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Local 121, Providence

I heard that Local 121, Josh Miller's new local-focused place in AS220's Dreyfus building downtown, had a soft opening last week. Anybody hear anything, any early rumblings?

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  1. I was just there this past evening and it was wonderful, both in interior design and in food. I bet it'll fast become a local institution... It feels both new and like it's been there forever.

    - Garris

    1 Reply
    1. re: Garris

      Looking forward to going. How pricey was it?

    2. Anyone know if they are open for lunch?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Frobisher

        The bartender said not until June...

      2. I went there last night and it was excellent! The ingredients are really top-notch. I had the frisee and spinach salad with mustard vinaigrette and a poached egg. It might have been the best salad I've ever had.

        The interior is beautiful and the dining area is fancier than I expected, yet I wouldn't say that I felt like I had to be dressed up. Everyone who works there seemed professional but laid back - definitely not a snobby place.

        3 Replies
        1. re: cajuntoast

          Wow, I visited too and I definitely disagree. The ingredients were very good, and they are definitely doing their best to source locally (very difficult this time of year, it's still quite early for most local producers), but they seemed very disorganized and the place was mostly empty.

          The biggest lapse was right off the bat, we walked in and couldn't find anyone to seat us. Stood around for a good 5 minutes, walking between the dining room and bar, until we finally asked the bartende rif we could sit in there. We then watched it happen to another couple a half hour later. They've got to have someone on the front door, that's just silly.

          The food was good, but uneven. In particular, the salad i had made no sense to me, the way the ingredients had been sliced and combined, the dressing was bland. Also the clam chowder tasted like chicken soup.

          I mean, it's a soft opening for a reason, i realize that, but I'll let them work the kinks out for a little while before I return. Maybe we caught them at an off moment, but I'm not impressed yet.

          also, the little tables in the bar room bounce and wobble like nobody's business, they're awful.

          1. re: celeriac

            I went to Local 121 with my wife last night. Got there around 8, dropped the car off with the valet and was immediately greeted at the door by a hostess. The place was only about 1/3rd full, much to my surprise. The design is gorgeous, kind of what Bravo would be if they took a chance and weren't so masculine. Our server was excellent, both attentive and helpful. My wife asked about the name of the wine she was drinking and at the end of the night the server brought over the actual bottle so that she would know what the label looks like.

            The food was very good. The bread they served had this tangy, almost sourdough background to it, although neither piece was technically sourdough bread. Loved it, though. I got the scallop entree, pan seared with roasted potatoes and some sort of asian root (?). The dish was top notch, scallops nicely seared, the sauce very tasty without being too sweet or salty. My wife got a white bean soup and entree salad, the details of which I don't recall, actually. Her soup was a bit of disappointment. Too salty and not very rich in flavor. The salad was very tasty.

            There is also a bar area separated from the dining area by a full wall. It has a very different feel from the elegant dining area. Darker colors, more masculine, but very well laid out with a long bar, high top tables to sit, too. All and all we will be back!

            1. re: Jenkins

              We finally made it to Local 121 last night, and it was fantastic. We ordered an assortment of small plates - and all were delicious, fresh, and interesting. Our favorites were the clam arancini and the littlenecks in beer, shallots, and cocoa nibs. The white bean, roasted parsnip, and fennel brandade was also a hit.

              Service was excellent - we were neither rushed nor ignored. We had a pleasant, leisurely meal, and will definitely be back again.

        2. We had a less than stellar meal there last week.

          The service was pretty bad- the food, basic and not really noteworthy.
          I'm going to give it another try sometime this winter.

          1. What's the price range?

            Is Local 121 doing lunch/brunch too, or exclusively dinner?

            1 Reply
            1. re: foxy fairy

              They are open for lunch. Check out their menu online for price points. Generally speaking, sandwiches are around $8, and other lunch entrees are $10-15.

            2. I had a very very bad meal there a bit ago. Service was atrocious, drinks were never refilled, items ordered were forgotten. Several dishes were cold and raw.

              I am willing to give it another shot, but the meal was so disastrous I shudder whenever someone suggests it.

