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Jul 21, 2010 08:57 AM

Locanda da Eva Opening Night

A group of six of us traveled over to Locanda da Eva's opening night.

The menu is divided into appetizers, pasta, pizza, entrees and vegetable side dishes. Owing to a chill in the air, we were interested in the warmer/warming foods and skipped out on the little gems salad. Other than that, we ordered everything on the left side of the menu--appetizers, pasta, pizza. The entree that looked most appealing on the online menu (a rabbit dish) wasn't available last night, and none of the other entrees charmed us, so we skipped that section entirely. We also ordered a platter of each vegetable side dish which, at $18 ($21 if you order separately) was a good deal. Someone noted that the entrees allow a choice of vegetable rather than arriving with one tacked on, which was nice.

My favorites were:
- Spaghetti with rock shrimp, grilled squash, chile-garlic soffritto and bottarga
- Rigatoni with chicken and pork ragu, mustard greens, wild mushrooms and grana padano
- Pizza with wilted kale and crescenza
- Puttanesca pizza
- Fried Brentwood corn with salsa verde mayo

The sweet corn with crispy brown kernels was simple and delicious, and the spaghetti, shrimp, chile-garlic and bottarga mix was something I'd order again.

I'll let someone else speak to the quality of the wine list, but the people who paged through it mentioned that it offered wines that seemed like excellent values. I think the bottle we shared was $24?

I will speak to the cocktails, as I love an interesting cocktail list. The two I most desired weren't available this evening (the Tilden Park Swizzle and Delicious Sour) but I was impressed by the list, which includes 11 specialty cocktails. I wonder if the bartenders will be able to handle that complex a list in timely manner--what you expect wait at, say, Alembic, is different than how long you'd want to wait in a restaurant where you might not want your tipple to tip into your appetizer and wine.

The space was beautifully lit, with a cheery din that didn't distract or make it difficult to hear one's table mates. We sat in the first room near the bar; I was too interested in the food to look around at other seating areas, but the bar, like Incanto's, seemed a nice place to enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine and a plate of pasta.

As to service, please imagine the following statement in 18 point font, all caps, and red. This was opening night and I don't expect all the bugs to be worked out yet. That said, our table's "bug" was that the dishes arrived on top of each other and even when I asked the progress to slow, it did not. The 5 appetizers, 4 pastas and 4 vegetables all arrived in less than 10 minutes. Rather than savoring and considering the appetizers, I felt like we were rushing through them just to make more table space for additional dishes we couldn't fit. If I came back in a few months, I would expect for the timing to have eased.

Locanda da Eva
2826 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

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  1. thanks for the first report back!

    The menu that is listed right now on the website doesn't show rabbit, but the goat does sound interesting...(and the grilled beef tongue on the appetizers menu is calling my name: did you try that?).

    but the big question is: what did you think of the pizza? :-) (well, I am sure lots of folks are wondering that, as for me, I am not a pizza fan so am more interested in the pasta)

    1 Reply
    1. re: susancinsf

      The short answer is that I liked the pasta better than the pizza. I didn't find the crust as flavorful as I wanted it to be, and thought it could have used a touch more salt. Based on the number of crusts left to straggle on plates, I would think that might be a consensus.

      We did order the tongue and I liked it.

      Oh, and price wise, which I forgot to mention, it came to $52 per person, tip included. I think that was a touch higher than I expected...but we did order almost the entire menu, sans entrees.

      Also, I liked the brief sourcing statement on the bottom of the menu, which noted that the restaurant doesn't serve any fish from Monterey's "avoid" list and that the produce and meat are selected from local and usually sustainable providers.

    2. My favorites were the same as pane's, though I would add the fried potatoes on the vegetable side to that list -- the potatoes were delicious, and I'm glad that we ended up with two orders. The spaghetti with shrimp was my favorite dish, with the kale pizza a runner up. The texture of the pasta was fantastic, and everything in that dish was cooked perfectly. I often don't love shrimp in restaurants and rarely order it, but I'd order this dish again and again.

      The pizza was good, but the crust was lacking flavor (and needed salt). We definitely abandoned a lot of crusts on the plate.

      I was really struck by how affordable and well put together the wine list was -- there were lengthy descriptions under each bottle, and I think four bottles under $30. The by the glass list had a number of glasses around $5 or $6, which will make it a great place to meet friends for some dinner and wine, or just go yourself and sit at the bar with a glass of wine and a plate of pasta.

      I was also really pleased with the environment -- our table of six had no trouble hearing one another, but the restaurant still felt nicely busy and lively.

      1. We brought a group of five to opening night. I agree with pane and Jasmine about the pleasures of the space. It was really noticeable that the restaurant was nearly full, an abundant population of greeters and servers were about, and there was (delightfully non-contemporary) music playing, yet our party could hear each other perfectly.

