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Why Al Di La and not Locanda Vini e Oili???

  • f

I've noticed a lot of enthusism and discussion on this board about Al Di La but very little for Locanda Vini and I'm always puzzled by this. I like Al Di very much. The draw backs are the no reservation policy and relatively small menu which doesn't change much (so if I eat there too frequently I get tired of it) and my husband does'nt find the place, physically, that comfortable (I'm ok with it). The up side is always the very well prepared meals and it is not the same old southern or northern Italian style food. That said, I'm surprised there is not as much enthusiasm for Locanda Vini. The food is very, very origional, always fresh and just so good. My only real problem used to be the portions were a little small but over the past year that has changed (for the better). I love the decor and feel of Locanda and the fact no one rushes you and they take reservations. This feeling was reinforced when I had a great meal there last night. We had wonderful olives, crostini (a fava bean paste, a fresh tomatoe and a wonderful liver mixture), bison carpaccio appetizer, two mains: one piedmontese beef and arugula and the other sliced duck breast with a roasted onion pureed sauce. A great and very different bottle of red (LaGreine) 1 torta della Nonna and two coffees. Everything so good and high quality. Also the menu changes often while retaining core favorites and has so many different and intersting slelctions -something I would think most Hounds would appreciate. So, why don't more Brooklyn Hounds love this place??? Is it that it is in Clinton Hill and a bit out of the way for most (I get the sense many -obviously not all- of you live in the Slope)? As I said I like Al Di La, but I really love Locanda Vini!!!

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  1. I've been to La Locanda twice and was disappointed both times. I did not like the attitude of staff on both occasions, and I found the food to be either relatively tasteless, or extremely salty, and not much in between. Also, the bread was not fresh and the house wine was abysmal. On the other hand, the many times I've been to Al Di La have been nothing but delightful and delicious, from all perspectives.

    I'll go back to Al Di La again and again, but I won't be going back to La Locanda.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Nina

      I've never experienced anything like this! And the bread is always fresh, just in typical Tuscan fashion it contains no salt which I know many Americans (or for that matter nonTuscans) don't find pleasing. That's too bad about your experiences because it is really a wonderful place. But I guess judging from past posts - remember that huge discussion about salty food at Lupa??? - a place you like very much - right?- there is always a wide variance in experiences.There is also Sunday lunch at Locanda- maybe someday you'll give it a limited re-try that way.

      1. re: Faren

        I've been to Vini & Olii twice as well and was also put off by the staff (the owner mostly). We were actually treated rather shabbily. The food was fine, I thought. Al Di La, where service is sometimes marred by absentmindedness, is always friendly and not full of itself in the same way. The owner at V & O is always dancing around like some sort of circus clown and making his pals feel welcome while neglecting many diners who don't have the good fortune to be his personal friends.

        That's why I prefer Al Di La (where the food is always good as well.)

        1. re: Zephyr

          We've only been there once and really liked the food. Innovative, tasty, interesting, good wine list, etc. And the service was fine; competent waiter, attentive & reasonably friendly. Well worth the price charged, in our opinion. But we havent gone back. And I almost wrote the exact note as Zephyr this morning (& I hardly ever write on the boards), since I really feel that Zephyr hit the main reason we havent returned, whether consciously or not. HOWEVER...I then began thinking about how much we like going to a place where the owner and/or chef knows and likes us, where we're "regulars" and treated well, etc. I realized that we then go to those places more often when in need of the comfort of a "Cheers" environment (as well as good food, of course). So... if it works for us at Henry's End, Cafe on Clinton, Noodle Pudding and other places, why be pissed off at V&O? It's not like the owner's actions left us with anything less than what we get at Al di la. Maybe it's just that watching him do his shtick with his friends is too much to ignore & leaves everyone else feeling like outsiders and detracts from the food? At any rate, maybe we'll go back.

          1. re: Steve R.

            Point well made and well taken, sir.

            In our case, though, the owner's wheeling and dealing with others had a direct correlation to the way we were literally ignored once we had given our order. It was as if we were outsiders at a family party. Very poor behavior for someone interested in return customers.

            I, too, like feeling like a regular at places. And if I happen to know the owner/chef (it has happened, even to the likes of me), I enjoy when they make me feel "important." I hope other diners don't feel that the attention I get (ususally quite minimal) interferes with their meal!

