La Locanda, An Italian Love Song
I struggle to start writing about La Locanda, not because I disliked it (I loved it), not because of writer’s block, but because after half a bottle of merlot and two shots of Grappa (because we “did it wrong” the first time), my sense of discretion begins to be replaced by my pretension. So forgive the lack of tact in the following sentence.
I hate Italian food.
But wait, because I love Italian food in equal measure. Let me explain. My theory, borrowed from Woody Allen’s proclamation about teaching (“Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach gym.”), is that those who can’t cook, cook pasta. Seriously, think of the friend that is least competent (try as they might) (bless their heart) in the kitchen. You got it? What do they ALWAYS prepare? Pasta. And it comes topped with some sauce that came out of a can. And the noodles were probably done and sitting on the table before the sauce was even heated so it’s just mushy noodles with a salsa that doesn’t stick. And that overzealous dollop of cheese on top isn’t masking anything. And it’s like this Every. Damn. Time. And what did pasta ever do to them? Huh? Nonnas round the world roll in their graves. Ok, calm down. My sincerest apologies to all you out there that can make a mean ragu.
I remember a tour guide once asking me how to spot traveling Italians. Just go to an Italian restaurant, they’ll show up at the same one every single day no matter what country they are traveling to, he jokingly responded. To an Italian, food is sacred, and pasta is god’s immaculate conception. Think about it, the word for meal is pasto, drop the o, make it an a, pasta. Pasta is THE MEAL.
And that’s why good Italian food is so delicious. It is a religion. The very best is a labor of love. It is hours of chopping, and kneading, and seasoning in the kitchen. It is time tested knowledge passed down through lessons with grandma and family cookbooks. It is about honoring tradition and simplicity. It is about a genuine love for sitting around a full table to share a meal. Anything else, it just feels insincere. So I reserve my right to only eat Italian food by hands that dig the same philosophy.
Chef and owner of La Locanda and host of his own show on El Gourmet, Daniele Pinna, clearly pertains to the latter. He is a Buenos Aires transplant by way of Sardinia. A sleeve tattoo on one arm, a jolly smile and an uncanny ability to make his clients feel at home, he has created an oasis for fans of Italian and Mediterranean dishes. And even though we are in the diamond-studded heart of Barrio Norte, the humble decorations, simple plate presentations and Pavarotti playing in the background make La Locanda feel like a comfortable neighborhood joint.
We started our meal with bruschetta and sips of Merlot.
Followed by an onslaught of antipasto.
Crispy on the outside and creamy one the inside arancini, and fried meatballs like I wish my grandma made them.
Prawn carpaccio, mozzarella cheese and eggplant with almonds
Delicate, paper thin prosciutto, fried calamari and roasted fennel. The oven treatment for the fennel took away its signature licorice taste and gave it a deep roasted flavor with a lovely cheesy crust.
The salad had the best view in the house. As a testament to the kitchen’s skill, this simple arugula and tomato salad was on point. The tomatoes were perfectly chosen, neither too crisp nor too ripe. Time tested, simple flavor combinations were the theme of the meal.
Since our stomachs hadn’t exploded yet, we had pasta. The noodles were topped with prawns, clams and calamari – Pinna’s Mediterranean upbringing was in full force here. The sauce was light with an unexpected but welcome spicy kick.
And tiramisu. I’d like to stand outside this tiramisu’s window with a boombox and play In Your Eyes for it.
Straight from his nonna’s recipe book, it had just the right balance of flavor and texture. Sweet, but not overpowering, and just the right note of creamy texture.
Top it off with a shot (do not sip, unless you are trying to coax a second shot on the house) and good luck getting home.
La Locanda is located at Jose Leon Pagano 2697 in Barrio Norte, and is open Tuesday-Thursday for dinner service, and Friday-Saturday for lunch and dinner service.