Piccolo is the Italian restaurant on Middle Street that took the place of another Italian restaurant previously located there. I’d heard a lot about it, but it’s fanfare was much greater than it’s physical size, as the place balances on the line between tiny and very small. When the idea to go popped into my head just hours before my wife randomly told me she made a reservation there, I knew it was fate and that I must try it.
We were seated at the bar and given our choice of four seats from which to choose. We kindly sat at two that left the other two empty seats adjacent to each other. It was the only civilized way to handle such a decision. We got our menus and were offered some sparkling or still water. Though Peterpeterportlandeater does occasionally speak in the third person, he does not drink sparkling water, so he and his wife ordered some of the still.
The first thing I noticed about the menus was that the food menu was quite small. At only a dozen total options, it was that smallest I’d seen in recent memory. The beer and wine selection was larger, so I knew that Piccolo had their priorities straight. I started with a glimpse of the drinks, picking out a beer I’d never had. When the waitress came over, I actually asked for a Shiraz or Syrah in lieu of my preselected beer, but they didn’t have one. Instead, the waitress insisted that I try another one she picked for me. I did and it was pretty good, so I ordered it, though I had to convince the her that I really was okay with it and not just caving in to make her happy. My wife ordered a white so as not to stray from her regular selection.
After we received our beverages, we were given a couple specials to consider and we continued to peruse the food menu. We looked at the snacks and apps on the menu and considered the specials which were both apps. We eventually decided to share the special Tomato Salad and the Formaggio – artisinal unpasteurized Italian cheese, semolina raisin toast, mostarda. For the entree there were only four choices, so it seemed to me like my decision should have been simple, but it was a little bit mind-tangling. I steered away from the meals with beef and lamb which left me with a couple seafood options – one with pasta and one without. In the end, I decided upon the Del Mar – roasted sea bass, chioggia beets, local fennel, Ian’s celery. My wife fancied herself some of the Spaghetti Con Granchi E Ricci Di Mare – chestnut pasta, sea urchin cream, fennel, rock crab, nardellos. We put in our orders for starters first and then the mains shortly after.
As we sipped our wines, we contemplated contemporary cuisine and culinary consciousness. On or about the time we got to the free-range chicken and not-as-free-range biscuits part of the discussion, our apps came out along with some bread and seasoned oil. The Tomato Salad appeared very fresh with different types of tomatoes and a little celery and radish along with some form of vinaigrette. The cheese board came with four cheeses, the bread, and a mostarda of the eggplant variety. We indulged in both appetizers, rotating between the fresh veggies and the excellent cheeses. Before long, all that was left was a lonely stick of gorgonzola – the sly, moldy fella lay on it’s side with two small bites taken out of it. Try as they might, these Portland restaurants won’t get me or my wife to finish the poor blue.
Blue cheese blues aside, we were prepared to see what we had to come. It was a wait, but only a short one before a bowl and plate of potential palate pleasers made their way in our direction. My food looked lovely. A substantial sea bass rested with four stacks of beet, fennel, and celery on top. My wife’s bowl contained the long pasta worms topped with nardellos/sweet peppers, and the rest mixed in.
Beginner bites were taken. I haven’t had a lot of sea bass, but this one was excellent compared to what I remembered about the fish of deep oceanic sound. I was even more pleased when I took a bite along with the veggie stack and the sauce smeared on the plate. I generally am not a fan of fennel, but it was hardly there and the combination of it all was really good. It was better than I expected for sure – unique and really tasty. My wife seemed to really enjoy hers too, so I tried it. The fresh pasta was delicious with perfect pasta texture and the sweet peps were very sweet, adding a nice spin to the dish. It all blended well, but the sea urchin cream was the kicker. The creamy consistency and the sea urchin flavor gave it a feeling reminiscent of ocean alfredo. It wasn’t more than moderately fishy though and both my wife and I felt it added to the meal. I see how it could be too strong or how some people might not be able to tolerate it at all, but we loved it.
I finished my meal and my wife’s too. It was time to put on our dessert eating caps. I decided – as I often do – that if there was a peanut butter treat that I would eat it. If not, dessert would be a push because I was quite full anyway. It turned out that there was no peanut butter option. The choices they did have sounded great, but I felt it was better to go home dessertless than to have to unbuckle my pants in the restaurant and waddle out with cream puff – or whatever – all over my face. “Check please.”
Our total came to 132 GW’s after tip – not inexpensive, but reasonable. I really enjoyed Piccolo. Their small but unique menu gave us a different take on Italian. Their cozy restaurant is a little tight, but definitely well placed. Their service staff was prompt, courteous, and knowledgeable. Add this one to your list when you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, when you feel like every day is exactly the same, and you want to branch out and feel alive in the superunknown.
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