Sunday, August 30, 2009

Locanda Verde: Loco Good

Last year, I was standing outside of Babbo at 4:45 p.m., anxiously waiting to claim one of six tables that the ever-popular Italian restaurant makes available to guests on a first-come, first serve basis. A few moments later, a girl appeared beside me, also hoping to snag a seat at Mario Batali’s hotspot. This girl, Youngchae, as she introduced herself, can now only be described as my Korean foodie twin (I’m not Korean. But that’s how much we are alike). Youngchae and I bonded over Manhattan hotspots, favorite meals, future dining plans—come to think of it, I don’t think our conversation ever veered outside of New York City cuisine. But we could’ve gabbed for hours. So, when Babbo’s magical doors opened and the maitre d made it known that the restaurant does not seat solo diners in the dining room, it only felt natural to invite Younchae to dine with me and my guest for what turned out to be a four-hour pasta tasting. Since then, we have become email buddies, and she has become one of my most loyal readers and commentators on this here blog. It’s a testament to how food really can bring complete strangers together. Which is one of the reasons I love food as much as I do.

So it was with giddy delight that I read an email from Youngchae in which she announced she would be coming to town once again, and wanted to meet up for a night of culinary debauchery. “For sure!” I said. “You pick the place.” (That’s how much had come to trust Youngchae over the past few months. I knew she wouldn’t steer me wrong.)

Her response: “I’ve been most curious about Locanda Verde as of late, mostly because it’s Ago’s successor.” [Ago. Robert DeNiro’s unanimously-panned Italian restaurant in Tribeca’s Greenwich Hotel. Kind of like the culinary equivalent to Waterworld.]

Once we had made our reservation, the reviews began pouring in: Bruni bestowed Locanda with a solid two-star, Adam Platt called it “Verde Delicious”, and Ed Levine wondered if this family-style Italian restaurant had the best breakfast in New York. Praise for executive chef/James Beard winner Andrew Carmellini (formerly of CafĂ© Boulud and A Voce) was plentiful, as were props to multi-talented pastry chef Karen DeMasco (formerly of Craft). It seemed as though we were sitting on the Golden Ticket.

I met up with a super-stylish Youngchae outside of the Greenwich Hotel on a muggy Saturday evening. We were promptly seated in a very comfortable, industrial-looking, dare-I-say “pub” locale. Light poured in through huge window panes and managed to make mostly earth-toned furnishings sparkle.

We shared a chuckle over the bottom of our menu: “Cooking Today: Andrew Carmellini & Luke Ostrom.” It reminded us of Playbill.

Here’s a look at how it went down.

Complimentary focaccia bread:
Very light, with a hint of tomato and olive oil.

For Cicchetti (snacks):

Blue Crab crostino with jalapeno and tomato ($10):
Blue crab is so good when it’s done right, but oftentimes, it can be fishy and artificial-tasting. This crab was unbelievably fresh and sweet, almost creamy, and the kick from the jalapeno paired with it sublimely.

Sheeps’ Milk Ricotta with sea salt and herbs ($11):
I don’t think you can tell from the photo what a generous portion this was. We had a Mt. KiliRicotta on our table. And it was fantastic. Creamy, savory, masterfully seasoned. The Cookery’s ricotta is, however, right up there with Locanda Verde’s.

Fava Bean crostino on prosciutto bread ($7):
“Wait, did we seriously order three crostino dishes?” I asked Youngchae dubiously. I had already stuffed about a whole loaf of bread into my belly. She looked similarly baffled.

“No, no,” the waiter assured us. “This is compliments of the Chef.”

I guess the Chef knows best, because this was, essentially, the booooooooomb. Holy mother of crostino, the flavors paired perfectly: the saltiness of the parmesan and prosciutto, the buttery texture and nutty flavor or the fava bean, I could’ve made a meal out of this dish. Yessssss.


Grilled Octopus with spicy almond romesco and local fagliolini (green beans) ($17):
The octopus was meaty and tender and nicely charred. Loved the heat. Another favorite.

Lamb Meatball sliders with caprino (goat’s cheese) and cucumber ($12):
The lamb patty was juicy and robust enough to give the dish a gourmet edge, but it was still reminiscent of 2 a.m. bar food. And as insulting as this might be to Chef Carmellini, the bun reminded me of those Red Lobster biscuits (which I adore, so don’t be a hater).

Crispy Artichokes with yogurt and mint ($14):
These were fine and quite pretty, but not particularly memorable.

Youngchae and I only ordered one dish from the Pasta menu, bypassing Secondi altogether:

Maltagliati with pesto and parmigianno-reggiano ($15):
“Maltagliati” means “badly cut” and refers to pasta made from the scraps left over from other pasta dishes. Youngchae was curious about the dish moreso because she thought Pesto was a difficult dish to do well. Pesto wasn’t the problem here. Up to this point, Carmellini had been sending top-quality, perfectly executed dishes our way. But this maltagliati was totally overcooked. Soft, soggy, almost watery. We were dumbfounded, given… you know, pasta is sort of Carmellini’s thing. Nice flavors, but the flavors couldn’t save this.

By the time a dessert menu had been brought out, we were both stuffed. It was 10 p.m. and the restaurant was packed. (The lobby to the ladies room downstairs, however, is quite spacious. Seriously. After I reapplied my lipstick, I did a little dance to Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” just because I could. Anyhoo...)

Even though dessert seemed preposterous, we badly wanted to sample DeMasco’s sweets. In the end, we shared the Biscotti Misti, a plate of cookies ($8):
Sorry for the poor photo. It was extremely dark at this point. The cookies were nice, and there was a splendid selection, but I’m not a huge biscotti fan. I like gooey, fudgy, moist cookies. This wasn’t the best dish for me to weigh-in on DeMasco’s talents.

No biggie. Aside from the soggy pasta, and the carb overload, there were very few missteps at Locanda Verde, and I will most certainly be going back (and this time, maybe I’ll order less bread!). Service for the evening was efficient (if not a little cold). Food was creative, flavorful, and perfect for sharing. But the best part? Youngchae and I threw caution to the wind and basically ate ourselves stupid. When the bill arrived, we braced ourselves for the damage, yet the total was a very reasonable $47 each. ($47. In Tribeca.)

Needless to say, I was extremely satisfied with our evening, and beyond happy to reunite with Youngchae. (Thanks for the wonderful company, dahling!)

Oh, and I guess Carmellini got sick of hearing critics make fun of his “Porchetta the Way I Like It” (Critics: “I wish it was the way I liked it”). It was nowhere to be found on the menu.

Locanda Verde
377 Greenwich St (corner of Greenwich & North Moore)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 925-3797


  1. It was a great night! Delicious food and wonderful company. I think my throat was scratchy the next day from all the talking. =D

    I wish LV would start selling their ricotta in jars or something... I would spoon my way right to the bottom!

  2. Wow. You guys are two wild and crazy gals. I love the story about your friendship. To me that is what life is all about. I also love the look of the food at this restaurant. Tutto posto.