The ambiance at Locanda Vini e Olii is low-key and convivial. The wine lists (one for reds, one for whites) are glued to upcycled empties, like labels. The décor retains much of the old-timey charm of the location’s prior incarnation — a pharmacy that served its Clinton Hill neighborhood for more than a century. But don’t get these folks wrong: Co-owners Michael Schall (general manager), Michele Baldacci (executive chef), and Rocco Spagnardi (sommelier) and their staff are utterly serious about traditional Tuscan cooking — and they’re damned good at it. (Husband and wife François Louy and Catherine de Zagon Louy opened Locanda in 2001 and turned it over to the current trio in 2010.) You know you’re in for something out of the ordinary when your server brings the bread, made in house from a recipe devoid of salt (note what that does to crust and crumb!) and served with olive oil. Baldacci’s menu is painstakingly designed to show off the distinctive foods and rustic preparations of his native Florence. Our strategy: Bring friends. Start with a cocktail — likely mixed with homemade bitters and liqueurs — and some marinated anchovies or sardines. Marvel at the charcuterie del mare, which includes a soppressata made with octopus, and a tuna salami. Don’t shy from dishes made with offal — a risotto topped with pan-seared chicken livers, or tripe stewed with tomatoes. Pay special attention to the pasta course; all of the noodles are made in house. And if you can’t narrow down to a single dish from the grill — duck breast or Piedmontese beef “tagliata”? — get them both. Groups on a budget can avail themselves of a four-course, $48 tasting menu; the restaurant also stages seasonal five-course wine dinners, with each dish paired to a wine from a particular region or producer.
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