Friday, August 28, 2009

Locanda Verde Review

Lunch can be a great way to get to know a restaurant without too much commitment. Often, it'll be cheaper and the vibe more relaxed with shorter or no waits, especially at popular restaurants. But to make sure that lunch is a good way to experience a restaurant, it's important to check that the lunch menu is similar to dinner. From there, hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

A recent meal at Locanda Verde, which had been near the top of my list of places to try, gave me a lot of its best with little of its worst.

The chef here, Andrew Carmellini, previously worked at A Voce, an Italian place in Madison Square Park that put out some good food during his tenure there. The sheep's milk ricotta was easily one of my favorite dishes at A Voce. So I was happy to to see it on Locanda's menu as evidence of Carmellini's presence. The grandma's ravioli on the menu was also a holdover.

I was eager to try the ricotta, served with truffle honey and burnt orange toast. I'm happy to report that it hasn't lost its allure in the move. The toast was perfectly crispy and the ricotta, though rich, was airy and just as addictive as it ever was.

Locanda Verde is attached to the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca. In most places, hotel restaurants are overpriced, lackluster entities. But not so here. This is a restaurant with reasonably-priced, good food in a nice setting. The dining room is a sleek, but laid back affair: high ceilings, a long, spacious bar, and shelves of wine bottles, books and a mix of knick-knacks that give it the feeling of someone's well-decorated living room.

That seemed to work to its advantage in nudging me to be more forgiving of the few missteps. The waiter was friendly, but had trouble answering menu questions and interrupted our lunch by spilling water in our direction. And the lemonade was on the too sweet side.

On the other hand, the pickled radish and cucumber salad with tuna vinaigrette was solid. A simple, but clean and flavorful appetizer. The real chunks of tuna in the vinaigrette spruced up the vegetables nicely.

We decided to stick to the pastas for our main courses.

Maltagliati with pesto and parmigiano-reggiano
The pesto was bright in a winning style where basil takes the leading role with garlic as supporting cast. Credit should also be given to a generous coating of cheese, cherry tomatoes and pinenuts. I could have done without the few sliced olives (as much as I've tried, I haven't been able to bring myself to like them). The roughly-cut, wide bands of pasta were gently cooked and well suited to absorbing the pesto. If I were looking for a criticism, the only thing I could say is that I prefer my pasta slightly more al dente.

Scampi Ravioli Rock Shrimp garlic and zucchini
The ravioli weren't bad, but the filling itself lacked seasoning - all of the flavor came from the deliciously rich, creamy sauce on the plate. The rock shrimp in the dish were the best part - so soft they seemed to melt in your mouth.

About halfway through our meal, we scored a celebrity sighting! Gail Simmons, a Food & Wine magazine editor and a Top Chef judge, was sitting at the table diagonal from us.

The dessert menu had a small, but interesting selection of gelato and sorbet. But we were highly disappointed to learn that you could choose only one flavor for the $7 dish. We opted for cherry and when the double scoop came, we were even more baffled as to why any chef would not be amenable to mixing flavors. The cherry sorbet was slightly sour and refreshing, but almost seemed flat when there was so much of it to eat. It would have benefited from a contrasting flavor.

There is much more on the menu that looks worthy of trying. This restaurant isn't showy - it doesn't feel like a needy child shouting for attention; it's more like a good friend you feel comfortable stopping by to see any time.

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