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Locanda, San Francisco

I don’t normally head to the Mission for food. From parking issues, I have no reason to do business there, friends I’m with don’t want to go there, whatever the lame ass or legitimate excuse, I don’t get to that part of town much. Too bad really. When one looks at the number of great restaurants in the City, the Mission can lay claim to several and Locanda is one of them.

Valet parking was the first plus when I drove up on Valencia St. Parking…check.

I arrived at roughly 5:55pm to an already packed bar, save for one seat, mine, at the far end of the bar right next to the kitchen. Best seat in the house as far as I’m concerned; I get to watch food coming out. And this semi-crappy picture of the kitchen is the only one of the meal.

The menu has lots of fresh pasta, both hand-made and extruded, as well as several selections of offal, which means I’m in heaven. Offal and Pasta…Amen. I figured I’d have a light meal of stewed tripe and radiatore with lamb ragu. Oh, and roasted turnips as my fiber.

A quick note on the four bartenders, they’re hustling. Good crew of guys tasting their drinks and keeping customers happy, including the hungry ones like me.

Not shortly after my wine order, I’m presented with fresh bread sprinkled with olive oil and salt. Bread in a San Francisco restaurant that I didn’t pay for or have to request? Stunning. And it’s good, fresh bread as well and completely perfect for all the red sauce I’m about to eat in my two courses.

I asked my bartender what the difference between the big and small servings of tripe were. “I won’t lie to you, the big is real big if you’re going to have pasta.” Well then, the small tripe it is. Hell, the small was a pretty good size when it was presented to me. A bowl of steamy red sauce and tripe, garnished with fresh, long grated cheese. My second spoonful (yes, spoonful because a fork won’t do with all that sauce) reveals more than just tripe; chickpeas, mint, and guanciale for an added bonus of flavors and textures. The mint adds pop to the dish, while the chickpeas a moment of texture; just that moment of al dente bean in your mouth, before another mouthful of tripe. In the Pantheon of Tripe, Diavola in Geyserville reigns as king for domestic tripe I’ve eaten.  Maybe if I eat at Locanda 3 more times, I can crown a new king of tripe; because it was that good.

As if a bowl of tripe wasn’t enough to eat, and normally it would be, radiatore with lamb Bolognese is up next. Again, the familiar long grating of cheese garnishes the top of the dish. My first bites around the edge of the plate reveal an Italian al dente texture, not American.  Bravo. The gravy, or sauce if you’d like, exhibits a creaminess from slow stewed flavors of lamb. The flavors aren’t as strong as many expect from lamb, rather a well integrated stew of tomato, lamb  fat, and cheese. Yes, the cheese over the top of the sauce and pasta makes a difference; cheese amalgamates the  dish. This is a simple dish, a simple dish that could easy go wrong without balance.  I loved it. I paired the pasta with an N2 Sangiovese from Italy. It was fresh, with crisp acidity and straight from the tap.

For a minor bump in the road, my roasted turnips with pancetta and greens were inconsistent. Some of the turnip pieces were cut large, others small; resulting in an inconsistent texture in the turnips. And, yet, I have nothing but praise for Locanda. The floor manager walked by and asked how things were. He said that he noticed that I cleaned up a plate of tripe and was moving through my pasta, but left my turnips nearly untouched. I showed him the various cuts of turnip. He immediately removed the dish, spoke with the kitchen and chef, and reported back that corrective action is being taken both on the floor and in turnip prep. This is where front-of-house and kitchen come together and how the top restaurants keep their game tight. Well done.

To finish my hour of eating, an Affogato with espresso and Amaro. This is a twist on a classic and it works wonderfully. The non-licorice sweetness of Amaro was a brilliant substitution for Sambuca. I’m going to make this at home.

A great experience at Locanda in both the front and back of the house; one I hope to repeat in the near future.

Locanda on Urbanspoon

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