        The well-made cocktails came out in a decent amount of time. They have those wonderful big ice cubes that make you feel like you're in the cast of Mad Men when they clink in an old-fashioned glass. And actually, the old-fashioned was the best I've tasted in a long while. The wine list was really full of value as well as interest, maybe too much interest. It made me think, if only my friends would be quiet for a minute so I can learn about Friuli. Hopefully the wine people from my party will chime in on this thread.

        We ordered a lot. The pork trotters fritter I would gladly eat daily, as they combine the best of crispy-crunchy and unctuous porkiness, with a zesty corn and roasted chili sidebar. The crudo and its garnish were way too subtle. I didn't manage to snag a taste of the bresaola.

        Of the pastas, the strozzapreti with tripe, tomato and mint was excellent, and the chicken and pork ragu was very good. Considering that the pastas were made in-house, I was startled that they were a few notches past al dente.

        The pizza crust could use more oomph. But the braised pork pizza was a revelation. The hot oven crisps the pork and that's just what one always wants with the liquid cheese. Carnitas pizza--who knew such a thing was possible? The kale and crecenza pie was good but not a showstopper.

        On to the mains, but the edge was quite off our hunger, and the feeling of entree-as-afterthought was expressed in the service as well. We ordered all four vegetables, but they came one at a time, in small bowls and plates, carried to us by various servers. It felt too much like we serve at home--I'd have preferred these on a big plate with a little garnish, a little flourish. That said, the fried Brentwood corn was outstanding, as were the potatoes. The cannellinis were cooked to a puree--intentional?--and the green and wax beans were forgettable. I'm afraid the goat stew and the chicken paillard were forgettable as well. Since we got the vegetables separately, there wasn't much to the presentation of the proteins. The goat was in a bowl that was too small, and the chicken was on a plate that was too large to be so ungarnished.

        What to do? It does end up being a big menu that demands a lot of range and personnel in the kitchen. It is hard to hit all the marks, especially on the first day. And the rhythm of cocktails/apps/pasta/pizza/THEN entrees lends itself to diner ennui by this point in the meal; I've experienced this elsewhere as well. I hope the house considers how to prevent this--the entrees need more polish so as not to be also-rans.

        Sad to say, the desserts were even more of an anticlimax. Chocolate ricotta mousse had a decent flavor, but didn't harmonize with the sliced nectarines, and the plating was not restaurant-caliber. Polenta cake was adequate, but no more--it was pretty much moist corn bread studded with berries. This course needs the most work. Maybe the house gelati and cookies are the dessert chef's grand finale, in which case they should be sold as such.

        So, it's a lot to get right, and none of it was bad. More to the point, Locanda is six blocks from my house and it WANTS to be exactly the sort of place we would want to walk over to every week or two, so I look forward to supporting their continued efforts.

        1 Reply
        1. re: heidipie

          Very nice report, Heidi. It's interesting to hear that the consensus at other tables resembled our own--we didn't order either entrees or desserts because they didn't look interesting, and it looks like you tried them but didn't enjoy them as much. I agree that they could amp up their dessert selection. I would like to have ordered a dessert, but the list didn't appeal.

        2. I think I was in part to blame for the pacing - when I discussed the coursing with the server, I assumed that the kitchen would be running behind on opening day, and requested that dishes be brought whenever they were ready. That said, I doubt all 13 dishes were fired at once, and someone probably should have sent a signal to the kitchen to slow down when they saw us madly juggling plates and wolfing down food to keep up.

          We didn't have the pasta texture issue that heidiepie did - ours were all pleasantly chewy. My favorites were also the spaghetti and rigatoni. I thought the pizza crust tasted like it could use a longer and slower rise - it was a bit pale but flecked with black, and had a slightly more crackery texture than I like.

          Overall, I enjoyed the food, loved the space, and think they did a good job for opening night.

          1. My wife and I were part of pane's party of six, and we agree that the overall experience was pleasant, kicked off by a nice space that strikes the right balance of warm, lively and intimate, and carried through by good, and sometimes very good, food.

            Our favorite appetizers were the griddled beef tongue and the nectarine and arugula salad -- the tongue had perfect texture and the flavor was just gamey enough, and the salad was a tasty and refreshing contrast to the richer items on our table. We agree with heidipie's observation that the crudo's flavor was too mild, although its flavor might have fared better if it wasn't surrounded by other, bolder dishes.

            The spaghetti had excellent sea flavors and seemed to be a universal favorite. On the other hand, we thought that the ricotta ravioli didn't really showcase the ricotta effectively.

            Like others at our table, we really liked the kale and crescenza pizza, which incorporated two strong flavors that complemented each other very well. We also liked the early girl tomato pizza, it was just a well-rendered version of a simple concept. The braised pork pizza was good, but some of the meat was crisp to the point of being a bit dry. We agree with everyone that the fried corn was great.

            All in all, we thought that it was a really good start!

            1 Reply
            1. re: lexmob

              Just made a reservation. Looking forward to it!