Had dinner at La Locanda on Friday night in celebration of my ladyfriend's birthday. My last visit was probably about four years ago and it was her first time. Interestingly, it almost didn't happen because I only recently realized that they take reservations. I wouldn't choose to drop in unannounced on a Friday night since the place is 'intimate,' i.e. small and crowded. Reservations are a big plus.
In spite of the reservations (for 8:00) we still had to wait about 15 minutes at the front. No big deal. In the end, after this short delay, our reservations were honored. We were seated in the middle of the cramped dining room, right near the open kitchen. Not ideal for quiet conversation, but we were there for the food.
Service was friendly and prompt, perhaps a bit rushed, but I expect this from a small BYO so I let it slide. Overall it was professional and efficient, with my only real complaint coming from the 'bubbly or flat' scheme. For those who are unaware of this little trick its where the servers give you the choice between sparkling or regular water. Choose sparkling and you get a bottle of bubbly mineral water. Choose regular and you get a bottle of flat mineral water. Regular does not mean tap, and this will be noted in your bill when you receive it. If you are not interested in overpriced, mediocre bottled water just specify tap. Philly city tap is good enough for me, even if it disappoints the server.
Meal started with decent Italian bread and a very tasty puree of eggplant and roasted red pepper. Nice touch in my opinion. We ended up ordering two antipasti, one primi and one secondi. For appetizers we shared the cozze, a pot of steamed mussels in a nice herby, aromatic tomato broth. The mussels came piled on the aforementioned bread, which functioned like a sponge for the great sauce. We also split the special mushroom crepine. This consisted of two substantial mushroom filled crepes served with a creamy, tangy ricotta sauce. They said the filling was mixed wild mushrooms, although they looked like ordinary mushrooms to me. Didnt really matter though, because it was quite good; earthy and meaty, just like good mushrooms should be. The sauce was good, albeit a bit heavy.
My companions pasta was the special gnocchi in a gorgonzola cream sauce. The gnocchi wasnt the regular potato base. Instead, it was a ricotta/mushroom combination. Nice change from the ordinary. It was sauced with a weighty gorgonzola cream sauce studded with chunks of asparagus. Overall it was a nice combination and generously served. I had the braciola del giorno, which was an enormous piece of flank steak stuffed with bread, parmesan, prosciutto and hard-boiled egg. In typical fashion it was braised in a red wine demi and served with a scoop of risotto Milanese. Perfect hearty combination for the nasty, rainy weather last Friday.
Overall the meal was quite good; precisely what we were looking for. The flavors were all right on, the portions were generous and the atmosphere was animated. Price for two appetizers, two main courses and one espresso was $54. Not bad at all. We held off on dessert, which looked to be the run of the mill Italian offerings (i.e. nothing fabulous) and instead stopped by Capogiro on the way home. Can you really do any better? We shared ginger, kiwi, meyer lemon and pistachio, but thats another post entirely. Based on this most recent experience I would definitely recommend La Locanda, provided you have reservations. Just remember: no credit cards and BYO (we went with a Barbera).