Local 121

Regional and reasonably priced
August 29, 2007 5:29:20 PM

Local 121 | 121 Washington St, Providence | Mon-thurs, 11:30 am-10 pm; fri-sat, 11:30 am-11 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | 401.274.2121

My usual dining companion doesn’t order shrimp anymore because she’s tired of asking where they came from. Even if the answer is the Gulf of Mexico, they’re rarely from the US side, which means they’ve probably been treated with chemicals.
No such worries at Local 121. On its street sign, menu cover, and each page within it is the declaration: “Locally Harvested Food and Drink,” as in from New England (although, no, the juniper berries in the gin were not picked in the woodland of South County).
What has Alice Waters — credited with sparking the local food ethos at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse in the ’70s — done? Joke all you like with owner Josh Miller about karmic compensation for his stuffing hockey fans with cholesterol at his nearby Trinity Brewhouse — when you talk with him about relying on local sources, he’s obviously sincere. Not just fresh pasta from Prima Pasta and bread from Seven Stars and Olga’s Cup & Saucer, but artisinal cheeses from Vermont, and Bomster scallops from Connecticut, organic fruits and vegetables from Johnston and Wyoming, and organically raised beef from Maine. Not exactly convenient
Local 121 is in the former Dreyfus Hotel, with AS220 studios and living spaces for artists on the floors above. Pains were taken to retain architectural features, so the restaurant has a charming retro-but-hip ambience, with acanthus-leaf ledge molding topping many mirrors and large Art Deco-esque ceiling lighting constructed of concentric fabric circles. The popular separate barroom is ablaze with stained-glass windows, freshly re-leaded.
The loyalty to local doesn’t get silly, though. Of about two-dozen wines offered, the regional offerings stick to whites — and the Sakonnet Vineyards Gewürztraminer ($10/$32), a favorite variety of mine, rarely available by the glass, is a spicy little charmer. The $7-to-$8 specialty cocktails don’t get outlandish, no farther than a fresh cucumber martini. At the top of the drinks list is a coffee cabinet ($3; “with a kick,” $7), and you can get a fresh-squeezed lemonade spiked with vodka.
Appetizers are listed as “small plates,” to suggest going for an array of tapas. There are some unusual inclusions, such as jonnycakes with maple syrup ($6.50) and pickled Atlantic sardines with shaved radishes and turnips has appeared on previous menus. We went for a variation on the latter, with a plate of quartered radishes ($5) to press into coarse salt and spread with herbed whipped butter — mouth-watering.

We also had “spicy, crispy Atlantic rainbow smelts” ($8), which were greaseless, generously cayenned, and fresh (though expectedly fishy), with a tarragon aioli dip. Our last starter for the four of us was fried clams arancini ($7.50), four orange-accented risotto and shellfish balls, again fried to greaseless tastiness, a red cabbage slaw on the side.
There was clam chowder, a soup of the day and two salads, both with dandelion greens, one with warm spinach, and the other with smoked bluefish — talk about avoiding the usual suspects. But we went straight to the “large plates.” The pappardelle ($13.95) was al dente, replete with such ingredients as pickled garlic scapes and Grana Padano cheese, as well as summer squash and tomatoes. Rob, a food writer himself, loved the grilled quail ($22), which can be on the tough side, but was as tender here as a tiny chicken.

Johnnie’s goat cheese tart ($10.50) looked like a small quiche and tasted heavenly, with baby spinach, and a corn and tomato salsa on the side. I like to find out what an imaginative kitchen can do with an ordinary dish, so I chose the chicken “Pot Pie” — their quotes — ($17). Instead of having a crust topping, the preparation was simply accompanied by a biscuit. The succulent chicken, two small legs and a thigh, had been prepared as a confit, potted in their own fat, and the resulting juices with the vegetables was delectably tangy.
Desserts at Local 121 are kitchen-made and mostly $5.95. On the quaint-but-welcome front, cinnamon spiced doughnuts come with an iced coffee. And the warm chocolate lava cake, with coffee ice cream, wasn’t molten, but it was delicious.
The almond ginger cake was busy with surprises: blueberry compote and candied almonds in addition to whipped cream. My favorite taste was the spearmint ice cream, made with fresh mint so that the result took on an herbal earthiness.
Julia Moore, formerly of La Laiterie, is executive chef, with Dave Johnson as sous chef. It looks like proprietor Miller has done just about everything right here, down to keeping plenty of prices affordable enough for the AS220 crowd.

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