I have a number of stories of fantastic and admittedly some border on gluttony – five hour 25+ course meals, tasting menus followed by dessert tastings elsewhere, a $95 egg and breakfast, lunch, and dinner with foie gras in a single day are some of my favorites, While I admit that there are times when I look back on such occasions and wonder what I was thinking, in the end they’re almost all invariably worth it. Setting the proverbial “table” with the comments above, the three meals comprising February 18, 2011 set another sort of record – all inclusive they entailed nearly 12 hours seated at a table with food, beverages, and friends – a virtual marathon of great memories.
Beginning the day early with a jog around Chelsea and a subsequent trip to the post office, the first stop on my tour du jour was a place I’d meant to visit on my last two trips to New York but had never made it to for one reason or another – Andrew Carmellini’s hip and casual Locanda Verde – a bustling joint serving breakfast, lunch, brunch, and dinner while fashioning itself as an Italian Tavern. Arriving just after opening I was surprised to find the space already half filled and quite loud despite the early hour – Friday business meetings abound. Seated quickly and presented with a copy of the menu by the hostess I was left to browse.
Checking out the innumerable bottles, mirrors, woods, and stools that comprise Locanda Verde I have to tip my hat to the design team – it certainly felt like a bustling tavern. Seated close to the window and closer to the pastry bar it took me little time to know what I wanted on the menu and I turned my attention to the pastries – ostensibly for “later.” After approximately 4-5 minutes my server, Julia, would stop by and ask if I wanted coffee. Always agreeable to such an offer it would take some time before the pot would arrive, delivered by a young ancillary server who would keep the cup full to the brim throughout my stay. A tad too citrus for my personal tastes, I honestly forgot to inquire who provided Locanda Verde’s beans, but at $4 with unlimited refills I couldn’t complain.
With Julia the only person I actually saw working (literally, five people were standing at the hostess podium kibitzing the whole time I was there) aside from a couple bussers it would be approximately ten minutes before my order was taken, but thankfully only approximately ten more before the first dish would arrive. Likely LV’s signature item at this point, Sheeps’ Milk Ricotta with Truffle honey and burnt orange toast was my first selection – and it was good. With mounds of smooth and creamy ricotta topped off with honey, fennel, rosemary, and olive oil sitting alongside buttery and faintly citrus tinged toast it is hard to say what the best way to consume the plate was – to savor the lovely cheese on its own, or to let it be tamed by the toast. Alternating back and forth between these two options I’ll simply note that both are worth trying, but as a solo diner you’re bound to run into palate fatigue either way as the portion is quite ample.
With the ricotta only approximately 1/2 consumer, my second course would thankfully be much lighter albeit less delicious. Titled Toasted Hazelnut French Toast with citrus salad I’ll simply note that the dish was neither bad nor remarkable, despite its intriguing ingredient list. With a general preference leaning towards more custard-style French toast, this version featured a crispy exterior studded with hazelnuts and a sweet brioche interior that was unfortunately still largely uncooked bread. Topped with sweet Clementine oranges and bitter grapefruit slices and a bit of mint plus a sidecar of pure (and warmed) maple syrup the overall balance was largely skewed to the sweet, something I prefer, but overall it just didn’t justify the $15 price tag.
With a couple of pastries ordered to go the check was next delivered along with a final serving of coffee to go cup it was at this point that I realized a couple of inconsistencies in the bill – namely, the $12 ricotta was billed at $14 (despite being listed online for $9,) the French Toast billed at $15 as opposed to its menu price of $14, and the muffin was billed at $4.50 despite clearly being indicated on the board for $3.75. Not one to quibble prices, these inconsistencies were just a bit too strange to ignore and as such (after waiting 15 minutes) I inquired and received a “well, the menu prices recently went up but we haven’t changed the menus yet – let me see what I can do.” What she could do, invariably, was leave me waiting another 15 minutes while the five folks at the podium had a meeting of the minds as to how to remove $3.75 from the bill.
Making my way to the street and subsequently to the post office before heading to the Rubin for a long afternoon of art I decided to forgo waiting on the pastries given my day’s eating agenda and opened the bag. Starting first with the oft raved Apple Cider donut – it was still warm – but it wasn’t very good. All oily, minimally apple – perhaps I’m jaded from my years of living in the middle of Apple Cider country, but aside from a few cinnamon notes here and there it just didn’t’ do it for me, so much so that I ended up leaving half for the pigeons.
Fairing vastly better than the donut, my second pastry was the previously mentioned $3.75 blueberry polenta muffin – after a single bite I fully admit I’d have paid $4.50 and maybe more. Chock-a-block full of soft and sweet blueberries juxtaposed against pockets of butter and cinnamon and all set before the backdrop of a slightly coarse and textural cornmeal – an absolute must order and reason enough alone to visit Locanda Verde for breakfast – just make sure you look over your bill.