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For Maple Budino, Pistachio Cake, and the Bigger Pants I Now Need: Brunch at "Locanda Verde"

Isn’t if funny how once you become aware of something you notice it all around you? It is like whatever you were looking for was under your nose this whole time and you weren’t paying attention. This is how I felt about Locanda Verde. Once I learned about it two years ago and decided I would like to go there, I heard about it, read about, and saw images of it, everywhere I turned- literally until I finally made it there a couple of weeks ago. It was my destiny. I was meant to eat at that restaurant and boy I am glad God was shining that light on me.

Like I said I first decided to go to Locanda Verde in 2011 and that’s when I added it to my very first to-do list ( Sadly it was still on my to-do list as of June of this year ( But now it is with a full stomach I can cross it off.

I knew my time would come and I knew the visit would be worth it. It started out as a dinner reservation, then moved to lunch, and finally ended up as brunch but I have no complaints. Actually the original reason it was on my to-do list and the final push to go weren’t that far apart. They were both desserts. I had seen Frank Bruni, former New York Times food critic, on the Food Network talking about the best dessert he ever had: the Maple Budino at Locanda Verde. Incidentally he also wrote the official review for the New York Times.

Well naturally once I had heard about this dish I knew I would have to try it. But that is a dessert only served in the fall and those dates seem to fly by fast and before I knew it my chance was gone. Even though that dessert was gone I was still interested in going because I began to learn things about other items on the menu. For example, when Huffington Post named the best meatballs in the U.S. guess who came in second? I had never had their meatballs but it sounded like something I should try and compare with the best on my list ( But that was all before I heard about the brunch.

A co-worker of mine knew I had wanted to go to Locanda Verde and when she went for brunch there she could not stop raving about the lemon ricotta pancakes. She said they were to die for and so was pretty much everything else on the menu. I had a feeling that when a restaurant is good at one meal they can do no wrong.

But back to the desserts. While maple budino was always going to be the first words I associated with Locanda Verde, I now had a few delicious sounded ones thanks to Time Out New York a magazine that is an amazing guide for anything New York. There was a picture worth a thousand bites. It was a slice of pistachio cake with rhubarb sorbetti. I was melting inside just craving a bite. If that paper had been scratch and sniff I would have probably chewed on it just to see if smelling something translating into tasting it. The reason Time Out was talking about this was because they were listing spring vegetables, here the rhubarb, and the best dishes to eat while they are still in season. I love that a simple ingredient like rhubarb, which I couldn’t pick out of a line-up, is the reason this heavenly dish was being hurdled my way. It was also the final piece of my puzzle. I picked a day, those lucky enough to accompany me, and booked my reservation. Hell or come high water I was going to Locanda Verde for my pistachio cake.

Locanda Verde is in Tribeca which is in lower Manhattan. It is a really great area for walking around and for going to brunch on a Sunday. There are so many little cafes and restaurants you feel as though you want to stroll in and out of each of them. We had such great weather on the day we went I really wish the day had never ended. But alas nothing lasts forever.

From the outside the restaurant has a great corner location and from its vantage point now you can see all of the progress being made at the World Trade Center site. On a clear day with the sun shining it is really gorgeous. Upon entering the restaurant is smaller than I pictured but just as crowed as you would expect. But we didn’t have to wait long because I had a reservation (always a good idea) and our party was complete and on time so they sat us right away. We had a booth in the back so I got to look around and absorb the entire environment which I love.  It is so much to take in right away when you have been waiting two years to go and suddenly I am holding an enormous menu, being asked what I would like to drink, I am fumbling with my camera in my hand, and looking around at what other tables have ordered to eat.

Once this behavior has subsided after a few minutes and my adrenaline levels are at a normal range I can breathe and see that the décor is darker and not as pristine as I imagined. I never know what to picture. But it is cool and masculine and very well attended to. The staff is without a doubt friendly, helpful, and on top of their game. While we were eating someone walked over to fix our table because she noticed it was wobbly and we weren’t even going to say anything. That is it! That is the level of service, when accompanied by this kind of food, which makes restaurants of this stature jewels in any city. It always puts a smile on my face.

When we got around to ordering the beginning was easy at least. We would start (there were three of us) with the pastry sampler which included one of the following: buttermilk blueberry doughnut, zucchini bread, and strawberry olive oil crumb cake. It was the doughnut that caught my eye but I was eager to bite them all. When they arrived at our table they were accompanied by jams and preserves to increase their taste. In my opinion they were better left alone. 

