Review: Local 121

By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  January 18, 2011

We had the other two dishes. My three light Giannone Farms chicken meatballs, "polpetti," were accompanied by a half-dozen porcini mushroom tortellini and thin stalks of broccolini, in chicken broth and topped with inch-wide shavings of grana padana. It all worked nicely together, although my tasty pasta packets were badly undercooked — and I'm big on al dente.

Across from me an interesting preparation was being enjoyed: approaching the taste of pate in seeming meatiness was a small soufflé of tofu, walnuts, and mushrooms, in a puddle of mushroom jus. The accompanying chunks of well-browned roasted pumpkin and vinegary pickled beets were smart complements.

The kitchen is headed by exec chef Dave Johnson, with Michael Iannotti his sous chef. They make all their desserts there, including several ice creams. We chose their expresso-ish coffee ice cream to go with a brown-butter brioche bread pudding, which was under-sweetened to make the maple cream sauce and candied pecans stand out. Outstanding.

We've come a long way since the 1970s, when Alice Waters and her Chez Panisse in Berkeley began popularizing local resources for what we eat. It's no longer a fad. And here and there a restaurant like Local 121 demonstrates that doing the right thing can taste exceptional as well.

Bill Rodriguez can be reached at

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