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Write-up review of Locanda [San Francisco]

DarinDines May 24, 2011 11:57 PM

With pictures: http://darindines.com/2011/05/24/loca...

Dropped by Locanda yesterday for a quick meal. I’m a fan of both Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina restaurants, so this was a must-try on my list. Both of the Stoll’s restaurants are Italian; the focus here is on the cuisine of Rome. Pastas and charcoal grilled items make up the bulk of the menu, with a number of intriguing offal options.

Finding the restaurant can be a little tricky; the exterior signage is a plain black sign that says “cocktails.” However, there are letters in the bottom of the window that spell out “Locanda.”

Pizza Bianca olive oil, sea salt - We were first served the house bread (kind of similar to a foccacia), topped with olive oil and sea salt. The bread had a nice chew, with just enough oil and salt to keep things interesting.

Jewish Style Artichoke - Now this was fun. Apparently this is a classic dish from the Jewish area of Rome – an artichoke deep fried and topped with mint. The interior was meaty and the exterior crispy, quite tasty. I liked the mint, which added just a little bit of brightness to the dish; a lemon wedge added some welcome acidity.

Bucatini all’ Amatriciana guanciale, tomato, peperoncini, pecorino - I thought this was a very good version of the classic. Expectantly so, the pasta was perfectly cooked, leaving just a bit of chew to the pasta. The guanciale (cured pork cheek) imparted a little richness and hint of pork flavor, while there was just a little bit of spiciness that crept up on the palate. It was borderline too spicy for my mother, but I found it just right.

Radiatore “Pecora e Pecorino” lamb ragu, pecorino, mint - Excellent dish. I really liked the radiator-shaped pasta as it clung to the ragu so well. The pasta almost had a spongy texture because it had so much sauce, and really made for some good bites. The ragu was rich and meaty, and I thought the cheese added some nice flavor too.

Rigatoni alla Carbonara guanciale, egg, pecorino, black pepper - I liked the rigatoni’s chew and subtle flavors of the egg and pecorino, but I found this pasta to be a little bit less exciting than the previous two. Still, a good rendition of the carbonara.

Guinea Hen Leg al spiedo - A guinea hen leg was deboned, then wrapped in spices, lardo and proscuitto. Sounds good? It was delicious. Really tender and moist with exceptional flavor. The skin was crisped up really well too, and the meaty flavors were balanced well with some bitter greens and lentils. Probably my favorite dish of the night.

Warm Chocolate Cake maple syrup, walnuts - The cake was warm and really soft, with an almost pudding-like interior. I liked the extra depth of flavor from the maple syrup, as well as the contrast of the whipped cream.

Locanda met my expectations (which were high, given the pedigree and buzz). I found the meal somewhat similar in style to one I recently had at Cotogna, but I think I’d give a slight edge to Locanda (though, I tried a limited number of items at both). I thought the pastas were very good, and the only entree we tried was a memorable one. I look forward to trying more of the menu items sometime soon.

Delfina Restaurant
3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Pizzeria Delfina
2406 California St, San Francisco, CA 94115

490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

557 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

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  1. mariacarmen RE: DarinDines May 25, 2011 12:08 AM

    so excited to try this place, thanks for the review! especially looking forward to those carciofi alla giudia - had them in Rome about 6 years ago and have been dreaming about them ever since. And your description of the lamb radiatore made my mouth water.

    5 Replies
    1. re: mariacarmen
      Thomas Nash RE: mariacarmen May 25, 2011 10:39 AM

      Tried cooking carciofi alla giudia many times at home -- never successfully. The Locanda version the other night were perfect. A secret: brutally remove most leaves so only tender artichoke remains to fry.

      557 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

      1. re: Thomas Nash
        Robert Lauriston RE: Thomas Nash May 25, 2011 10:49 AM

        Is there anyplace around here that sells prepped artichokes they way they do in Rome?

        1. re: Robert Lauriston
          Thomas Nash RE: Robert Lauriston May 25, 2011 11:34 AM

          I have never seen prepped artichokes around here.

          I would be interested in hearing a comparison of Locanda's excellent version, which has very few leaves remaining, with what you get in Rome from someone who has been there recently.

          The description in Marcella Hazan's book that the end result should look "somewhat like an opened, dried chrysanthemum" suggests many more leaves remaining.

          Perhaps the Italian artichokes have more internal tender leaves than ours?

          557 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

          1. re: Thomas Nash
            Robert Lauriston RE: Thomas Nash May 25, 2011 11:42 AM

            "Recently"? Romans have been making carciofi alla giudia the same way for generations. The globe artichokes they prefer for that dish are bigger and rounder than I've seen here. They're fried, pressed flat, and fried again. Here's a photo that looks pretty much like the ones they serve at Il Pompiere:


            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              Thomas Nash RE: Robert Lauriston May 25, 2011 12:25 PM

              I meant a recent memory to compare directly with Locanda. Of course, this is a very ancient dish.

