Locanda's sign doesn't give much away, but the food's distinctive.
A meal at Mission Chinese Food would have easily been enough to sustain me for the entire night, but there’s something about San Francisco’s variety that encourages over-consumption. Of course it helped to roll with chef/author/publicist Randy Clemens, an enabler if there ever was one. We caught his friend’s concert at the Make-Out Room before walking north in the Mission. As luck would have it, we passed by Locanda, a Roman inspired restaurant from Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina owners Craig and Annie Stoll and chef Anthony Strong; suddenly a second dinner seemed like a great idea.
It was close to midnight, and the restaurant had cleared out some, but they still managed to keep the energy level up with ’80s songs from the Cars, Dire Straits and David Byrne.
The modern space featured some striking black and white paintings of wolves and finger sized birds.
The Varnish co-owner Eric Alperin consulted on the cocktail program before handing the Italianate reins to bartender Michael Sager-Wilde.
Our cocktails included a Smoke & Spice ($10), a spiritous drink served on a goat coaster featuring gin, vermouth, smoky Scotch, orange peel and an oversized ice cube. Nonna Del Diavolo ($10) was frothy and more aromatic, garnished with candied ginger and combining rye, strega, ginger, lime and seltzer.
Complimentary pizza bianca appeared on a wood plank lined with pheasant paper. The crusty bread was similar to focaccia, dressed with olive oil and salt. As Clemens said, “it’s like an olive oil donut bread.” I don’t know about that, but it was an especially good bread course.
Eating with two vegetarians forced me to limit meat consumption, which was fine, though my eyes did gravitate toward Quinto Quarto – “fifth quarter” in Italian – which refers to offal.
Creamy, lightly battered Fried Lamb’s Brains ($12) and artichokes benefited from a light semolina, egg yolk and buttermilk batter and came with tangy fried capers, crispy sage leaves and a lemon squeeze.
Sweet Corn Soup ($8) lived up to its name. Chef Strong enriched the soup even more with broken pasta, sharp shaved Pecorino and black pepper, a fun play on cacio e pepe.
Fresh Porcini ($12) mushrooms starred in a balanced salad involving grilled romaine, sharp Parmigiano-Reggiano and breadcrumbs, all lightly dressed and savory.
Fioretti ($16) was a pasta similar to tortellini, but larger and with thinner skins. This version hosted airy ricotta and squash blossoms and arrived with shaved zucchini, pine nuts and tarragon sauce.
Spaghetti ($17) was another winner, featuring thick, al dente pasta, fresh fava beans and leaves, fresh-shaved ricotta salata, a rich plate stewed in fava “jus” and butter.
Patate Affumicate ($8) involved rich smoked potato puree simply seasoned with salt and pepper.
“Please tell us you have magical desserts.” Mr. Clemens’ entreaty to our server resulted in two sweet plates, which weren’t quite magical, but capped our meal in style.
Ricotta Fritta ($9) featured pillowy, golden fritters drizzled with honey and citrus caramel, tangy lemon and tiny, aromatic thyme leaves.
Warm Chocolate Cake ($11) was a rich punctuation mark, good and dense, drizzled with maple syrup and plated with curry-spiced walnuts and a generous whipped cream dollop.
An unfazed Clemens led us to yet another stop after Locanda – Monk’s Kettle – but there was no need (or ability) for me to continue blazing a path of gluttony through the Mission district. Locanda had already deftly delivered.