Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Locanda da Eva in Berkeley

Opened by a former SF Weekly restaurant critic, Locanda da Eva sits on a nearly deserted stretch of Telegraph Avenue. Unheard of in Berkeley, street parking is easy to find, as I had no trouble pulling up to a metered spot (free after 6 p.m.) steps from the front door. As I parked, I questioned the quiet streets and wondered whether the place was even open. It was. Despite the lackluster location, however, Locanda da Eva holds a lot of promise.

From the outside, the restaurant looks small but actually is comfortably spacious even if it has two contrasting seating areas. One room holds a dimly lit, sleek bar and lounge area that doesn't seem out of place in the Elmwood or Fourt Street districts. The dining room is more family friendly with brighter lighting but uncoordinated decor. The odd booth dividers look cheap, and the artwork, while notable, doesn't add much to the restaurant. It's diffcult to figure out what the ambiance of the dining room is suppose to be, so it may be a good sign that the restaurant will be closed November 7 to 9 for redecoration.

While the decor misses the mark, the food is reliable. The well-rounded menu includes salads and appetizers, pizzas, pastas, meat dishes, sides of vegetables and dessert. For not being a vegetarian restaurant, the menu is the most vegetarian and vegan friendly I have seen. Almost every dish except for those in the fish, fowl and meat category can be prepared vegan or vegetarian on request.

With a menu focusing on local and sustainable sources, Locanda da Eva is like many restaurants in Berkeley. What sets it apart are the delicious wood-fired pizzas and focus on Italian red wines.

The four pizzas, about 12 inches in diameter, on the menu, don't disappoint. The braised pork with roasted gypsy peppers, Grana Padano, chiles and mozzarella ($14) was well balanced and generous on the toppings, if a bit too generous as the thin crust pizza was a bit floppy.

The strozzapreti (tubular pasta) with roasted eggplant, lamb sausage, chiles, tomato, herbs, and ricotta salata ($16) was the opposite: a disappointment with mouthfuls of pasta but very little toppings. The pasta and herbs came through, while the eggplant and lamb sausage were either finely chopped or weren't there at all.

To combat the carbs, the menu offers sides of vegetables like fried cauliflower with mustard greens and braised fennel ($5). As an appetizer, the pork trotter fritters with roasted Poblano vinaigrette and radishes ($9 for 2) felt overpriced, and though fried perfectly lacked flavor.

Along with menu suggestions, the staff was helpful with wine pairings. Featuring a lot of Italian reds, the wine list can be difficult to navigate. But the payoff is a good sampling of Italian reds from a knowledgeable staff that I have yet to find at other Italian restaurants.

Locanda da Eva is a great neighborhood addition, especially since it stays open til midnight on Friday and Saturday for late night happy hour with $10 pizzas, $2 off specialty cocktails, $4 selected wines by the glass, and $2 Racer 5 IPA or Full Sail Session Lager. Regular happy hour runs from 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday without $10 pizzas.

Locanda da Eva
2826 Telegraph Ave. Berkeley
(between Stuart St & Oregon St)
(510) 665-9601

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