If the mod home-decor store West Elm made a restaurant starter kit, it might look like this: a few wine racks, angular oak tables, and curvy orange plastic chairs. That plus a concrete floor and a series of blood-red paintings by an Adams Morgan artist are about all that decorates Locanda, a new Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill a few blocks from Barracks Row.
But while the less-than-original space feels stark, it doesn’t lack for warmth when owner Aykan Demiroglu is around. Clad in jeans and a polo shirt, the former Le Paradou general manager stays on a constant loop around the dining room, chatting with a clientele largely made up of Hill residents.
“Tuesdays are our Saturdays,” says Demiroglu, referring to the neighborhood patrons who treat the place as their eat-in kitchen during the workweek. And indeed the rustic plates—chicken under a brick, a Milanese-style pork chop—seem suited more to a family dinner than to a night on the town.
In the early evening, Locanda lures locals with 30 wines by the glass and a grazing-friendly menu of cheese, cured meats, and Mediterranean small plates. But miniature dishes such as a gritty fava-bean spread on crostini or a limp squash blossom stuffed with grainy mozzarella are outshone by larger appetizers like the zucchini carpaccio, a palette of green and yellow circles enlivened by a lemony dressing and soft nubs of ricotta.
Locanda makes its own fettuccine, gnocchi, and ravioli (fillings change daily) by hand. But two of the best pastas are store-bought. Thick loops of calamari-shaped noodles, tossed in a tangy green sauce of parsley, capers, and anchovies, are complemented by sweet grilled shrimp, clams and mussels in their shells, and rings of firm squid. And there’s an everything-but-the-cheeseboard mac-and-cheese with tube-shaped maccheroncelli—baked in a shallow cast-iron pan for maximum crustiness—with Tallegio, Gorgonzola, and Parmesan.
Cheese also finds its way into an unexpected but winning dessert: a fried turnover filled with pecorino and slathered with flowery Acacia honey. Nothing cookie-cutter about that.
Locanda, 633 Pennsylvania Ave., SE; 202-547-0002; locandadc.com. Entrées $11 to $25.