              1. went last weekend and found the food to be kinda bad, unfortunately. i REALLY wanted to like it, really really wanted to like it, but it was just bad. and worse because i knew the ingredients were great--they're ingredients i cook with all the time--so all i could think of was how they had wasted all of this awesome local food. we had the cheddar cheese and ale starter, and it tasted like a band-aid. really. this might have been the most heartbreaking part of the meal for me personally since the cheese/beer combo is very dear to me, and i couldn't understand why it had to suck. we split the special salad, an heirloom tomato deal, and the tomatoes were juicy and perfectly ripe and delicious.....and unsalted (also served with an overdressed clump of arugula and a few random splotches of goat cheese, which i didn't like so much as i like my mozzarella with my heirlooms). the bf had the corned beef sandwich which i found frankly disgusting, and i had the burger which, apart from coming back cooked well done when medium rare was requested, just didn't taste like anything.
                the service was also super duper slow and not very effective, but earnest and sweet so it was hard to be pissy about that.
                the one thing going for it, besides the decor, is the cocktails (this seems to be the theme for a lot of hyped-up restaurants in providence whose food is disappointing, e.g. citron). that cocktail list is DIVINE. i would go for a drink after work or after dinner, enjoy the lovely renovated building, and maybe ask for a bread basket or something since i think it's olga's so they can't screw it up. but don't eat anything. i really hope the kitchen gets it together and improves, because this is such a great concept and i really want it to succeed. but if they continue to execute their dishes poorly when it would just take a few simple things to improve the cooking (like, perhaps, knowing how to cook, which maybe the person who prepared our meals did not know how to do...), i don't know how successful they'll be.

                1. Interesting. I wonder if we just went on a good night, or if we got lucky by not ordering any entrees?

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: LMWW

                    Went with the husband last night for appetizers and drinks at the bar. There was no host at the front, and as we had no idea where to go, we actually walked in on a private party being thrown by Planned Parenthood. Seriously, get a host.

                    We sat at the bar and were greeted immediately by a pleasant bartender in his late thirties or early forties. Made us pleasant drinks, except the homemade cocktail onions in my gibson tasted completely raw and barely (!) pickled. Not a huge deal.

                    We order four small plates to share: the ale/cheese, root crisps, mixed green salad and the soup of the day, which was a green tomato gazpacho. We told the barman we wanted them in no particular order.

                    I found it odd when the bartender gave my husband a fork and a knife and myself just a spoon. Kind of difficult to eat salad with a soup spoon. Also, we never received any side plates. You'd think that'd be key.

                    The food begins to come out and looks great. The runner brought my husband the wrong salad, but no big deal, as he switched it quickly.

                    The gazpacho tastes like a green tomato and nothing else. There's not even a hint of seasoning anywhere. The root crisps were anything but. Literally, they were a big soggy heap. My husband liked the cheese/ale mess, but I totally agree with queen's band-aid description; it just wasn't good at all.

                    The hit of the night was the salad, having with what I remember as an excellent Stilton and fresh, fresh, fresh tasting greens. Too bad the dressing was literally nonexistant and flavorless.

                    Also, some bread would've been nice, as would salt and pepper have been; neither were ever offered to us.

                    We had planned on ordering a bottle of wine and moving on to dinner and dessert if we'd enjoyed the appetizers, but by the end, we just wanted to get the hell out of there.

                    A shame, as the space is so gorgeous.

                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                      Yeah, they've been a bit uneven so far... I've been a few times and the meals (ordering the *same* dishes, mind you) have varied from a high of "good" to a low of "bad." The gazpacho is one such example. One night I had it and it was heavenly, another and it was bland... Ditto the root crisps... One night thin and crispy, another night thick and a bit boggy...

                      I'm going out on a limb here, but I've found this phenomenon in many restaurants boasting of "locally" sourced products. For example, in Providence, I've had this same experience at Citron too... The same dish, one night fabulous, the next unappealing... I've long wondered how much blame to put on the kitchen and how much on the local suppliers... I've had some chefs tell me that, on many nights, you're only as good as the quality of your ingredients...

                      I don't know if this is an excuse or an out I'm giving places like Local 121 and Citron (both of which I love for ambiance and their general roles as being reasonably prices outposts downtown) or if this has some truth...

