Monday Night Fried Chicken at Locanda Verde
377 Greenwich Street, New York NY 10013 (at North Moore Street; map); 212-925-3797; locandaverdenyc.com
Service: Friendly, accommodating, a tad slow-paced (it was the first night)
Setting: Locanda Verde's cozy, wood everywhere private dining room
Compare It To: Blue Ribbon, Blue Smoke, Noodle Bar's Southern-Style Fried Chicken
Must-Haves: Bacon, biscuits, pie
Cost: $55 including dinner, a drink, the band, tax, and tip
Grade: B for the dinner overall, A+ for the biscuits and pie
As the fancy-pants fried chicken craze continues unabated, it's worth noting that over the last few years I have heard from numerous reliable sources that Andrew Carmellini made the best fried chicken in New York City when he was cooking at Cafe Boulud. So even though Carmellini is now cooking Italian food at Locanda Verde, he apparently has some legit fried chicken bonafides.
When I heard that Carmellini was cooking up a mess of fried chicken in Locanda Verde's back room every Monday night for the next few weeks, I knew it was something I had to explore immediately. And if the lure of Carmellini's fried chicken wasn't enough, the promise of Karen DeMasco making pie to eat for dessert after that chicken was like pienip to serious eaters.
The fried chicken feed is held in Locanda Verde's private dining room in the back of the restaurant. When we walked in, a band, Brooklyn's The Woes, was playing beside a lovely cozy wood-burning (not gas) fireplace.
The first course, house-smoked thick-cut bacon with fresh lima beans and tomato, was courtesy of guest chef Matt Greco of Char No. 4. Greco's bacon was truly exceptional: smoky, meaty, and salty. It reminded me of Nueske's or Alan Benton's, and that's as high a bacon compliment as I can pay. The lima beans and tomato offered a creamy counterpoint with just a touch of acid.
The main event, the fried chicken, came out of the kitchen accompanied by five side dishes; fresh local corn, butter biscuits, collards with honey and pepper vinegar, Anthony's slaw with pickled jalapeno, and a chunky tomato, red onion, and cucumber salad.
The chicken had a blond, well-seasoned crust that gave way to incredibly tender and juicy meat. Even the white meat was downright succulent and insanely flavorful. But to move me to tears fried chicken needs to have a crunchy, crispy, almost lacquered crust that becomes one with the skin and the flesh, and this chicken was lacking in the crunchy-crispy cosmic one-ness department.
The biscuits, however, belong in the Biscuit Hall of Fame. They had a great outer crunch, ridiculously tender and moist insides, and they were painted with a honey butter that took these suckers to biscuit nirvana.
The corn was a fine piece of local corn that had been simply steamed.
The greens were tasty and flavorful. I'm guessing there was some form of pork in these greens.
The crunchy enough vinegar-based coleslaw was much more sweet than hot.
The tomato, onion, and cucumber salad was in a simple vinaigrette.
Dessert brought back the magic. A nectarine-plum pie with an insanely flaky mostly butter lattice crust was as good as the biscuits. The nectarine slices and plum slices were cooked all the way through without being mushy, and every bite had just the right balance between sweetness and acidity. There is a place in pie heaven for this pie.
Blueberry crumb pie was packed with lots of non-goopy blueberries and a crunchy, not too sweet, powdered sugar-dusted crumb topping. It is a most excellent piece of blueberry crumb pie, but it won't change your life the way the nectarine-plum pie will.
Maybe the fried chicken at Locanda Verde will eventually ascend to my fried chicken pantheon (to be fair, we were there on the first night it was offered), but for now I have to console myself with the honey butter biscuits and the plum-nectarine pie.