My parents and I often get into a quibbling match over the Italian food that they like and the Italian food that I like. The Italian food that they like is the food found at what’s typically called “a red sauce joint” with dishes every American who’s been to EPCOT or an Olive Garden can rattle off: Chicken Parmesan, Chicken Scarpiello, Shrimp Scampi (a tautological phrase since scampi means shrimp), and so on. I’m not against this food–sometimes, I really enjoy it–but my parents LOVE this food and put it on a higher pedestal than the food you find at the Italian restaurants I love, restaurants like Babbo or A Voce. When I try to explain that the latter food is more authentic, my parents are incredulous: after all, their favorite Italian restaurants are owned and managed by Italians who moved here direct from Italy. So what is the difference? Maybe it’s not a question of authenticity, just a question of quality. Either way: the subject was ripe as we sat down this weekend for dinner at Andrew Carmellini’s brand new restaurant in TriBeCa, Locanda Verde.
This is a stunning space with a real New York energy about it. Owned by Robert DeNiro, this is the second restaurant Mr. D attempted to install here. The first restuarant, Ago, bombed so dramatically–zero stars in the New York Times–it closed within months.
But Locanda Verde will be here for a long time. It’s got a relaxed feel about it and the food is food with crossover appeal: it appealed to me and my “high-quality” Italian aesthetic* and my parents too, despite their red sauce enthusiasms.
[* I say “high quality” but that sounds snobby; maybe I mean ingredient-driven? Yes, that sounds better, but still snobby.]
For example, this starter–Sheeps’ Milk Ricotta with sea salt and herbs:
A simple mixture of the freshest ricotta cheese with olive oil and herbs (something I tried to make last summer), this was so fluffy and unctuous spread on the pillowy toasted bread it was by far my favorite bite of the night, which is saying a lot because there were so many more great things to come.
Like these lamb meatball sliders:
Certainly a concession to the slider trend at restaurants these days, these were unimpeachably good: the meat, tender and juicy, and the bun perfectly suited for its purpose.
There was this crab crostini with jalapeno on top:
I liked it, but it wasn’t one of my favorites.
This octopus was an achievement in texture: not rubbery at all, it was both tender (from some kind of slow cooking?) but also crisp from grilling.
The pastas were extraordinary. This spaghetti vongole (white clam sauce, for you “red sauce” peeps) was out of this world:
Buttery and smooth, I had dreams about it for the next few nights, though–I must mention–one of my least favorite things in all of eating happened here: I got some grit in one of my clams. I hate that feeling of biting down on sand–UGH–it gives me the willies. But we’ll let that one slide because the pasta was just so good.
The other pasta, Gigatone with sunday night ragu and provolone picante, was surprisingly mellow and light:
I know you won’t believe that from the picture, but it’s true.
Now on to my entree. By its description, you might think this dish would be the biggest fat/flavor bomb in all of history: Braised Veal Cheeks with risotto milanese, soffritto and gremolata.
Somehow, as much as I wanted to love it, this didn’t land for me. I think the sheer explosion of fat–the fattiness of the cheeks, the fattiness of the risotto (which was made with the leftover braising liquid, according to our waiter), and the surrounding soffritto–couldn’t compensate for a distinct lack of flavor. Under-seasoned, perhaps, this could really pack a wallop with a few extra flavor injections.
But my parents’ entree, which they shared–the wood-fired chicken–was, according to my dad, “the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life.” (He really said that.)
With garlic and lemon and all kinds of herbs, it’s not hard to see why my father loved it so much. My mom loved it too which, again, proves that Locanda Verde appeals to all kinds of Italian food lovers.
The desserts are by Karen DeMasco, former pastry chef at Craft (whose cookies at ‘wichcraft used to make me swoon), and they are indeed pretty stellar.
Like her toasted almond semifreddo (I love toasted almond anything) with honey roasted pear:
And her pistachio brown butter cake with huckleberries and pistachio gelato:
These were sophisticated desserts: they didn’t hit you over the head, they were a soothing end to a lovely dinner.
And it was indeed a lovely dinner. My parents enjoyed it, I enjoyed it, and I think you’d enjoy it too. You really can’t say anything bad when the food is this good.
377 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10013