                      - Garris

                      1. re: Garris

                        i wonder if it's instead the variation in staff. i mean, we're all providence food lovers here (except i just moved to new haven, which is TRAGIC, but i still go back every weekend) so i'm assuming that most of us when we cook at home love our local ingredients from our farmer's markets and seven stars and olga's etc. etc....and they're always good. you have to know what you're looking for in a tomato or a loaf of bread, and you have to know what to do with it ,and it just seems like some of the people who work the kitchen or make the recipes don't know what they're doing. the bad meal i had a local 121 and the bad meal i had a citron were both the result of bad cooking...everything was undersalted or overcooked or overdressed or just looked like it had been sitting out under the salamander or being leftovers in the fridge a long time. there are so many other places in providence that use local meats, veggies and bread to great effect because they're just really good at cooking and don't assume that they can just run a successful restaurant on trumpeting how they use local products instead of actually using those local products properly.
                        they seem uneven from all of these reviews...it's just i think maybe their staff is uneven, not their suppliers.

                        1. re: ginqueen

                          well, they have an ad up on craigslist looking for cooks, so i'm guessing that may be the problem. i am extremely biased here, as someone very interested int he local food movement, but in my experience as a consumer, local produce is nearly always of a higher quality than trucked-in. i've very rarely picked up a piece of produce at a farmer's market--especially in the growing season--and thought to myself "i could probably get a better one at the supermarket."

                          even if it were true (i don't think it is, but just hypothetically), the ultimate fault would still lie in the restaurant for sourcing the wrong local ingredients. there are plenty of options for who they buy from this time of year.

                          1. re: celeriac

                            Sorry to double up, but I was thinking about this question some more and wanted to add one other thought, because it worries me that the fact that they source local could be seen as a reason for lackluster food.

                            While there's no excuse for a dish to be GOOD one week and BAD the next, one should also consider and except that a given dish will change over the course of the season. Any tomato grower know that July tomatoes are different from August tomatoes are different from September tomatoes. That's just reality. Moreover, a tomato from one farm will taste different from a tomato from another farm. And a good cook will learn to work with that range of flavor, bringing out different attributes at different times of the year. So the gazpacho is going to taste different. Now, if it tastes BAD, that's the cooks' fault. If they can't find tomatoes good enough for it, they should either look harder or temporarily remove it from the menu.

                            And you can replace the word "tomato" above with the word "carrot" or "apple" and it'll be just as true. we should look for uniformity in locally-source foods. You want uniformity, buy from Kraft. We should, instead, look for delicious SINGULARITY, never to be repeated quite the same way again. That's a great food experience.

                            I haven't eaten there enough to really knwo for sure, but if Local 121 is doing a bad job, the good news is that there ARE other places in town that buy local. Not that many, but a lot of the best ones, and certainly not all their produce, but some. And if you're interested, don't just read the tag line at the bottom of the menu that says "we support local growers" and assume that the potato you're eating in June is local--it probably isn't! But ask and see what is, then ask again next time, and then maybe someday we won't need gimmicks to raise awareness about local food, because it will be normal. Right now it's not, and right now it needs champions--but they do need to champion it WELL. Here's hoping they're able to.

                            1. re: celeriac

                              Thank you for the thoughtful posts. Which other restaurants are known to buy locally sourced products heavily?

                              1. re: Garris

                                I get the e-ewsletter from Farmstead/La Laterie and they seem to mention this fairly often.

                                1. re: Garris

                                  whoa, bad type in my above post. should have read "we should NOT look for uniformity in locally-source foods." I'm assuming that was a pretty clear mistake though.

                                  I definitely do not know all the restaurants that source locally by any means, but ones that I know do, at least somewhat, include New Rivers, Chez Pascal, La Laiterie, Gracie's, Nick's (more for dinner), Al Forno, Olga's, the Red Fez.

                                  Now I don 't know how much each of those sources locally. I really doubt that any of them are sourcing big percentages of their ingredients locally (and let's face it, lots of ingredients really can't be sourced locally) but I know that all of them do, at least sometimes. I would seriously consider asking, the next time you're out at a good restaurant, about what specifically is sourced locally. If you care, it's a great way to let them know that you do.

