighborhood.
We left with a warm feelingno doubt induced by the amount of food we'd put awayand suddenly we felt that we were in some, small suburban town, but I was only blocks away from where my father was born. South Philly Magic, they call it, for lack of any other explanation.
2650 S. 15th St. (at Oregon Avenue), 215-467-3317
Appetizers, $6-$12; entrees, $13.50-$25
Mon., Wed., Thu., 5-10:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-11 p.m. (bar open until 2 a.m.); Sun., 4-9 p.m.
Wheelchair accessible. All major credit cards. Reservations suggested.