            1. re: Zephyr

              I like V & O just fine, but I need to agree with the points about the owner and the spottiness of the food. I'm almost never one to send something back, but I ordered gnocchi there that was so overcooked it was like soup. I sent it back (hard for me) and my new gnocchi was identical. You'd think they would have looked at the new one after my criticism the first time. Puzzling. I didn't swear off the place, but I haven't been back since.

              1. re: Kate A.

                Hmmm, intersting discussion about what makes a place attractive or not to people. Locanda certainly displays many of the attributes of a nieghborhood restraunt. If you go there at least twice the owners always remember and acknowledge you - and this of course is always pleasant. Since I live in the area I guess I am one of the people the owner acknowledges -but it is not because I or all the people there are his personal friends (as far as I know none are), it is just that this is a small neighborhood and you see the same people over and over. I'm never put off by the regular versus nonregular treatment when I am in a place where I am not a regular as long as the food and service is good. Locanda also, I think, reflects an attitude that is peculiar to this particular neighborhood. It is not a big neighborhood like the HTS or the Slope and tends to have a very familial feel. You see the same people in the streets, restraunts, subway etc. etc. over and over and it tends to be more personal and friendly than other places. If you ever go into Tillies Coffee on the corner of Dekalb and Vanderbilt you'll know what I'm saying. So, many of the restraunts in the neighborhood often have that same clubby feel. But don't feel excluded, it takes very little for poeple in this neighborhood to chat with total strangers.

                I also think that location is a factor. On the boards people often complain about the aloof service at Al Di La but I think as one contributor to this thread observed, "location, location, location" - Al Di is more convenient to more contributors to this board so you are more willing to excuse these things than at a place less convenient. All this is understandable, but I just think that as CHOWHOUNDS you are missing some very interesting Italian food.

      2. re: Nina

        It's funny how people can have such different experiences. Most of the staff at Locanda are from Italy and it reflects in the warm service and very tasy and unusual food. The waiters and cook at Al di la are NOT from Italy and the food in my opinion is not cooked in a professional manner, everything is either too salty or sweet and the the staff acts like Al di La is the greatest place on earth when in my opinion it is an island of mediorcrity in a city with jewels like Areo in Bay Ridge, Lupa, Esca and Babbo, etc.

        1. re: josh L

          Emiliano Coppa not Italian enough for you? Locanda simply cannot match the quality of food at al di la, period, end of story. and what al di la does day in and day out they do with such excellence and consistency as to make other wanna-bes pale in comparison.

      3. For me it's definitely the distance, Al Di La is a pleasant 25 min. walk from my place in Carroll Gardens, but thanks for the tip - I'll check it out sometime.

        1. Location, locanda, location.

          Many posters live in Park Slope and nearby Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill--more than Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, I think. And Al Di La is more convenient by public transportation.

          1. t
            Tom Philpott

            I live in Prospect Heights, and am always thrilled not to have to enter the Slope for dinner. That's why in my 2 or 3 dinners at Vini e Oili, I was disappointed that the food wasn't better. Granted, I haven't been in about a year, and your enthusiasm, along with other recent posts, make me want to give it another try.
            I've also been a bit put off by the antics of the owner; however, the space itself is undeniably great.

            1. This place is just terrible. I'll go ahead and echo the previous sentiments of so many posters. The food is simply bland and boring and excusing it as "not salted to American standards" misses the point. Perhaps if they were to procure higher quality ingredients it would make a difference. Perhaps. Some of the dishes are just plain insulting they are so mediorcre. I suppose for this reason one can be grateful that the portions are so small. Another point I've not seen anyone mention: housemade pasta is somewhat of an art and those who have not mastered it should stick with dried variety. VeO take note. I'm not one to gripe about poor service and could care less if the owner/waitstaff is gracious. However, with such mediocre food and high prices, the staff should be doing all they can to keep people from crying foul. I also agree with those statements regarding the bread and the tasteless green whatever that they serve with it. I've been twice now and won't be back. If you find yourself hungry and in this neighborhood, Yafa deli has pretty good fried chicken...

              1. Location is definitely a factor, as Al di la is very convenient, and in the middle of quite a few restaurants on 5th ave. You dont have to be Italian to cook great Italian food as eivdenced by Anna's superb cooking. Consistency is often what makes customer return again and again. I've eaten at both locations and found Al di la to be more consistent service and foodwise. I've found the personalities of the owners do not make a difference because, though I have eaten at Aldi la fairly often, they dont recognize me as a regular. however in both restaurants that want to have that feeling of a local favorite it would be nice to be recognized with a smile or a nice to see you again. these are service issues that depending on the owner are either very important, or not a priority.I wish it could perhaps be a priority at BOTH restaurants. It's the neighborhood folks that generate the most business and a little recognition goes far; litte things like remembering a favorite wine, or dessert, or a birthday.