              Thanks for the pictures -- that is how I thought they looked. Locanda's are much more pared down.

              We bought some very globe like artichokes the other day, but I didn't think to try this again.

              557 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

    2. Robert Lauriston RE: DarinDines May 25, 2011 08:42 AM

      Was the artichoke pressed flat?

      I've walked by a few times and the place is usually packed.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert Lauriston
        DarinDines RE: Robert Lauriston May 25, 2011 12:14 PM

        It wasn't pressed flat. Yeah the restaurant was packed by like 6, and it was a Monday.

      2. b
        bobpantzer RE: DarinDines May 25, 2011 09:07 AM

        I have reservations there on next Monday but my wife and I can't possibly eat everything that you did. So, which of the three pastas do you think we should share as a first course? Or, should we skip the main course and have a couple of pastas?

        2 Replies
        1. re: bobpantzer
          DarinDines RE: bobpantzer May 25, 2011 12:15 PM

          My favorite of the pastas was the radiatore with lamb ragu, but there's some personal preference there (I tend to really like the meaty ragus). I'd definitely give at least one entree a try - the guinea hen was amazing!

          1. re: bobpantzer
            srr RE: bobpantzer May 25, 2011 12:30 PM

            Unless you are really small eaters, you will probably have room for both. We went there about a week ago and got the raw artichoke salad, pizza bianca with mortadella, the tripe, the nervetti, rabbit pasta, the lamb chops and a contorni I can't recall. Everything was good, the tripe was great, but WOW are they small portions across the board. The lamb was two lone, thin chops on a plate with a small handful of escarole for $26! My husband and I are both in the business, so we understand food costs and all the additional costs to running a restaurant, but we left feeling like we mostly paid for a cool interior and Delfina name. Our dinner was $200 and I ordered a pizza later on that night. They are doing a brisk business so people must feel like they are getting what they paid for... or maybe it's just new and exciting. Just my $.02

            Delfina Restaurant
            3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

          2. v
            vurtyou RE: DarinDines Jul 17, 2011 08:21 PM

            I wasn't sure a new thread should be created, hope it's okay to tag onto your review.

            We had a similar experience and response to Locanda and are lovers of Delfina and Flour and Water. We didn't have reservations, but luckily the bar was first come/first serve, so we sat in under 20 minutes.

            We started the evening with the ArchAngelo: gin, cucumber and aperol which was a refreshing combination and garnished with a slice of cucumber. The husband had a Napa Organic IPA which was tasty but had a different profile than the IPA he normally prefers (Racer 5/Sierra Nevada).

            The poached duck egg (w/ bottarga, squash blossoms, burro nero) was terrific with both textures and taste. It had the right amount of salt with a small dash of capers. They served us a complimentary pizza bianca which was delicious.

            The Rigatoni alla Carbonara (w/guanciale, egg, pecorino, black pepper). It was very rich (good) and a little heavy handed with the black pepper, but was absolutely edible. The guanciale and pecorino added a reasonable salty blend to combat the richness of the dish.

            I ordered the Radiatore "pecora e pecorino" (lamb ragu, pecorino, nepitella). The dish was savory, the lamb very fresh and the pasta texture was interesting.

            After these dishes, we didn't have room for more food, but we would definitely return.

            Delfina Restaurant
            3621 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            557 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            1 Reply
            1. re: vurtyou
              scarmoza RE: vurtyou Jul 18, 2011 08:17 AM

              I really love Napa-Smith Organic IPA and Locanda. We also had the Rigatoni alla Carbonara and enjoyed it but it paled in comparison to the Halibut Collar roasted in the wood fire oven. Actually, Mr. scarmoza and I had been on a bit of a stay-cation - dining out to many of the places on our Bay Area Wish lists and that Halibut Collar has been the highlight of them all. Artichokes were great but not as crispy fried as in Rome. The ancient history nerd in me loves that they're using garum in the kitchen. We went here on a Tuesday night (late-night) a few weeks ago and had no trouble getting a table without reservations.

              557 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            2. Robert Lauriston RE: DarinDines Feb 5, 2012 01:29 PM

              Fried lambs' brains and artichokes were perfect.

              At least last night, the rigatoni alla carbonara either had cream in it (menu lists only guanciale, egg, pecorino, and pepper) or they somehow made a ton of rich, creamy sauce with the egg and cheese. Anyway, not bad, but nothing like carbonara in Rome, so I sent it back. Reading reports online, it sounds like sometimes they make it differently.

              1. r
                rubadubgdub RE: DarinDines Jul 5, 2012 05:15 PM

                I had an unexpectedly great meal at Locanda the other week. Even though I have a friend who is a server there, I didn't rush to go because I didn't think it would be much different than meals at Delfina, Perbacco, Flour + Water, Incanto, etc., and I like to dine spontaneously without a long wait. But our meal delivered one taste sensation after another leaving me pining to go again.

