Local 188, Portland
You would be hard-pressed to find a more effective means to lure me into a restaurant than a billowing slow-smoker at the entranceway. There is no way around it: I am going to have to come in and investigate what smells so damn good. I can’t help myself; this urge is an integral part of how my brain works. Hence, I find myself at Local 188 in search of sustenance on a Tuesday night in late fall.
I have been frequenting Local 188 for quite some time now, as both a patron and former bartender, and it has always been one of my favorite spots to hole-up late at night and enjoy a few glasses of wine. These days, the kitchen is often closed by the time I arrive, and I’m curious to see what direction the food has taken.
Despite being fairly large, Local manages to achieve a cozy, lived-in feel, which is aided by dim lighting and an eclectic assortment of artifacts and comfy furniture. The dining room doubles as an art gallery, with an ever-rotating collection of works. The music is selected by whoever is tending bar, so the soundtrack stays varied and refreshing.
I fully commit to reacquainting myself, ordering a vast portion of the menu. As I peruse the wine list, which has helpful descriptions and is comprised of primarily old world selections, I snack on a plate of house-cured chourico, duck lardo, and five-spice lonzino. The pleasing combination of salt, smoke, and fat lead me to choose a wine known for its refreshing, bracing aciditythe Domaine de Saint Peyre Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc.
First up is a trio of plump, seared dayboat scallops, crusted in pepita seed and resting in a pool of aerated maple hollandaise sauce, garnished with apple chips. This is one of the better versions of hollandaise that I have tasted. It’s light yet extremely flavorful, nicely complementing both the pepita and apple. This dish is followed by the house gnocchi, which have been pan-fried to achieve the perfect balance of crunchy and doughy. They are served atop a salad of arugula and diced hothouse tomatoeswhich in combination take on the characteristics of a salsaand tossed with ribbons of manchego and a wonderfully tart limoncello vinaigrette.
As an intermission of sorts, I am served a single, meaty slab of maple-cider brined bacon with a few slices of cider-poached apple. What is truly brilliant on this plate is the silky root vegetable puree, which involves cooking parsnips and honey sous vide before tossing them in the smoker for a spell and proceeding to whip them with cream (because they’ve been very, very naughty).
The fish special is a healthy portion of seared Mahi Mahi, lightly seasoned with freshly toasted cumin, alongside an absolutely delightful smoked scallop and potato cake. Brightening the dish is a gorgeous puree of carrot and ginger, as well as a bit of sautéed Swiss chard and red chili sauce. I’m fairly sure I’m making my “I’m full” face at this point, but continue to press on, inviting the bartender and my friends who have recently joined me to start sampling at their discretion.
I’ve got one more course to go. Not to downgrade anything I have tasted thus far, but I have definitely saved the best for last. The smoked half chicken, brined in citrus and cayenne and glazed with cider, is a marvelous thing to behold. The skin is perfectly crispy, and each bite is unbelievably tender, with the smoke permeating the entirety of the meat. The accompanying pumpkin bread pudding puts me right over the edge, and I decide to chalk it up as my dessert and wave the white flag of surrender.
This experience is far different than any I’ve had at Local thus far. The menu has matured over time, with flavor profiles and technique alike becoming more refined and focused.
Also, this is yet another example of why I should always trust my instincts… The “smoker at the door” policy has yet to disappoint.
685 Congress St. | Portland | 207.761.7909 | local188.com