FOOD- THE EATER- Fine framework: Local's built a strong foundation
"Let this serve as an outline of the good; for we must presumably first sketch it roughly, and then later fill in the details. But it would seem that any one is capable of carrying on and articulating what has once been well outlined, and that time is a good discoverer or partner in such a work; to which facts the advances of the arts are due; for any one can add what is lacking."
–Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, Chapter 7
Belmont's relatively recent addition, The Local, is well-outlined. It's got an upper deck in the back, front and side patios, a beautiful bar dining room on the main floor, and a cozy upstairs room with several more tables. It's got lots of exposed brick, lots of warm wood (much of it rough-milled or reclaimed), local art on the walls, and no TV. Deep cuts of intelligent jazz seem to come from an aficionado's iPod, sometimes overbearing on the front patio. The menu is simple yet adventurous, packed with local ingredients, and priced to move. The waitstaff is helpful, well-informed and mostly cheerful. The crowd is Belmont-perfect: University professors, recent and long-ago graduates, friends of the waitstaff—believers in an urban utopia and in the concept of the Local.
We had good meals at the Local, but also found that the outline is still waiting for some "advances of the arts" and the "good discoverer" of a bit more time as far as food on the plate goes. That won't keep us from going back to enjoy what's already done well there– the frites, for example, and the oysters– and greasing the works in anticipation of a long run for a strong framework, outlined below.
A. Shrimp and Mussels Romesco
1. A pair of shrimp and a half dozen mussels with two slices of somewhat waxy Spanish-style chorizo, beautifully presented and delicious, although the shrimp and chorizo seemed like an afterthought. More mussels, bag the shrimp, and try Mexican chorizo instead?
B. Stuffed Eggplant
1. Tastily roasted thin slices of slender eggplant filled with a wonderful medley of small-cut lightly sautéed yellow and zucchini squash and leavened with a good balance of ricotta, served somewhat like a sandwich with the eggplant slices for bread. The whole thing, garnished with a sprinkling of chopped tomatoes that could be played up to join with the delicious roasted garlic cloves as a bolder acidic counterpoint to the slightly bland (in a good but too-dominant way) eggplant centerpiece.
C. Tagliatelle Pasta Special
1. It's nice to be able to order a variety of pasta dishes in entrée or appetizer portions. This special evolved thanks to the neighbor's garden yield of broccoli rabe and red peppers, plus tomatoes and fresh corn, each kernel crisp and fresh yet toasted golden at the tip, in a light cream sauce that wanted zing– soave or pinot grigio?– and definitely welcomed our request of grated parmesan and milled black pepper.
A. Crisp Fried Oysters with Baby Spinach
1. Deep golden brown– beyond tempura, beyond cornmeal, textured like only the most beautiful chicken livers of my old Kentucky home– served over the freshest of baby spinach greens with a cool Pernod cream flavored more with lemon zest than juice. Enhanced pleasantly by apple-smoked bacon.
A. Steak Frites
1. A New York Strip. I confess I enjoy mine cooked medium: pink, not red. It arrived well-done. Chef's punishment for someone who doesn't prefer rare? Probably just a mistake. It was edible, even surprisingly tender for being well-done. The caramelized onions had lost much of their body in an acidic, sweet and thin but effective tamarind sauce.
2. The frites, which we enjoyed both with the steak and the Local burger (see Entrée C), were exemplary, served Belgian-style in a cone, perfectly salted, well-crisped in peanut oil.
B. Local "Rag Mountain" Trout
1. The trout was filleted and baked on a cedar plank. The fish was as fresh as fresh gets, with no untoward fishiness; neither was the cedar too aromatic. An orange-colored spice sprinkled on the fish seemed to be a sort of ghost Old Bay, with a hint of scent but not much flavor; the sauce, pleasingly drizzled over the butterflied fish, was the same thousand-island-ish remoulade that had accompanied a mostly wonderful andouille-stuffed quail appetizer that won't fit into this outline.
2. Accompanied by Crawfish Twice Baked Potatoes, a single potato, alone, naked and dry at the other end of the plank. The center was good, with several tasty crawfish tails in a buttery, if bland, mash. I love potato-skin, but this thick husk was too much. This dish could needs something to bring the potato and the trout together– ratatouille? Lemony sautéed arugula?
C. Horseradish-encrusted Yellowfin Tuna Special
1. It sounded wonderful, but the execution fell short of the ideal. There was too much membrane in the fish, as with the ham sandwich of yesteryear, which when you take a bite you pull out the whole slice of ham. We love our tuna raw; if it's cooked, we love it when the chef can give us the perfect crust outside and the velvety raw freshness inside, but it didn't work out this time.
D. The Local Burger
1. This is a really good burger: organic beef, manchego cheese, apple-smoked bacon and caramelized onions. Include some housemade mayonnaise and that elusive fresh-baked bun that isn't too tough (instead of an unremarkable but serviceable Kaiser), and you'd have a truly great burger.
IV. Dessert and Conclusion
A. Strawberry Shortcake—Vanilla Cake filled with Strawberries and Sweetened Whipped Cream
1. The description says it all, but the dry and unremarkable cake held the other ingredients back.
2.Coffee: nothing to write home about.
1. The outline is brilliant and we hope it will stoically and patiently await advances in the already highly capable kitchen.