Thursday, August 26, 2010


Berkeley, August 25, 2010—

Martini, Locanda da Eva
Martini, Locanda da Eva
DINNER WITH A FRIEND in a restaurant open for barely a month, hence quite new to us — a trattoria, I'd say, with an exceptionally interesting wine list and a good bar, sourcing its ingredients with an eye to local and sustainable items, and preparing its offerings knowingly and modestly. What I mean by "modestly" is with more concern for the tradition of the item, its provenance and history and innate qualites, than its possibility as an expression of the cook. It's like the difference between playing the Brahms violin concerto, say, for its intrinsic qualities, those the composer put there, rather than for its usefulness as a display of the performer's possibly too flashy technique.

I started with a Martini, nicely balanced, cold, not watery, garnished with Castelvetrano olives; the others had Mojitos. Two of us went on to strozzapreti with tomatoes, roasted eggplant, chiles, lamb sausage, herbs, and ricotta salata, that last cut into strips and laid over the dish. I was perfectly satisfied with this dish. It didn't knock me out; it didn't intend to. It was like something eaten in a perfectly ordinary but very very good neighborhood trattoria in Sicily or Calabria.
#alttext#   #alttext#
Dessert was polenta torte with nectarines, blackberries, and citrus mascarpone. The cake had been sprinkled — baptized, you might say, irreverently — with chamomile-infused grappa. This was a complex affair and a delicious one, with mutually complementary textures and flavors all put to the service of the fresh fruit. L. had a plate of cookies, three squares of shortbread glazed with a thin layer of caramel and chopped nuts. To isolate them from the cool plate they came on a "doily," a small rectangle of clean paper cut from one of the daily menus. Sustainable, recyclable, ingenious. It's that kind of place, I think.
Grillo, Concilio Feudo d'Elimi (Sicily)
  • Locanda da Eva, 2826 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley; tel. (510) 665-9601

    Curtis Faville said...


    We tried Locanda da Eva the night before last, and it was pretty much as you said. My cocktail was a miniature (which I commented about); the new trend is, rather than water down the drinks, to serve them in smaller and smaller glasses.* We had to ask for bread, and were charged two dollars for a tiny saucer of olive oil. (This is just ridiculous! Even cheap trattoria will generally serve you bread and olive oil for free (as they do at Mangia Mangia, for instance). Where do they get off with this pettiness?)

    My vegetable dish was excellent, but about the size of a coffee cup. We ordered a side of barbecued corn on the cob--terrific!

    I won't go into more detail. It was very nice, but not quite as good as Mazzini used to be, which preceded Zax at the same location. Our server was attentive, but too young (and inexperienced).

    Have you tried Vanessa's on Solano yet?


    *It's like those new toilet paper dispensers that feed out paper about 2 1/2" wide. If carried to a logical end, this will eventually yield postage-stamp scaled toilet tissue.

    Charles Shere said...

    Oh boy, what to say. I distinctly recall, and so does Lindsey, that at table at Locanda da Eva, while eating dessert, we commented to one another how nice it was to have a meal whose servings were the right size, not too big, as is so often the case at places where quantity is mistaken for quality. I liked the fact that my Martini came in an old-fashioned cocktail glass, not the now classic Martini glass which allows the drink to warm up to quickly, in my opinion. I gave some thought at the time as to whether the Martini were smaller as a result of the glass, and decided that it wasn't. (I've now added a photo of that cocktail above.)

    Cheap trattorias that serve bread and oil free serve cheap bread and oil: you can count on it. We were offered bread; it wasn't on the menu; I don't recall that it was charged for — but then we didn't request olive oil.

    We haven't been to Mangia Mangia; sounds like a place to try. As to Mazzini, I recall it as a different kind of place altogether — Northern Italian where Locanda leans toward Sicily.

    Robert Lauriston said...

    Thanks for the kind and insightful words!

    You are correct that (as will quickly become clear to anyone who drinks more than one) the "Nick and Nora" glass (as seen in "The Thin Man") we use for our martinis holds the same amount as a standard contemporary conical-section glass.

    As noted on the menu, Acme bread is complimentary on request. We do that to minimize waste. We no longer charge for oil.