Last week I met friends at the newly-opened Local 360 in Belltown. In the last few months as I’ve read mentions of the place, there have been comparisons made to the Melrose Market, the Capitol Hill home of local purveyors of meats, cheeses, and flowers, not to mention several great restaurants. The comparison is made because Local 360 will eventually have many of the same elements – (at least one very good) restaurant, butcher, and cheesemonger, all from producers within a 360 mile radius. Perfect, right? A place to get great food and feel smug about its origin, all at once.
I’m not trying to be the Eat Local scrooge or anything, but lately it feels as though if something isn’t organic, local, or sustainable, I’m not supposed to want to eat it. Is buying organic vegetables at the grocery store good enough, or do I have to buy exclusively from farmer’s markets? Should I run screaming when I see Chilean grapes, and only eat seasonally appropriate fruit that’s available within 100 miles of me? Though as I say that I recognize that I’m guilty of fueling the frenzy, at least to some extent… I was utterly charmed by the fact that everything but the most basic ingredients (um, salt) for Kurt Timmermeister’s Sunday suppers came from his farm; and I considered canceling on my own mother to attend the last Outstanding in the Field dinner at Full Circle Farm.
I get what’s good and right about eating local: lessening one’s carbon footprint by decreasing the physical distance required to transport our food to us, and strengthening our community by supporting our neighbors. Or maybe the reason for the craze is less altruistic and more primal, that we city dwellers are really feeling the distance from the agrarian roots of our ancestors. All of that unblemished produce and nicely packaged meat and no dirt or animal in sight, no need to understand the connection between origin and consumption.
Local 360 has tapped into the Eat Local movement with a beautiful space in Belltown, formerly home to Flying Fish before its move to South Lake Union. As my friend said at dinner last week the interior is “pitch perfect.” Lots of rough-finish wood, especially in the cave-like booth area where we were seated. The wood climbs up the wall behind the bar, as well as on the big pillars in the center of the room. Light wood tables are scattered throughout the open space, with light metal chairs as accent. The requisite open kitchen anchors one end of the room, with a tiny, tiny bar (serving beverages from local breweries, wineries, and distilleries, of course) adjoining it. All of the warm wood, high ceiling, and big windows make for a space that would look as welcoming for breakfast as it did for dinner.
The menu has a couple of wacky items on the snacks list – PB&J bon bons, crispy pigs ear, and corned beef Reuben bites – but for the most part the food feels much more stick-to-your-ribs than frou frou. The fried chicken and creamed baby kale were both examples of the former, though there were a couple of items in the latter category. And I don’t use frou frou in a derisive way, only that a dish like the sturgeon with celeriac, fennel, grapefruit, and olive caramel seemed to have more design and less heft that some of the other dishes. Potentially the best dish of the night, the carrot salad, falls into that second category as well. Big ribbons of crunchy carrot, with soft dates, pecans, and cranberries, with a light citrus dressing to finish. All four of these were delicious (even taking into account the overly salty sturgeon/olive caramel combo), and I like to think that I tasted the difference in ingredients sourced from less than 360 miles of the restaurant.
Our big beef with the menu was that it wasn’t nearly descriptive enough, and at times just plain misleading. The description for the Reuben bites didn’t even mention the creamy, spicy sauerkraut it came perched atop. The Boston Cream Pie was more cake than pie, and not particularly creamy. The fried chicken wasn’t that at all, but rather a spicy chicken roulade served with the most fantastic collard greens and grits, as well as a fried egg, none of which were listed. Heck, I wouldn’t have even hesitated about ordering the chicken had I known that there were grits involved! I’m all for interpretive cooking, but we diners need a bit more information about what’s coming our way. The good news is that Local 360 was still technically in its “soft opening” stage last week, and has plans to address these very issues with a revision of its menu.
One last thing, Local 360: I hate to say it, but the restrooms are part of the package. My friend was right about the restaurant’s pitch perfect interior, but all of that changes when you walk into the restroom and are immediately transported to a Denny’s circa 1986. Perhaps that’s part of future renovations, when the “mercantile” is added to the space? Whether this is a short term issue or a long term décor decision, please know that when it comes to overall experience, restrooms are effectively an extension of the restaurant and should reflect the vibe of the dining space. Particularly a space that is as intentional as Local 360’s, and as perfectly executed.