Monday, April 22, 2013

The Local, Charlottesville

We were in Charlottesville on Sunday to visit with my daughter Lillie who is at UVa. After spending the morning and early afternoon visiting three local wineries (and coming away largely disappointed), we met Lillie and toured the grounds, then walked the Downtown Mall, and finally, made the short hop over to Belmont to dine at The Local.

The Local wasn't at the top of my list (it wasn't far down it either) but all the restaurants higher up the list were closed on Sunday. And it is a restaurant after my own, serving local products in season, so I had high hopes for it.

I started with a beer because I was thirsty from walking all afternoon. Our server recommended a Blue Mountain beer. I recalled that we had passed Blue Mountain brewery earlier in the day up on Afton Mountain and the parking lot was full. Beer wasn't on our agenda this weekend, but I was happy to try a glass of their Full Nelson American Pale Ale featuring hops that Blue Mountain grows on their own farm here in Virginia. It was a nice enough beer and I am happy for having tried it.

Sticking with the local theme, I ordered a bottle of Michael Shaps Cabernet Franc 2008 and it turned out to be the best wine of our day. I have known of Michael Shaps for a long time and have tasted many wines for which he has been the consulting winemaker, but never tasted one of his eponymous wines before. And finally a decent wine glass. Our server brought us a couple of the Riedel restaurant series. They aren't great glasses but they aren't bad either. I wanted to spend more time looking through the fairly extensive wine list, but we were on a bit of a short schedule.

2008 Michael Shaps Cabernet Franc
Though we had very high hopes for the restaurant and even more so after seeing the extensive local wine and beer lists, the reality was a hit or miss dinner in which the star dish was made from non-local ingredients. To be fair, we had a good dinner and the kitchen was using really good quality product, but the kitchen made a lot of mistakes.

We shared six appetizers and a single main dish. The appetizer list looked much more appealing to me than the list of mains, but that is true in almost all restaurants including my own.
PEI Mussels, Leek-Fennel Broth, Spicy Aïoli, Crispy Rice Noodles
The mussels were really nice, big and plump, and well cooked. But as Ann put it, it would have been nice if there were some leek or fennel in the broth. Both flavors were missing from the broth. The aïoli was neither spicy nor garlicky and so I'm confused about why it was on the dish. The noodles didn't add anything to the mussels; they merely made the mussels difficult to eat. And a beef with the restaurant: where was any bread to soak up the juice? No bread was ever offered and there were no spoons or salt and pepper on the tables. Casual service? Yeah, I get it. But perhaps a touch too casual?

Crispy Shrimp; Pickled Ginger-Black Sesame Aïoli; Seaweed Salad
This shrimp dish was the best of the day and I guess that's kind of sad from a fresh and local menu. I felt that the sauces, especially the honey-sambal garnishing sauce, were too sweet. Judicious use of lime would have catapulted this dish to the next level. Still, tasty.

Roast Pork Belly; Grits Cake; Local Beer Mustard; Braised? Red Cabbage
Doesn't this dish sound awesome? A must have? You bet it does! In reality though, it was crap. Look carefully at the grits cake. Can you see how overcooked and dried out it is? Look at the cabbage. Does that cabbage look braised to you? No, it is essentially raw cabbage. And the pork belly, which you cannot see, is a travesty. That pig should not have died to suffer again what the kitchen did to its belly.

I am an expert at cooking pork belly and it shames me for our industry what other cooks are doing to it. The belly was roasted skin on until the point where the meat had just become tough as sin and the fat not cooked enough to become that unctuous delicacy that is high quality pork belly. Folks, unless you are going to make your pork skin into chicharrón, it is inedible and doesn't belong on the plate.

Gnocchi Bolognese
This is a pretty good rendition of Gnocchi Bolognese, though I prefer my gnocchi a little more tender and without egg. The sauce was OK, but not outstanding, and don't you think somebody could have given the bowl a wipe down before sending it out?

Truffled Mushroom Ragout on House-Made Fettuccine
I wanted to try their ragout of mushrooms (which they get from the same supplier that sends them to my restaurant) on fettuccine because I love both pasta and mushrooms. That there was a little white truffle oil didn't hurt either. Talk about boring. What about some shallots and sage in the mushrooms, just a little seasoning? Good quality ingredients but just missing the boat on seasoning. The fettuccine, though a tad thick for my personal preference, were very well cooked.

Truffled Mac and Cheese
Tell me, dear reader, when you picture mac and cheese, do you picture a bowl of plain elbow macaroni with some shredded cheese on top? I sure don't. Guys, cheese is what puts the cheese in mac and cheese. Try using some!

Duck Breast,  Roasted Garlic Mash, Roasted Sprouts/Carrots; Madeira Gravy
The menu calls this Crispy Skin Duck Breast and Lillie ordered it because she loves duck. Good kid! Now, look at this picture and show me the crispy skin. Can't find it? Neither can I. The skin is barely crisp in the center and totally flabby around the edges. And see the lack of color in the meat? It's bled out all over the plate from not being rested. Lillie ordered the gravy on the side, thank God, because this stuff is an abomination. I thought the vegetables were well done and the interior of the duck breast was cooked nicely.

OK, bottom line time. I would go back. They use very good local ingredients and I want to support that. It's a shame that the kitchen doesn't appear to have the horsepower (or drive, perhaps) to make the most of these awesome ingredients.

1 comment:

  1. I've changed my mind. I'm not going back. This kitchen is too incompetent for me to support them.


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