There’s a lot of reasons people like Locanda Verde. The restaurant is bright and airy. The staff is extremely good looking (if you’ve been to the restaurant, you’ve probably seen the younger, taller version of Javier Bardem behind the bar), and the clientele who swarm the restaurant at all hours of the day are just as attractive. On my last visit, the “angelic” Adriana Lima was sitting one table down from me and caused quite a stir. (One man stood entranced by her table for an outrageous amount of time.) However, the reason I love Locanda Verde is the food. The man behind the culinary magic is Andrew Carmellini, and I’ve been a fan since his A Voce days. Even at the posher A Voce, Carmellini never shied away from the bold or funky. The food was always elegant yet full of flavor. Locanda Verde is probably the opposite of what A Voce once was. It’s more casual, at times rustic, but still enormously delicious.
Simple crostini are great starters at Locanda Verde. During lunch a while back, I had the Blue Crab Crostino ($7), crunchy grilled bread topped with blue crab mixed with a bit of cream, jalapeno, confit tomatoes, and basil. The creaminess of the crab was lovely without any strong fishiness, and the jalapeno, tomatoes, and basil accentuated the fresh taste of the crab.
Following the crostino, I had the Pappardelle ($17) with lamb bolognese, sheep’s milk ricotta, and mint. Since my visit, the pappardelle has been replaced with Mezze Rigatoni ($17) with lamb bolognese. I haven’t tried the rigatoni version, but I really liked the pappardelle. The broad smooth pasta was nice and chewy, and although the serving wasn’t too large, it was quite filling because of the meaty sauce and creamy ricotta. With a little coaxing, the ricotta folded into the bolognese creating a thick, rich sauce.
The sheep’s milk ricotta also makes an appearance at brunch on the weekends, although in sticky, sweeter form. Drizzled with a generous amount of truffle honey, flecked with fresh thyme, and served with burnt orange toast, the Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Crostini ($12) is insanely good, especially with the citrus notes from the thyme and toast. Eat this quick if you’re dining with other people. Before I knew it, the plate was completely wiped clean with nary a smear of truffle-scented ricotta.
I was quickly appeased though with the appearance of my 8 Hour Tripe ($15), chewy tripe covered in tomato sauce, topped with two fried eggs (organic eggs from Feather Ridge Farms in Elizaville, New York), and sprinkled with parmesan cheese and crunchy toasted bread crumbs. A Voce had a variation of this dish which I remember well because I’d greedily ordered it as a second appetizer after a not so light first appetizer. Later I survived the night with the help of Mr. Alka Seltzer. We became quite tight that night. As a main course it’s more appropriate, although while still gut-busting it’s manageably so. Now whether you think tripe is appropriate for brunch or not is totally up to you. Personally, I love it. It’s definitely more interesting than the standard brunch fare, and besides that, the tripe at Locanda (as it was at A Voce), is really good. It’s not overly funky, and covered with warm egg yolk, cheese, and breadcrumbs, it’s completely satisfying.
For those who don’t like to stray far from the “normal brunch,” there’s waffles, French toast, and pancakes aplenty on the menu. David ordered the Crispy Polenta Waffle ($14) topped with cooked apples, fresh apples, marsala cream, and tart apple syrup. I had a bite and I liked the outer crispness and the chewy texture from the polenta. David liked it too, although towards the end he wished there was some sort of savory component. This is one reason I don’t usually order waffles, pancakes, or French toast at brunch. The first few bites are good, but then it’s complete sugar overload. I prefer savory over sweet.
Which is one reason I madly loved the Bloody Mary Della Casa ($12). It’s a bloody mary in a salt-rimmed glass garnished with an Italian hot pepper, mortadella, olive skewer. Celery is classic, but when given the option, a fat cube of salty mortadella wins in my book every time.
And so does Andrew Carmellini. I’m still a huge fan. Everyone else can have Adriana Lima.