                3 Replies
                1. re: sharonm

                  I live about 3 blocks from Locanda and just never felt comfortable there for whatever reason. I will say that I always liked their salads and the beef with arugula dish, but for the price Al di La is a much better and somehow more fun experience, and usually cheaper too. Locanda makes me feel ripped off or something--it's just not that comfortable or mellow.
                  I almost always have fun at Al di La: chatting with the guy at the wine bar about wines while we wait, or even being embarrassed when my drunk mother-in-law flirts with the possibly gay waiter half her age...and I am by no means an Al di La "regular"

                  1. re: bolletje

                    Maybe this is evident to you, maybe not, but the thread is from 5 years ago. My subsequent visit to VeO didnt make me feel any better about going there. The food was okay... smallish portions and only some of it above average. In the ensuing 5 years, al di la has become one of my favorite places and there really isnt, in my opinion, any comparison. And location is not a factor... at least not for me.

                    1. re: Steve R

                      Funny comments. I've never been a regular at V&O (go maybe once/yr) but the owner always remembers & greets me.

                      I like both places, but I've always found al di la's food a bit salty. Works for me as I like salty food, but I usually tire of it before the end of the dish.

                      The worst place for dissing the non-regulars is Geido on Flatbush. I like the food, but once had the waitress cut a regular into the line in front of us (and then lie about it). they don't like non-regulars at the sushi bar at all.

                2. I went to both restaurants back to back. I have to say that Al DI La's food is superior but Locanda is a prettier place.

                  At Locanda I had the crostini (bland, taste of stale bread) the fig salad (3 very small fichi, some greens and celery? not a good mix) and the black pepper and "porcini" pasta. The pasta was all pepper, no porcini. The owner is an ass too.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: eatingraoul

                    After the wide range of reviews of Locanda on this thread I figured that I had to check this place out for myself.

                    Al Di La has better food and service. Locanda has a nicer ambience and wine list but they don't overcome Al Di La superiority in the first two categories so overall, Al Di La is better.

                    I think the waitstaff and owner are a little too invested in being Italian and have therefore become caricatures of themselves. It's almost like they don't think we dumb Americans can see that they are truly authentic Italians unless they ham it up for us. I found it amusing but it might prevent me from going there too often.

                    Eating at Locanda is experiential but I can see why it turns some people off. The service is extremely slow and it's pretty clear that it's because of the front of the house and not because of the kitchen.

                    Now, the food. The bread you get at the table is not great. While it's true that the Tuscans make their bread without salt (very strange), Tuscan bread is far lighter than the dense slices we were presented with. They also gave us a pea spread that had no salt or lemon, making it taste like chewing on a blade of grass - nice when you are sitting out in a meadow but not when you're in a restaurant.

                    The mixed crostini was very nice. In particular I liked what they called "grilled zucchini heart" which I actually think is Ivy Gourd (Tindora in Hindi), a common vegetable in Indian cooking. The fresh mixed greens with fresh pecorino in olive oil was also excellent as were the shrimp with black chick peas (Kala Channa in Hindi, apparently this was use common Indian ingredients in Italian cooking night) and my wife and our friend enjoyed the sardines.

                    I thought the black pepper cavatelli with porcini pasta was excellent. A good balance of pepper and mushrooms. The ravioli with eggplant and ricotta was also good but I thought the pasta was a little thick (I think ravioli should be transluscent). Our friend had the pasta with meat ragu and she enjoyed it. The main dishes were also very good. I had the branzino, my wife the lamb chops and our friend had a salad. I can see why people think the portions are small. I think they ought to price the main dishes a little lower and increase the prices of the appetizers or they ought to take the Tempo approach and only offer Prix Fixe because the overall cost of the meal was not ridiculous (not cheap either) but $25 for a small piece of fish, taken on its own, is too high. I would also note that the overall salt levels were pretty low (then again, I tend to like salty food).

                    Overall, I think Locanda is worth a try but one has to be patient and have a sense of humor about the experience. Locanda also gets credit for changing their menu often. Is Al Di La just too lazy to add a little seasonality to their menu? That's always been one of my few complaints about the place...