WESTCHESTER DINING | PORT CHESTER
Suzy Allman for The New York Times
A Warm Welcome, Made in a Whisper.
Il Sogno's lively dining areas are pleasantly old-fashioned.
Published: December 9, 2011
IL SOGNO is in many ways surprising. Tucked within a gantlet of brightly lighted gas stations and fast-food operations, this roadside restaurant hardly shouts its presence. Its location — just past a complicated intersection where Boston Post Road meets Regent Street — creates an additional distraction for first-timers trying to find the place.
But once inside its dark space, diners will find a warm welcome in a comfortable and pleasantly old-fashioned restaurant with gorgeous stone walls, floor-length burgundy draperies, tapestries and flowers.The Port Chester area has attracted more than its share of Italian restaurants in recent years, and the bar for good Italian food has been raised by a few fancy dining spots with stylish menus reflecting the latest trends in this cuisine. Yet feisty Il Sogno
(“the dream”) has managed, without fanfare or pretension, to hold its own, thanks to a kitchen that cooks up some very good food indeed.The menu is relatively lean, but it is augmented by a long list of seasonal specials that are recited (always a nuisance) without prices (an even bigger nuisance; diners on a budget would do well to ask). Good bread and a lagniappe — ours was a tasty potato cake — kept hunger at bay while we chose interesting-sounding offerings that would give us an idea of what this kitchen was about. We didn’t have to wait long to find out; judging from a stellar artichoke-potato soup, it is about deep, satisfying, carefully balanced flavors.The irresistible antipasti included a “fantasia” of four sweet gamberoni (jumbo prawns) wrapped in pancetta, the snug parcels crisped and presented on a bed of greens citric with a scattering of orange segments. A brilliant eggplant lasagna merged two Italian standards — eggplant rollatini and lasagna — removing the heavy cheese from one and the noodles from the other to form a remarkably light starter that is not just for eggplant lovers or vegetarians
.Portobello carpaccio sounded more intriguing than it tasted, but kudos must be given for the gossamer-thin cuts of mushroom beneath slippery roasted peppers and wide shavings of Parmesan; however, we could have done without the large, leathery leaves of mature arugula.Our appetizers were followed by some terrific pastas. Toothsome, glistening pappardelle, served “alla Amanda,” was mingled with juicy scallops, asparagus and tiny tomatoes. An aromatic dish of slender capellini arrived under a truffle-heady and unusual mushroom sauce, which was processed to lovely smoothness. Huge ravioli di aragosta — so rich that a half order might do for a primi — came in a pasta pillow that seemed too thick to be elegant; nonetheless, the lobster filling was there, its unmistakable taste enhanced by a creamy aurora sauce.Steadfast diners who have made it through the bread, lagniappe, antipasti and pasta might consider sharing somewhere along the line, and a few of the entrees lend themselves to that increasingly popular way of dining. Three thick, meltingly tender lamb chops, a special, were rubbed with oregano and cooked pink to order. A marinade kept a lean double-cut pork chop, another special, juicy under a hillock of vegetables that included roasted potatoes, sweet onion, spinach and hot peppers.Playing right into a preference for meats adjoining the bone, the pollo Palermo excelled. The clever kitchen used boneless thighs, full of on-the-bone flavor but without the mess. The succulent bite-size pieces came tossed with sausage, lots of seasonal vegetables — broccoli, asparagus, green beans, mushrooms — and a savory wine sauce wafting rosemary.But not all the entrees were as carefully executed. A shower of white wine, garlic and lemon sauce failed to resuscitate a half of a roasted chicken (mezzo polleto con aroma de limone); the meat was dry and the crumb topping burned. And while the sole “in a bowl” (a special) was fresh, the fish, which has flimsy flesh to begin with, was soft enough to slurp. Sturdier alternatives, like salmon steak with Dijon mustard and sautéed monkfish, we left for some future time.Desserts here are so de rigueur Italian that they are clichés, yet they are nicely done. The ricotta cheesecake with hints of lemon was exceptionally moist, the tiramisù deeply chocolaty, the biscotti soft and buttery. And the zabaglione, prettily presented in a martini glass with strawberries, will please the many diners who like the portlike sweetness of Marsala wine whipped into the eggy froth.
THE SPACE Long, narrow roadside restaurant with two dining rooms connected by a handsome center bar. Soothing earthy tones provide a backdrop for stone walls, burgundy draperies, tapestries and flowers.
THE CROWD Mixed and convivial. Some children in family groups, but mostly adult groups and couples. Welcoming and attentive, helpful service.
THE BAR Handsome and friendly. A solid wine list of mostly Italian bottles runs from $32 to $1,500. Wine by the glass, $9 and $10.
THE BILL Lunch entrees, $15 to $26. Dinner entrees, $19 to $28 (more for some of the specials, which are recited without prices); pasta, $16 to $19, with half orders available for starters.
WHAT WE LIKED
Gamberoni alla fantasia (shrimps wrapped in pancetta), eggplant lasagna, pappardelle, capellini with mushroom and truffle oil (special), ravioli di aragosta, double-cut marinated pork chop (special), pollo Palermo, lamb chops with oregano (special), ricotta cheesecake, tiramisù. Some dishes change with the season, so a favorite artichoke-potato soup from October might not be the soup of a December day.
IF YOU GO
Lunch: Monday to Sunday, noon to 3 p.m. Dinner: Sunday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. Parking behind the building. Reservations are a good idea on weekends.
RATINGS Don’t Miss, Worth It, O.K., Don’t Bother