Review: Locanda in Streeterville marks Pane Caldo chef's quiet return

From www.chicagotribune.com by Phil Vettel
Review: Locanda in Streeterville marks Pane Caldo chef's quiet return

“I never thought,” marveled Antoine Cedicci, “that I’d be back on Walton Street. It’s an impossible dream.”

Walton Street was Cedicci’s work address for 22 years, when he ran the luxurious Pane Caldo, an intimate charmer with a superb wine list. When he closed that place in 2012, Cedicci looked farther west, opening the short-lived Alimentari on Randolph Street (where Salero now sits) and Trattoria Ultimo, a pasta-focused BYO in West Town (still doing business six years later).

Now he’s back on Walton, a few blocks east of his old stamping grounds, with Locanda, which opened very quietly in late May.

The word isn’t yet out on Locanda — I’ll wager even most Streeterville neighbors aren’t aware of its existence — and it’s easy to see why. The restaurant sits in the Residence Inn by Marriott, in a space that pretty much screams hotel dining — dated, black-and-red color scheme, short bar with a couple of TVs — passably attractive in a nondescript way. It’s certainly spacious enough, not that it needs to be.

And yet, there’s skill in the kitchen. Cedicci can flat-out cook, and his plates not only are unfailingly pretty, but also often feature extra touches that speak to value and commitment.

Burrata, for instance, arrives in a shallow pool of tomato gazpacho (so fresh and tasty it deserves a place on the menu) with fresh almonds, balsamic-pickled onions and greens. Burrata is a super-rich, delicious cheese, and the acidity from the gazpacho and onions balanced the dish nicely.

Beef carpaccio is topped with fat flakes of Parmigiano-Reggiano, no surprise there, but there’s a bonus of tempura-fried leeks and fennel that adds a bit of crunch to the plate. Curls of cured salmon share the plate with cucumber curls and dots of mango puree. Truffle vinaigrette dresses a beautiful salad of piled-high crab and avocado, along with asparagus and fresh greens.

You can start — and you should — with the soft, slightly crusty focaccia, one night loaded with herbs, another time inlaid with dried tomatoes.

Pastas are excellent. I particularly like the ravioli with a liquidy truffle filling, served with corn sauce and crispy prosciutto bits. King crab ravioli was relatively disappointing, only because the overabundance of saffron-fennel sauce made the dish gloppy. Penne arrabbiata, gently spicy (more annoyed than angry), is a fine choice with or without the beef-pork meatballs (a $6 upgrade, worth it).

Cedicci’s frutti di mare pasta is especially good, a surfeit of shrimp, calamari, clams and mussels — each at its ideal doneness — over squid-ink tonnarelli (a pasta that also goes by the name spaghetti alla chitarra) and a judicious amount of tomato sauce.

Among the sturdier main courses, there’s a well-made osso bucco with a sauce of pureed vegetables, duck breast with a cherry-porto sauce, and a delicious piece of branzino over an herb-rich wine and fish-stock sauce.

The star dessert is the peach-almond tart, done in the style of tarte tatin and featuring a delicious, custardy filling and a scoop of goat-cheese gelato. The cookie assortment — coconut macaroons and almond cookies, along with house-made marshmallows and various chocolate-ganache bites — makes a great shared dessert and/or take-home option.

It’s virtually impossible to grade the service, because it’s never been tested. I picked two very quiet days to visit, and on one of them, our waiter had absolutely no other table to attend. On the plus side, he didn’t hover. And, though it sounds counterintuitive, a super-slow night can screw up a kitchen’s timing more than a very busy night can. But my meals were paced beautifully.

With time, and good fortune, Locanda will develop enough of a customer base to allow Cedicci to upgrade the dining room (better still, to persuade Marriott to do so). I hope that happens; food this good deserves a bigger audience.

pvettel@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @PhilVettel

Locanda

201 E. Walton St.

312-397-8800

locandachicago.com

Tribune rating: One star

Open: Dinner daily

Prices: Main courses $18-$34

Noise: Conversation-friendly

Ratings key: Four stars, outstanding; three stars, excellent; two stars, very good; one star, good; no stars, unsatisfactory. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.

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