As a New York City chef, Andrew Carmellini may not have earned the ubiquitous “celebrity” prefix yet, but that hasn’t diminished the chatter surrounding his latest venture, Locanda Verde. Formerly of A Voce, Carmellini focuses his new menu on affordable, family-style Italian, which in the week since the restaurant opened its doors has drawn in hordes of diners. Locanda’s popularity may also have something to do with a certain Italian-American celebrity partner, but even Bobby D’s involvement in the Greenwich Hotel’s original restaurant, Ago, couldn’t save it from getting whacked after only a year.
During an early dinner, the huge bar that snakes through Locanda’s rustic, green-and-chocolate colored dining room was packed, and the room was flooded with warm light coming through the western windows. Locanda Verde’s menu is based on the traditional Italian family meal; the courses are designed to be shared. Be warned, however, that this doesn’t guarantee large portions. Most we tried were just enough to be split in two.
Our first taste, a blue crab crostino slathered with tomato sauce ($9) balanced creamy and crunchy textures, as well as a bit of heat from sliced jalapeno. The same can’t be said for the gelatinous testa (headcheese) with marinated vegetables ($12) that followed. My friend described the lunchmeat-like sausage as “spammy,” and she wasn’t far off. Instead, try the enormous wood-fired prawns ($13), which are succulent and prepared simply with garlic, lemon, and peppers.
The Fiorentini with Sunday-night ragu ($18) was the most satisfying dish we tried. The ragu uses soft, shredded veal, beef short ribs, and pork shoulder to flavor the crushed tomatoes that stew with the meat. The dish is topped with a sharp provolone picante, and it tastes just like something my imaginary Italian grandmother would have made for me.
We also tried the sea scallops pugliese with chickpeas and rapini ($24). Sweet and translucent on the inside, with a chewy caramel crust, the scallops went well with the similarly creamy chickpeas and pugliese sauce that included chili flakes, mussel juice, and ground, roasted almonds.
Locanda Verde offers an impressive wine list with many bottles priced under $50. We had the Valle dell’Acate Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($14/glass,) which I want to put in a CamelBak and secretly drink all day long. There’s also a selection of Italian craft beers, like Sella del Diavolo, Barco Reale Pale Ale, and Baladin al-Ikser ($22-$28). These beers come in 750 ml bottles for sharing.
Pastry chef Karen DeMasco’s desserts are not to be missed. We tried the lemon tart with buttermilk gelato and limoncello granita ($8) and the sheep’s milk panna cotta with rhubarb and strawberries ($9). The tart was, well, tart (in the best way) with intense lemon flavor and a crunchy graham crust. The panna cotta was light and creamy, and not at all rubbery.
The dining experience at Locanda Verde is nearly flawless, until you consider that it’s supposed to be affordable, but really isn’t. It’s difficult to go there and spend less than $70 per person, unless you forego beverages. And that’s a pretty shitty option considering that the wine offerings are really amazing. If you’re looking for interesting, but reliable Italian dishes, it’s a fine choice. Just don’t expect Andrew Carmellini’s talents to come cheap.