The doughnut was moist but dense. I think buttermilk should be in every meal I eat. The zucchini bread was also tasty; it was familiar but had a higher quality of ingredients. As for the crumb cake I think that was my favorite. I might not have agreed at the time but looking back I am remembering it the strongest. It had a bite, tart at the end, and the olive oil gave it richer quality. I didn’t know it if liked it at first but then I kept going back for more, you know a crumb here, a crumb there. I am glad there was only a piece we had divided in three in front of me and not the entire cake.

As for our meals, two of us ended up going with those now infamous lemon ricotta pancakes and one went for the breakfast stromboli which among its ingredients had poached eggs inside that would break open when it was cut making the sandwich drip with the gooey flavor.  For me deciding what to order was stressful. The only decision I had made prior to arriving was the pistachio cake. Everything else looked too good. I had been torn between an egg dish and the pancakes. Every dish seemed to be calling my name. As I looked around at other tables everything looked amazing and the smells coming from the kitchen were so incredible and close you thought you could reach out and grab them.

Finally once I ordered it was out of my hands and I could just sit there and wait to see if I had made the right choice. I felt a lot of pressure that was self inflicted because of this two year wait and because I had been bragging about this place to those who were joining me. Well the wait didn’t last long. The food looked so good like it was on a movie shoot. Actually it even looks better in the photographs. Now it was time for the taste test.

When I took my first bite I got a sharp zest from the lemon, a sweet burst from a blueberry, and then the creamy heaviness from the ricotta cheese that made the pancake batter. They were delectable. But now some semi tough news, while this dish was great, and I practically licked my plate clean, I should have gone with something much different. I am very use to the taste of ricotta in baking and cooking in my Italian family. I especially like when it is used to make cheesecake. That is kind of what these pancakes reminded me of so it wasn’t that shocking. I think for someone who has never had that experience before it would be that much more delicious for them. I guess for me shock and awe at the greatness of a dish is part of the process for me in how I appreciate how good something is. I never realized that before. I need to also impress upon you how good my breakfast was and that by no means does this take away from the quality of the food or the restaurant. It turns out I just wanted to eat my pancakes and my eggs too.

Now we turn to the breakfast stromboli which was the real star of this meal. We all turned and watched as it was cut open and the egg broke and poured out. It looked so rich dripping through and from the piece I tasted, it was amazing. I would definitely get that next. Actually maybe I would need to order two things for myself so I don’t have to put myself in this position again.

The finale of this meal is of course the pistachio cake. You didn’t think I forgot did you? I never ever did. Originally I was saving room for this from the beginning but we can all agree that flew out the window once I sat down. Despite how full I was, and believe me I thought my clothes were going to burst off of me, I was not going to leave without achieving my goal. I had made it to Locanda Verde; the finish line was in sight.

No one else was hungry either but I ordered the cake and three forks anyway. Again it was out before I even finished the sentence. I just stared at it. It was like we were having a staring contest. But it won. I blinked first and then grabbed my fork. Ok my camera and then my fork. I took a huge bite making sure to taste everything at once: the nuts, cake (inside and outside), and sorbet. It took my breath away. Although I preferred the cake all by itself and for the record it was so much thicker and heavier than I imagine. When I saw that picture many weeks ago in Time Out magazine it looked so small and dainty there. But in person the consistency was much different. Besides being full, the heaviness of the cake was wearing me out. I knew I wouldn’t come close to finishing it because I was doing most of the eating since I was with two people who merely tasted it. I knew ahead of time I wouldn’t get through it but I had no idea how much I would leave behind. I kept thinking of that military saying, “leave no man behind”. I had to leave most of my cake behind and I think about it often. 

I would say this restaurant is in a class of its own but I would be lying. This being N.Y.C. we are spoiled and get to try the many classes of restaurants from good, to very good, to amazing, to I can’t live without. I am afraid this is in the something I can’t live without category. I am apologizing here only because I feel sorry for those of you who haven’t gone or who will have to wait a while to go. But absence does make the heart grow fonder. This restaurant is on the same level as some of my recently new to die for favorites such as: Butter (, Scarpetta 

So after all the hype I created in my head, as well as all of the things I read, the verdict is in. It took me all of four seconds of being in this restaurant, even before we sat down, to know I was right where belonged. There is no better feeling than that, except maybe being full of good food finally tracked down.

For Locanda Verde:

For the Best Meatballs in U.S.


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