Al dente ma non troppo
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  February 13, 2008

Sogno Ristorante & Bar | 961 Dyer Ave, Cranston | Daily, 4-10pm | Major credit cards | Wine only | Sidewalk-level access | 401.946.3335
Sogno certainly has the atmosphere right, starting with the sign outside, which looks like it was scratched out by a large quill pen dipped in burgundy ink. Inside, a waitstaff in snazzy vests busies about a dimly lit place with the same wine-red color catching your eye in the form of napkins perched amidst place settings. Four-foot high photographs of pasta-making are less intrusive than that sounds, almost intimate because they are monochrome close-ups. Nice place.
We came on a Thursday, when they were ramping up for the weekend, and the kitchen wasn't offering a few of their usual items. Pizza, for one. Five, actually, since that’s how many “Signature Pizzas” are prominent on the menu ($8.50-$10). The one named La Condatina got us drooling when we spied it on the restaurant’s Web site. It has portobellos, artichokes, grilled eggplant, and it’s garnished with basil leaves. Sigh. But we were told that the dough was still rising.
That was made up for, though, after I expressed mild disappointment to our waitress that there was no zuppa del giorno to supplement the omnipresent pasta fagioli (both $4.25). The chef offered to prepare stracciatella — the soup, not the desert of the same name. Chicken broth, spinach, and egg cooked by the heat of the soup. A couple of spoonfuls of Parmesan, and it was delicious. I was glad it wasn’t ice cream.
The salads and four menu appetizers didn’t pique my interest: antipasto, traditional preparation of calamari, mussels in spicy marinara, and shrimp with cannelloni beans.
But one appetizer special sounded off the beaten menu. Our waitress said it was “tri funghi” and sun-dried tomatoes ($7), the active ingredient of which I translated to “tre funghi,” three mushrooms, since she had confessed to an Irish background. (The chef later came out and said funghi truffalo” was what she had misremembered.)
Rather than a medley of wild foraging, there were ordinary button mushrooms, though tarted up by the tangy tomatoes. The cream sauce was flavorful, but might have homogenized three subtle tastes. Not bad, but not what I would have ordered.

The nicely dense Italian bread came with a dish of flavorful olive oil that held cloves of roasted garlic. The wine list on the back of the single-sheet, oversized laminated menu offers seven flights of three three-ounce glasses ($10-$16), in addition to a few other choices.
My robust glass of Jacobs Creek Australian Shiraz ($7/$25) inspired me to choose the shrimp cappellini arrabbiata ($17). Jumbo shrimp were specified, but it was chockful of medium-size ones, so there was no complaint.
Angel hair pasta is a challenge to prepare al dente, so don’t order it unless the kitchen is trustworthy. When my first bite resulted in an audible crunch, I thought my al dente request had triggered overkill, but soon realized that cappellini ends sticking out of the water was probably the cause. Returned to the kitchen and briefly sautéed, the dish returned perfect, with that wonderful combination of delicacy and bite that no other pasta provides.
Speaking of bite, there were just enough red pepper flakes for a gentle heat. The marinara sauce was marvelous, hefty and full-flavored, deepened with roasted garlic. A drizzle of pesto oil completed the dish.
From the five choices of chicken preparations, Johnnie chose the roasted half-chicken ($19.50), partly for the free-range flavor expectation, but also because it came with a mushroom risotto that, in a slightly beefed-up preparation, is available as risotto di Ezio ($15.50), the chef's only signature dish. It was not overly creamy, and my dining partner approved. The chicken didn’t disappoint, either. Moist, tasty, and crisp-skinned, it was roasted with fresh rosemary and, of course, garlic.
All but the frozen desserts are made in-house. The tiramisu, we were told, would be ready only the following day. No problem: the slice of hefty Italian lemon cake ($7) was devoured easily.
Sogno reminded me of the limitation of a single-visit review like this — although that is the experience most of us have, dropping into a restaurant any old time. But while we were tantalized by what we couldn’t have, what we did order didn’t disappoint, ranging from acceptable — the mushroom appetizer — to very good — my pasta dish, after chef/owner Ezio Gentile took a Mulligan.
That’s the bottom line, after all. Sogno means “dream” in Italian. Not to make excuses for them, but as priorities go, a dreamy dish trumps all that came before. 

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