Room to Rome

Pan-seared gnocchi were a tad tough, on the other hand, but robust ingredients saved these potato dumplings. Served like a stew, the gnocchi were mixed with diced asparagus, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and caramelized onions. A light white wine sauce flavored with the juices from the vegetables added just enough moisture to unite the components.

Hot appetizers sounded fairly predictable -- fried squid, steamed clams and mussels, grilled portobello mushroom, eggplant Parmesan.... So we chose the one that sounded a little unusual: calamari con patate, a wonderfully flavored saute fragrant with fresh basil and chopped tomatoes. Pan-fried rosemary potatoes were pleasing, softened by the broth. The squid itself, though, was a mite too chewy for the dish to count as a complete success.

Onion soup topped with Swiss and mozzarella -- a strange touch for an Italian restaurant -- and the more predictable pasta e fagioli are always available here, but as the heat and humidity gain on us, you might want to stick with gazpacho. Though again not something you might anticipate in a trattoria, the cold soup was excellent, almost like a salsa, a chilled, tomato-based broth stocked with chopped onions, bell peppers, and celery. Garlic croutons and fresh sour cream completed the bowl, their sharp notes complementing the vinegary appeal of the gazpacho.

Chopped salad ($6.50), one of four plates of greens (including an eggless caesar), was another delightful way to cool off. Romaine and radicchio were chopped and tossed with toasted pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, crumbles of goat cheese, and a tangy housemade sherry vinaigrette. Smoked salmon, carpaccio of the day, tomato and mozzarella, and prosciutto and melon appetizers, while certainly in the been-there, done-that category, might also make a lovely meal on a summer day.

And this restaurant would be a nice place to try them all. Friendly, professional service and a tourist-deterrent location have already made the place a regular stop on the locals' circuit. The competition may temporarily distract you (I, for one, plan to take a closer look at Il Palio Mario), but unlike carbon-copy food magazines, Piccolo Paradiso is worth much more than a passing glance.

Piccolo Paradiso
1040 S Miami Ave; 372-5756. Lunch Monday -- Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 10:00 p.m. (Friday and Saturday until 11:00).

Chopped salad
$6.50
Fettuccine Matteo
$11.95
Calf's liver
$10.95
Almond cake
$3.95

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