                Standouts included: coppiette (2 ft long pork jerky dusted with fennel pollen, hot pepper, and other spices, at $2.50, a must order), fried castelveltrano olives, duck egg w bottarga (more sophsticated than expected), fresh porcini w grilled romaine (silken, sublime), cuscini (a luscious plate of gulf shrimp and burrata ravioli sauced w shrimp brains or whatever is in their little heads), agretti (now I have some inkling of how this unusual vegetable should be prepared).

                Now that I think back it was the meats that we didn’t love so much. We tried fried sweetbreads and artichokes (the sweetbreads were too blah in this treatment), trippa w tomato mint pecorino (smelled great but a bit too barnyardy still), mixed grill (ok, we actively disliked this dish of spiedini, quail, blood sausage, texture was offputting and taste didn’t compensate, it was the smallest portion but for this we were thankful).

                The other unexpected bonus was the large portions, perfect for sharing. For instance, the cuscini had about a dozen regular sized ravioli, the small order of trippa was enough to share among three people. I think this is expected bc they bring small oval plates along with the food.

                We dined at 8p and there were several tables open. But by 9p they were slammed, and I hear they usually get a late night crowd. On weeknights, they stay open until 11p and until 12m on Fri/Sat.

                1. Robert Lauriston RE: DarinDines Jun 4, 2013 11:42 AM

                  Had a great meal last Tuesday. We'd been planning for months to go to Dopo for the carciofi alla giudia, and that afternoon I got an email that due to the short artichoke season (?) they were substituting squash blossoms, so I checked the menu at Locanda and reserved there instead.

                  The carciofi alla giudia I know from Rome are big artichokes squashed flat and fried crisp, two or four people could split one as an appetizer. Locanda's version was a small artichoke, very good but a different dish, and one order a person was a good choice. I'd order it again any time but am still craving the big crunchy version.

                  Puntarelle were mostly leaves, more like dandelion greens than the shaved crunchy bulb they have in Rome (I'm not sure anyone knows how to grow it like that here). Still a great dish, intense anchovy dressing was spot on.

                  Rigatoni alla carbonara, also spot on. Great guanciale (house-made?). Totally redeemed themselves for the weird creamy version I got last time. Best I've had in a restaurant around here since Little Italy closed.

                  Bucatini all'amatriciana, ditto. Maybe an even better way to appreciate that quanciale.

                  Seppie under a brick, was expecting bigger ones, these were closer to squid. Whatever, they were really good.

                  Would have preferred plain Italian-style bread, the warm, oiled focaccia's a weird Americanism.

                  The Grenache Blanc on tap paired really nicely.

                  It was a really good meal but I definitely felt the SF price premium compared with the East Bay. Worth it for the guanciale, though.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                    mariacarmen RE: Robert Lauriston Nov 3, 2013 09:18 PM

                    funnily enough, on my one visit to Rome in 2005, and my first time trying carciofi alla giudia, the artichokes were small - those little purple ones, super crisp, super flavorful.

                    i hadn't had that dish again until Friday night. i've been wanting to try Locanda for two years now, and it did not disappoint. two of us split: a house-made pork jerky (not great - a little funky and a bit tough. and yes, i know it's jerky), the spectacular carciofi, the chicken liver mousse, the lightly battered and fried cardoons cacio e pepe, the rigatoni alla carbonara guanciale, a side of the smoked mashed potatoes with peppercorn butter (yes, carbo-loading!), and roasted peppers with anchovy and capers.

                    the mousse was one of the best i've ever had, silky and flavorful, served with crispy craggy pieces of pizza bianca. i believe the noble vinegar came in the form of a gelee covering the mousse, which contrasted nicely with the richness of the chicken liver.

                    the cardoons were crunchy and juicy, strewn with shave parm regg, i believe, and a very nice aioli.

                    the guanciale in the carbonara was amazing - each porky bite was crispy and rich with fatty juices. we had carbonara the next night as well (for comparison's sake!) and Locanda's version, even with that super-rich guanciale, was actually subtler and more delicate.

                    the mashed potatoes had quite a bit of texture - none of this puree business - there were little chunks of potato left in the mash, which i always like. the smokiness is very subtle, as is the peppercorn - but these potatoes have a lot of flavor, tho maybe a bit difficult to define. they were delicious, nonetheless.

                    the roasted peppers gave us a tangy break from all the richness.

                    we had a really lovely flight of bubbly -
                    2009 Huet “Petillant” Vouvray
                    NV Ca del’Bosco Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy
                    NV Bele Casel Brut, Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
                    2012 Murgo Sparkling Rose of Nerello Mascalese, Mt. Etna, Sicilia, Italy

                    as we each ordered the flight, we were able to taste all four. they went perfect with our meal. my favorite was the rose.

                    service was great. glad i finally made it here.

                    1. re: mariacarmen
                      grayelf RE: mariacarmen Nov 3, 2013 10:12 PM

                      Thanks for updating this thread, mc. Cribbing for our dinner there in Nov!

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