If you became a fan of the short-lived Firefly Pizza in San Luis Obispo, you’ll be happy to know that was just a brief stopover for chef/owner Luciano Bardinelli as he waited for the finishing touches on his latest establishment — La Locanda.
Situated just a couple doors down Garden Street from where Firefly was, La Locanda was created by combining a former clothing shop and jewelry store. The kitchen area occupies one side of the high-ceilinged space, while the dining room occupies the other.
“La Locanda” means “The Inn” in Italian, appropriate given the cozy nature of this restaurant. There are only 10 tables here, all topped with crisp, white linen cloths. A large wooden hutch at the back lends an Old World touch, as does the Dutch door at the entrance.
The modest nature of La Locanda belies Bardinelli’s extensive culinary experience.
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His resume includes managing upscale restaurants and clubs in Las Vegas and Hollywood, but he really made his mark when he opened Settebello in Seattle back in 1982. Its Northern Italian menu proved to be a significant milestone in the city’s restaurant history.
Bardinelli also ran an Italian eatery, Sabbiedoro, in Pismo Beach in the mid-1990s, but he remained an influential fixture on the Seattle scene until he recently relocated to the Central Coast for the weather and to be closer to family.
He opened La Locanda in December and has quickly gained a following for an authentic Italian menu that also has a bit of French fare sprinkled throughout.
Though the understated Bardinelli says “I don’t have an extended menu,” you’ll definitely find all the classics you’d expect, whether you’re looking for antipasti, zuppe (soup), insalata (salad), pasta, pizza, secondi (entrées) or desserts.
For lunch, enjoy starters such as rustic minestrone soup or a Caesar salad. From there, move on to risotto or polenta, capellini or tagliatelle pastas, chicken Parmigiana or wild coho salmon, freshly baked focaccia or any one of six pizzas made with from-scratch dough.
At dinnertime, the appetizer offerings extend to such respected dishes as escargots a la Bourgignonne (snails baked with butter, garlic and parsley), vongole al vapore (steamed clams), and even tartare di manzo (steak tartare). Pasta options range from housemade gnocchetti (potato dumplings) with tomatoes and basil, to the fettuccine with ragu di carne (meat sauce), to the decadent spaghettini carbonara. In addition to all the pizzas, you can also order entrées such as rack of lamb, veal sautéed with mushrooms and Marsala wine, and a beef tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce.
In addition, Bardinelli crafts several daily specials, which he posts on a chalkboard outside the kitchen window. Often featuring as many as 10 items, some recent inclusions on the list were potato and leek soup, rustic tripe stew, duck a l’orange, eggplant lasagna and lasagna Bolognese.
If you still have room for any dessert, you’ll have to decide between such temptations as a fresh fruit tart, chocolate mousse and the traditional Italian tastes of tiramisu, panna cotta and several flavors of housemade gelati.
In creating all these revered dishes from his native Italy, Bardinelli makes no bones about hewing to time-honored techniques. He simply explained that “I stick to tradition. There is really no secret to good cooking — you just start with good ingredients, fresh ingredients. I don’t need to invent anything.”
1137 Garden St., San Luis Obispo | 548-1750 | lalocandaslo.com
Hours: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. & 5-9 p.m., closed Monday.
The scene: An intimate restaurant with only 10 tables (reservations recommended).
The cuisine: Authentic Italian with a few classic French dishes; the from-scratch menu also includes several daily specials, and the wine list offers a good selection of local and imported labels.
Expect to spend: For lunch, starters under $10, other items about $12-15; at dinner, starters $6-17, pastas and pizzas about $13-16, entrées $20-40.