Eclectic is the kindest way to describe the decor: A melange of photos and posters covers nearly every inch of the exposed brick walls, with large potted plants filling in the gaps. Tables are squeezed so close together that a server's tush will inevitably graze your shoulder at some point during the evening. If there isn't a table available when you arrive, the hostess will direct you to the bar for a drink. It's tucked away at the back of the restaurant, near the kitchen, and it's complete chaos. The best thing to do is try to stay out of the way. The servers move fast -- you don't want to be steamrolled by a giant platter of spaghetti. One thing's for certain: Everyone in the place, from the staff to the screeching bachelorette party at the back table, is having a blast.
And that was before the party had officially started. Right about the time our table was ready, Il Localino kicked into high gear. The lights went down, fog started rolling out of a machine in the corner, the disco ball began to spin, and someone cranked the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack up to 10. At that point, conversation was no longer possible. But who needs small talk when the Bee Gees are singing "More Than a Woman"?
The menu has a time-warp quality to it, too. Old-school Italian-American dishes like chicken piccata and linguine with clam sauce dominate. I hadn't eaten veal since I was in 10th grade and, seated beside my vegetarian uncle at a family dinner, I was subjected to the baby cow's story of woe. Thirteen years later, as I tucked into a plate of veal parmigiana, I couldn't help but think that if the baby cow had to die such a tragic death, at least it was for a good cause. Swaddled in marinara and heaps of gooey mozzarella, the veal was artery hardening but heavenly.
My husband has a weakness for fried calamari, and he simply has to order it whenever it's on a menu. The dish is decent about half the time. In fact, it was very nicely executed here -- tender inside, with a crunchy coating and more marinara for dipping. Extra points for presentation -- the calamari were served inside a napkin folded into the shape of a gondola.
A few things we tried were forgettable, like the ravioli with ultra-bland ricotta cheese filling and a Caprese salad with mealy, unripe tomatoes. But really, it didn't matter that much. More than the food, Il Localino is about the experience, and it's certainly one I won't forget any time soon.