Welcome to the Neighborhood

Hill Is Embracing Locanda’s Fresh Look and Taste

Posted July 25, 2007 at 5:39pm

Beyond the marble halls of Congress, the grand office buildings and concrete roadblocks, Capitol Hill is really just a quiet neighborhood at heart. A neighborhood in need of more — and better — neighborhood restaurants. [IMGCAP(1)]

So when Locanda opened earlier this month, replacing the old Turkish restaurant Meyhane, the dining room was quickly full.

“Everybody is thrilled that we’re here,” said owner Aykan Demiroglu. “I have a few customers from the neighborhood that already come once a week.”

A sociable vibe — a key component of a bone fide neighborhood joint — already is taking hold. “How did you like the beet salad?” one diner leaned over to ask another on a recent evening. “Wonderful!” the woman answered back, and a friendly conversation sprung forth.

The month-old restaurant’s welcoming persona was part of the plan for Demiroglu, who says he wants to provide a place where people can find “a sophisticated but unpretentious meal.” He says he’s happy to see customers in flip-flops come in for a quick plate of pasta, alongside tables ordering four courses and multiple bottles of wine.

And so far, that’s just the kind of crowd making its way to the Italian-inspired Locanda. On a recent evening, guys in suits, their jackets slung over their shoulders, filed in right behind a couple in shorts and sneakers.

And Demiroglu rejects the notion that only “fine dining” establishments can offer top-notch service. “I want to provide four-star service because it doesn’t cost anything to train your staff,” he said.

While good service and a relaxed atmosphere are vital to the success of a neighborhood spot, the food has to be good as well, and Locanda’s kitchen is off to a strong start. Chef Brian Barszcz oversees a menu that makes it easy to stop in for a light bite or a full meal. A nice lineup of cheeses and cured meats, Marcona almonds, warm roasted olives and Spanish anchovies are the makings of a Mediterranean picnic.

Tender rings of fried calamari, accompanied by anchovy aioli and salsa verde for dipping, already are a big seller. The menu’s seasonal focus is apparent in dishes such as fiori fritti (lightly fried squash blossoms) and heirloom tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella.

Of the pastas, the housemade fettuccine with wild boar ragu and seafood pasta with green sauce and lemon are standouts. The latter offers circular pasta that looks like squid at first glance. Mussels, (actual) squid and clams are tossed on top for a flavorful combination.

Whole branzino arrives at the table nicely charred with grill marks, the white meat moist under the crisp skin. A juicy hanger steak is presented with perfectly cooked fingerling potatoes and sweet cipollini onions.

A summery finish to a meal, the Meyer lemon panna cotta is creamy but light, with a nice amount of citrusy tang. A piece of pecorino cheese enclosed in pastry, fried and drizzled with acacia honey is another nice ending.

Demiroglu stresses that the restaurant still has a ways to go. The walls are bare until he finds art that fits the restaurant, and he’s hoping to add patio seating as well as lunch and brunch service soon.