Wednesday, May 6, 2009
This nice restaurant is a Rhode Island thing
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The sign outside Local 121 in this city on the mend is on the dull side.
But don’t let it fool you because the door below this Washington Street number opens to one of Providence, R.I.’s, trendiest restaurants, one with an intriguing menu featuring local foods, wines and beers.
“In the winter, it’s kind of rough,” a server explains after I ask her tonight where they come up with vegetables this early in the growing season to stock the kitchen. “We change the menu up with lots of root vegetables.”
It doesn’t matter if they cheat by substituting store-bought goods to the table before the fall harvest. The décor is much better than new stuff and Local 121's food is good enough to make this waterfront city in New England proud.
A local arts association, AS220, purchased the former Dreyfus Hotel four years ago for a reuse plan that turned the rooms into affordable live-in studios. State Sen. Josh Miller, a self-professed foodie who owns the Trinity Brewhouse around the corner, decided to take up space on the first floor and covert it into a restaurant that promotes sustainable farming. Kudos to these folks for their preservation work.
The dark mahogany-paneled bar and stained-glass windows are original to the hotel built in the 1890s, and it’s a perfect spot to enjoy a fine, mellow Trinity ISP drawn from the tap. For a time, this space doubled as a cafeteria while the building was used as a college dormitory.
I peek into the restaurant. Its draperies, puffy seats and white ornamentation are a little over-the-top for my taste.
A few minutes later, I decide to look over the small plates, and opt for my server’s favorite: the bacon-wrapped grilled scallops. As far as I’m concerned, anything that comes with bacon is all good. In short order, she returns with a few slices of bread beside whipped butter that pops because it’s blended with a healthy pinch of sea salt.
Four plump scallops arrive in no time, and they are a happy marriage of salty smoked bacon and seafood garnished with shaved red onion, celery and parsley leaves tossed in sherry vinaigrette. That's a sweet deal for $12.
Further down on the menu are Local 121 jonnycakes, so I ask for an explanation.
“It’s a Rhode Island thing. I’ve never tried them,” the server replies, adding that they are made with cornmeal.
That’s odd because people who work in better restaurants should at least sample everything on their menus. By now, I have to have some of these jonnycakes, even though I hate polenta.
My mistake. They are bland, pasty beige discs that look like dog treats. The maple syrup on the plate does nothing to improve their taste. Rhode Island can keep this dish.