Restaurant Review: Locanda, 557 Valencia, San Francisco

by Mika Chall

I confess.  My curiosity got the better of me and I joined the scrum jockeying for a table at Delfina’s recently hatched sister, Locanda, an impressively designed osteria whose menu reflects Rome’s rich culinary traditions.  At the front of the restaurant that was once home to Ramblas, are a long bar, a communal table and a sleek open kitchen.  A quick scan of the scene reveals a demographic that is well under 50, animated and apparently smitten with Locanda’s ambitious cocktail program. Toward the rear of the room is a more restrained, snug dining area where the crowd looks a bit more mature, and the noise level is several decibels lower. A beautifully executed white tile wall wraps around one side of the room while oversized, mid-century chandeliers illuminate the entire space.  Locanda’s carefully curated menu includes an extensive repertoire of Pastas in addition to Antipasti, Charcoal Griil and Specials, Contorni, and Quinto Quarto  (literally fifth quarter, aka offal).

On my first visit, the Jewish style artichoke (poached, fried and seasoned with oregano and mint), which we were all anxious to taste, was presented artfully, and looked inviting. But our hearts sank when we took our first bite and found that the preparation was overwhelmed by salt.   However, we were quickly comforted by the arrival of the mildly flavored warm lamb’s tongue, served with celery and a perfectly seasoned lemon dressing. Our two pasta selections, fettuccini with rabbit sugo and fiorellini with ricotta and squash, were beautifully nuanced and did not disappoint. For mains, we opted for lamb scottadito (a duo of thin lamb grilled with coriander and anchovy), a compatible marriage of flavors; and a tender leg of guinea hen, stuffed with prosciutto, served on a bed of lentils.  Spot-on!  Our dessert of ricotta fritters with citrus caramel, flavored with thyme was a memorable explosion of flavors.

The second time around we started with pizza bianca (a puffy focaccia-style bread) topped with fava bean puree and pecorino.  A satisfying kick start to dinner.  I wanted a second chance at the Jewish artichoke, but alas, it was not on the menu.  Instead, we ordered the salad of shaved artichoke, wild arugula, grilled ricotta and avocado; what a terrific interplay of peppery and buttery.  Making a pasta selection from the wide- ranging list was challenging, but veal casoncelli alla saltimbocca (thin, tubular pasta filled with veal and prosciutto in a light butter sauce) finally got our vote. The combination of flavors worked beautifully, but the pasta was just a tad too chewy and undercooked.  Looking at mains, we were unsure of the provenance of fried Amish rabbit with okra, but decided to not quibble and were more than content with the crunchy, juicy results.  For a finishing touch, we ordered and loved the peach crostada, served with cream and milk gelato.  A perfect ending to a first-rate dinner. Service both evenings was friendly, efficient and knowledgeable.  Locanda’s wine list is eclectic, offering selections from Italy, Spain, France, Austria and Germany.  We particularly enjoyed a Rhone syrah blend, Les Vins de Vienne Remeage (2008).

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