Note: Click here for a later review of Locanda Verde.
When Robert DeNiro opened the restaurant Ago last year in his new Greenwich Hotel, he made every mistake in the book. It was a formulaic, over-priced copy of an out-of-town restaurant whose chef had no commitment to New York. Imports tend to do badly here, but Agostino Sciandri, for whom it was named, was practically a no-show, thereby ensuring Ago’s doom.
At Ago’s replacement, Locanda Verde, DeNiro gets everything right. The chef, Andrew Carmellini, has done acclaimed work at two different three-star restaurants—Café Boulud and A Voce. Carmellini is both chef and partner here, and he has no other projects distracting him. It even says at the bottom of the menu, Cooking Today: Andrew Carmellini & Luke Ostrom, as if to emphasize that the chef is not just a distant consultant. No item costs more than $25.
I never had Carmellini’s food at Café Boulud, but I did visit A Voce before he left. It was certainly very good, but over-rated at three stars, in a clear example of Frank Bruni’s pro-Italian bias. Some of its deficiencies were not Carmellini’s fault. The space was both ugly and raucous, and the service not good enough for a place serving $39 short ribs and wine bottles in three and four figures. But there was no doubt Carmellini could cook.
At Locanda Verde, he serves “neighborhood Italian” food, perhaps slightly dialed down from A Voce, but not by much. This time, the space and the service support the concept, instead of being at war with it. Ken Friedman (Spotted Pig, John Dory, Rusty Knot) re-did the décor, happily not in the over-wrought style that has marred some of his earlier efforts. The tables are a tad small, and the space gets a bit loud when full, but in light of the price point I have no complaints.
The menu is in the five-part format that is common for Italian restaurants these days, with small plates called Cicchetti ($7–10), Antipasti ($12–16), Pastas ($14–19), Secondi ($19–25) and Contorni (6–7). The wine list averages around $50–60 per bottle, with many reasonable choices below that level, and several as low as $35.
I visited twice last week, the first time alone, the second with my girlfriend, so I was able to sample a bit more of the menu than usual.
There are a few different crostini. Fava Bean on prosciutto bread ($7; above left) was either a comp or a mistake, but it was wonderful—probably the best of the crostini that I tried. Morel mushroom crostini ($7; above right) were nearly as good, if a bit messy.
Focaccia bread (above left) is so hearty that it’s almost like a slice of pizza. Gnocchi with local tomatoes ($17; above right) were as good a rendition of that dish as I have had.
Lamb meatball sliders ($11; above left) are succulent and gooey, but you had best wear a bib. Blue Crab with jalapeño and tomato ($9; above right) were my least favorite of the three crostini I tried, not because there was anything wrong with them, but because the others set such a high standard.
Some of the dishes have odd names, like “My Grandmother’s Ravioli” ($17; above left), which will make you think Carmellini had a blessed childhood if his grandmother could cook like that.
I was fortunate enough to see the Porchetta ($22; above right) come out of the oven. The carcass is wrapped in a cylinder, the skin scored and seasoned. I assume that they cook one of these slowly for many hours. If you order this dish, which you should, you’ll get a substantial helping of it.
We also had the Orichiette ($16; above left) with rabbit sausage, sweet peas and fiore sardo, a rich, satisfying dish. We finished with the panna cotta (above right).
On both visits, service was attentive and polished, much better than I would expect for a restaurant this new, this busy, and this inexpensive. The staff transferred our bar tab to the table without our having to request it.
At Locanda Verde, the concept that was so expasperating at A Voce comes together perfectly. Let’s hope that Andrew Carmellini remains here for a long, long time.
Locanda Verde (377 Greenwich Street at N. Moore Street, TriBeCa)