                    2. We went last Friday and I thought it was so-so. The service wasn't particularly swift, but that will probably iron itself out. The special soup of the day, tomato basil, tasted and had the consistency of a pasta sauce. Ick. The parsnip brandade is excellent - you might recognize it from La Laterie, where the Local 121 chef used to work. We had a pasta dish with eggplant and tomato in it - that was so-so. I think it has potential, but right now it's only so-so.

                      1. We went Sunday Oct 7. The concept is great, but the execution on the night we went was fair to poor. Most everything on the menu could be made at home with far better results.
                        My Basil Gimlet lacked the flavor of basil, and the drink would be improved by the substitution of an unflavored alcohol for the gin. A salad of field greens with a tablespoon of Great Hill Blue was ordinary. A friend recommended the Goat Cheese Tart, which came with raw corn and arugula. I was afraid the cheese would overwhelm the squash baked into the custard, but there was no chance of that happening, as I believe the kitchen forgot to add the goat cheese to the tart. Goat is not difficult to detect, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not taste the cheese at all. A Pappardelle with chicken mushrooms and hen mushrooms came to the table looking like a paltry Primavera, with a tiny number of mushrooms, some of which appeared to be Crimini. The dish had very little flavor. The Root crisps were only half-crisp. A Jar of pickled vegetables was good, but the mason jar made it difficult to fish out the veggies. We left half the order at the bottom of the jar. A chard soup was grey, porridge-like, and lacked any dimension or character other than chard. Our friend ordered the Parsnip Brandade, which never arrived. Lastly, the cheese selection was not available on Sundays, which is odd, considering the chef was last at La Laterie.

                        There was an issue with seasoning in the dishes I tried. While celebrating local flavors is a wonderful development in restaurant kitchens, it also takes a clever hand to combine and enhance the natural flavors of fresh food. For instance, the chard soup could have used a swirl of creme fraiche and parsley-infused oil, with perhaps a roasted leek birds nest for crunch and flavor.

                        A true test of a chef, in my mind, is an ability to devised vegetable dishes that pack as much punch as meat dishes.

                        Sadly, our first impression of Local 121 is going to probably be our last.

                        1. I'm really surprised by all the bad experiences. We've been at least 3 times (all on week nights I believe) and we've always had a great experience. The foods been great, portions are the correct size, I've never felt rushed to finish like I have in many other restaurants, there was plenty of time given between each course and our drinks were fantastic. Yes, I will admit there are a couple of problems... the hostess not being available at all times is strange and there have been a couple of small service problems, but we reccommend it to our friends and we'll be back.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jenluxy

                            Have you tried any of their meat dishes? We just had vegetarian choices. However, one should expect excellent preparations of vegetables and grains from a place dedicated to fresh, local ingredients. The place is beautiful; we were there for three hours and did not feel rushed at all. I was expecting to be blown away, as we have been by many Providence restaurants (such as Gracies, across the street). Simple foods prepared thoughtfully, not fancily, can do that. I always go into a restaurant wanting them to be successful. This one didn't work out.

                            One I would recommend, however, it Trattoria Della Nonna in Mansfield, MA. We've been going for the 5-6 years they've been open and have had transcendent experiences there. Kenny DeFazio is an artist. His veal chop, which changes nightly, is outrageously good. 20 years of not eating veal is down the drain because of that place. His bolognese sauce is divine. I wish there was at least one vegetarian dish on the menu.

                          2. Yeah, I pretty much agree w/ the majority of these posts. Went there w/ a group of 6 last night, expecting to like the place. Actually my first impression was good--very nice negroni at the bar. Unfortunately, the food is lacking, pretty much across the board. To echo some of the other critiques--great concept, poor execution. Do the cooks here taste anything before they put it out. Seasoning 101 folks...

                            Beer-cheese--nasty texture and flavor--like curdled band-aid paste--the accompanying bread pieces were WAY too salty,
                            Root "crisps"--again--soggy--I would have been much happier if they'd dumped a bag of TERRA chips into a bowel. Accompanying creme fraiche--not good.
                            Pasta special--the best of the night--but nothing special--it was the only main served that wasn't inappropriately seasoned though.
                            Pork chop special--well cooked, poorly seasoned, vanilla gastrique was WAY too sweet and the spaetzle were WAY too salty.
                            fried clam/risotto cakes--tasted like fried and not much else.

                            Nice place for drinks.
                            Avoid the food unless they radically shake things up.