Dinner Out @ Local 127

It's been a while since we went out to a truly nice restaurant - one of the top places in town.  There are a handful of places that come with an expectation and anticipation before you even sit down that they will deliver a fantastic meal.  More than that, we were hoping for an all around great experience.  Local 127, recently named Best New Restaurant by Cincinnati Magazine, did not disappoint on this night.

The Food:  A creative menu greeted us at Local 127, and we were excited to work our way through the options.  They have tasting menus with 5-7 courses that are $65 or $90, but they didn't steer us in that direction (probably because with an event going on downstairs, it's unlikely they had as much room to be flexible in the kitchen - see more below).  We chose the Chef Combo from "cured & pickled," the slow poached egg with grits, pancetta, and smoked hot sauce from "small," and the scallops (which the server really talked up) and duck from "large."

The appetizers came first on a beautiful large plate separated into quarters.  The options included smoked trout, smoked chicken breast, local terrine, and chicken liver mousse.  There was a bit of sweetness in the pickled onion in the trout which paired quite well with the smoky, juicy fish.  Popping with flavor and buttery goodness, this was the prized part of the plate.  The liver was smooth and rich, and was nicely presented in a mini mason jar - it felt like Ohio.  Pieces of pickled pear complemented the pate well and added some much appreciated additional texture.  The chicken was pretty plain, but the pickled radish helped out to bring some energy to the dish.  Finally, the terrine was straightforward and good, and the pickled green beans again made each bite considerably more lively.

Next up was the slow poached egg.  We expected a bit more ooze from the egg, but maybe it cooked a bit while we took pictures.  The pancetta was very thinly sliced and breaks apart easily as you eat - sometimes you have to fight with pancetta and prosciutto, so we thought it was well done.  We've used the dried shallots at home, and to me they taste a bit burnt.  But for Sarah they taste sweet and add a nice crunch.  This is as good a time as any to mention that Sarah and I have been talking about the subjectivity of eating.  I've read a lot of Ruth Reichl lately, and when she is interviewing with the NY Times for the head food critic position she quotes herself as saying:
There is no right or wrong in matters of taste.  It's just an opinion.  And in the case of restaurants, an extremely subjective one given that no one has the faintest idea if what you taste when you bite into an apple is the same thing that I do.
This is all simply to say - we all have different tastes.  Duh.  Now, back to the meal...

Before the entrees made their way to us, they brought a smoked chicken and lemon risotto taster with shitake and oyster mushroom.  I'd bet a lot of money that's what they were eating downstairs.  I'm glad they were - the risotto was delicious.

Sarah said "I haven't had scallops like these in years," and backed it up by sharing that with the server.  They were very, very good.  So good, they stand alone.  The crispy puffed rice, smoky bacon, and bed of pureed potatoes were all nice accompaniments, but the seafood was the rightful star.  Our server had not led us astray.  Our duck breast with sweet potato, arugula, and pecans was a beautiful dish with gorgeous presentation.  The brown meat is super flavorful, and before we knew it, we were... full!

We passed on dessert, but they bring warm chocoalte chip cookies anyway.  Crispy and warm, with melting chocolate and a yummy saltiness that I've come to really appreciate in sweet things.

The Ingredients:  From the starting comments following "have you been here before?" to the very end, our server was talking about the farm to table concept, importance of the local economy, and about where the ingredients came from or were made.  It was a bit of overkill at times, but compared to the alternative - most places have no idea where things come from - it was greatly, greatly appreciated.  They have a list of ingredient sources on the menu, although it would be great if they told you what specifically came from where.

We certainly appreciate that they are going out of their way to embrace the concept of local foods, as well as educating their diners about the process.  There are certainly a growing number of restaurants in town that are purchasing from local producers, and it would be great if they would all communicate with their customers about that decision.  It could certainly have wide-reaching effects.

Bravo to Local 127 on the high quality ingredients and their commitment to supporting all things local!

One small note before moving on: they have a "heart healthy" icon that denotes options given the stamp of approval by Christ Hospital.  Interesting that only one item on the whole menu has that icon.  I heard about this new plan on the radio and everything - goes to show how far advertising can go!  Maybe they'll expand these options in the future.

The Story, Setting, & Service:  Local 127 hasn't burst on the scene without its share of mixed reviews.  It definitely is not an end all rating, clearly, but when only 69% of Urbanspooners say they like it, I've got to imagine the Relish Restaurant Group folks have a bit of a chip on their shoulder.  From the reviews we've been reading and hearing, though, things are on the upswing - and based on our experience, they're doing quite well.  Pretty cool too that they have a quote from Epiventures on their menu as one of the "media" comments - glad to see they're paying attention to the blogosphere!

The server was working hard - talking quite a bit, and explaining things whenever we asked (and sometimes not).  We probably got so much attention because we were there on an evening that a group of OBGYNs had rented out the whole downstairs, and we apparently missed Bengals' coach Marvin Lewis giving a pep talk (I would love to know how he connected with the group in his speech).  We were seated in what they said was the usual VIP room upstairs, and while they talked up the fact that there were windows and natural light, it was a very simple space that wasn't too impressive.  Things moved pretty slowly, but we liked it.  If you're in any kind of hurry to get somewhere, you should definitely let them know.

From what we could tell, things haven't changed too much decor-wise since the space was Pigall's.  A bit less stuffy, but I can see why there has been some back and forth about the level of pretentiousness.

Our new camera came earlier the day we headed downtown to Local 127. Check out some of the first shots in the slideshow below.  Sarah, our resident photographer, has been practicing up - you can expect the views at Amateur Foodies to improve steadily over coming weeks and months.

With a price tag like this, we won't be back frequently unfortunately.  But, the combination of great taste and thoughtful ingredient sourcing does put Local 127 on the very short list of places to consider if we're looking to share a special evening in the Queen City.

Local 127  on Urbanspoon

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