(Providence, RI) — We’ve settled in to our hotel room after a nice afternoon of strolling through Swan Point Cemetery, where we encountered a cargo van filled with heavy metal enthusiasts and a curious biker at H.P. Lovecraft’s gravesite. There is still some time before dinner; our OpenTable reservations at Local 121 aren’t for a while yet. Perhaps unwisely, we have a drink at the hotel bar, along with some sriracha chicken wings, so by the time we’re due to walk to dinner, neither of us is feeling up to a multi-course meal...
Providence at night, at the knife’s edge of summer, is a beautiful place and time. It reminds me of walking around Austin or Seattle, with gaggles of students cheerfully goose-stepping on their way to a neon bar where progressive folk wafts out on waves of spilled PBR and deep fried chicken fingers. Where you can hear a pretty girl’s high-pitched, margarita-softened laugh, followed immediately by the low rumble of loose talk from her date. I find my hand straying toward Juliet’s. Her skin feels smooth and familiar, my thumb brushing her knuckles, that reciprocal squeeze.
We find the tavern entrance into Local 121 unerringly. The good looking bartender grins at us from the dimness, welcoming, as we pass by headed toward the bright dining room. Our table is immediately ready, a small two-top in close quarters with other diners, but not too confining. The restaurant proclaims to serve “locally harvested food and drink”; the menu bears this out with entries like New England Clam Chowder, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, and Cavendish Farms Quail. Those crazy good chicken wings at the hotel bar, though, have taken their sticky-sweet-hot toll. We both agree to take it easy, which means no individual appetizers or dessert.
Instead, we ask our server—an affable, talkative gal who clues us in that the proprietor is a senator from Rhode Island (and, indeed, he is wandering the dining area, talking with customers and filling water glasses)—to start us with the Northeast Artisanal Cheese Trio. I also start with a local brew, the Trinity IPA, which is a solid, “muddy” style. Before our cheese arrives, we are presented with the amuse bouche: a small piece of brioche topped with cream cheese, cucumber, raw salmon, and a bit of dill. Delicious!
The cheese wedges are small, consisting of a softened raw cow’s milk that is lightly pungent, yet sweet when dipped in honey; a pecorino style sheep’s milk, salty and sharp, paired with rhubarb marmalade; and a goat milk almost like swiss, but singing of the grassy hilltops when coated with bright green herb oil. A pie shaped slice of fig and some fresh-baked bread help vary the tasting.
For my main, I somehow bypass the Silver Fox Rabbit and instead decide to spoil my inner vegetarian with Beluga Lentils. As the dish is placed in front of me, I think, “Oh, someone’s made a mistake. This is a piece of fish!” It is not, however; instead, the chef has cleverly disguised a well-broiled cut of zucchini as if it were salmon or cod. The plating is impressive, with the chimichurri surrounding an island of plump, black lentils, with a lone spear of wrinkled, baked carrot leaning liked driftwood. Not surprisingly, it is as good to eat as it looks. The zucchini pops with sweet, juicy flavor, contrasting with the slightly bitter beans. The carrot is like candy. I want to eat a plate of them.
Finally, I am pleased with myself to have chosen vegetarian...until I glance to my left. The lady at my elbow has ordered the rabbit, and it looks incredible, done three ways. Alas, our trip is too short for another visit to Local 121 but if I ever find myself out this way again, you better believe I’ll be hopping on the Silver Fox bandwagon!
We arrive to find the restaurant nearly empty, though it fills to capacity within 30 minutes. The atmosphere is warm and friendly; it’s a small place, but artfully placed mirrors on the walls make it seem roomy.
Before we’ve spent too much time with the menu, the chef sends out an amuse bouche of salmon crudo with brioche crouton, cucumber, cream cheese and fresh dill. It’s a clean, fun bite with eggy rich bread and crisp veg. The sparkling rosé I’ve ordered pairs well and goes down way too easy. In truth, I could eat a platter of these...is there such a thing as amuse bouches? Amuse bouche beaucoup?
I’d really like to try the Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Jeremy even suggests it. But indulging in this delicacy the night before we head to a three day food and wine festival seems silly. There’s always a few booths foisting the foie at these events, so we behave and go instead with the Artisanal Cheese Trio.
The challenge is after spending so many nights at the charcuterie counter at Reserve, we’re relatively spoiled for meat or cheese. Tonight’s selections are absolutely lovely, but there’s no real surprises with the cheese itself. A raw cow’s milk, a sheep’s milk and dry goat’s milk—all are very tasty. What’s fun and unique are the accompaniments. Lavender honey with one, rhubarb jam with another, and an herbal Spanish olive oil with another. I’ve never been served olive oil with cheese before. We play mix and match with the cheeses, breads, and accoutrements ‘til the cheese runs out and our glasses are dry.
The beef comes with truffled polenta and I just keep returning to it. I’m such a sucker for comfort foods. The addition of creamed spinach and lobster mushrooms entices me further so I opt for the Beef Tri-Tip. When the plates arrive, I am relieved to see it’s not a massive portion. Two squares of medium rare beef sit atop a gorgeous puddle of the polenta. Lobster mushroom slices adorn the edges of the plate, as do two quenelles (those fancy football-shaped portions) of spinach.
In my usual approach, I take one perfect bite with a bit of everything and then proceed to taste each component on its own. The beef is chewy but not tough. It’s got great meaty flavor, ever so slightly grassy or gamey? Maybe it’s what the cow ate on the farm or am I being a total pompous foodie ass? In any case, it’s a damn good steak. The spinach isn’t the runny creamy variety. It’s sturdy but lush with all the flavor of a steakhouse creamed spinach in just a few small bites. The highlight is the velvety polenta, spiked with just the right amount of truffle bits. Not overpowering, a little truffle goes a long way. There’s a fun little Parmesan crisp as a garnish that I gobble up with daubs of polenta on it. The glass of house Cabernet is divine and it’s hard to not order a second glass as dessert.
Local 121 has been amazing. I wish we’d arrived with bigger appetites and I’d love to come back to try all their starters, including that Nose-to-Tail Charcuterie board!