The Local - Charlottesville, VA

Crisp Fried Oysters with Local Beet Salad and Caviar Citrus Cream
I was just in Charlottesville just this past Sunday and I had the privilege of eating at this wonderful restaurant, The Local. The Local is a just what the name infers, a restaurant that makes an effort to purchase their food from local growers and manipulate the seasonal flavors into works of art. I can say, in all honesty, that I thoroughly enjoyed this meal.

Generally speaking, I don't really like my oysters fried or altered in any way. I like them straight off the half shell with a squeeze of lemon and fresh horseradish. I have to make an exception with this preparation. They oysters being breaded and fried really made a great medium to carry this caviar citrus cream, which happened to be divine! Creamy, salty, briney, and a touch of zing from the citrus.

Local Stuffed Pepper Stuffed with "Caromont Farms" Goat Cheese served with Corn Salsa and Cilantro Cream
Although the caviar cream was calling my name this appetizer was by far my favorite. Maybe it's my dulling taste buds from all the coffee I drink, or maybe it's my masochistic side, and I love the pain, but this dish hit my palette from all directions and made me love it. Spicy, creamy, and a great textural crunch, balanced by the sweetness of the corn salsa.

Pistachio Crusted Local "Caromont Farms" Goat Cheese, Local Apples, Dried Fruit, and Local "Down Branch Farms" Arugula in an Aged Sherry Vinaigrette
"Caromont Farms" knows how to make some goat cheese. I only have one complaint about this dish, I loved the cheese but there just wasn't enough of it. Or maybe it's just that there were only four bite size pieces rather than on large lump. It just seemed like I wanted more cheese on a salad that was featuring this cheese. In any case, if you get a chance to check out "Caromont Farms", please do!

Creamy Crab Soup with Sherry and Old Bay
Thinking back to my meals sometimes is difficult. I get my flavor memories all mixed up and I find it difficult to write at times about certain dishes. This isn't a negative thing at all. I just think that sometimes, flavors are like good memories, or at least they should bring up good memories. This cozy dish reminded me a lot of the first time I had a good lobster bisque. It was similar to a bisque in it's creaminess, but it differed in it's sweetness from the blue crab that was used instead. In any case, I would have probably left this dish off our order only because it was almost too rich to be eaten with the other three appetizers. Not that I didn't thoroughly enjoy it.

(Top, Left, Right) Truffled Mushroom Ragout, Gnocchi Bolognese, Black Truffle Mac-n-Cheese
So we get to the final three dishes in the meal. It is such an unfortunate thing that I had to leave this meal early because, had it not been for a time crunch I would have probably sat at the dinner table for hours to digest what was already in my stomach and finish off the leftovers. The truffled mushroom ragout (with extra virgin olive oil, and parmesan cheese served with Mona Lisa fettucini) was hands down the best mushroom pasta I've ever had. Each bite was like eating a field of porcini mushrooms and a cup of cream. It was THAT good. I'm at a lack of words because it was so painfully good in fact. So, just take my word for it and go eat it.

I get ahead of myself though when I get excited. I will note that we ordered a whole order of the mushroom ragout, and half orders of the gnocchi and mac-n-cheese. But you'll see that there doesn't seem to be much difference in size there. The gnocchi (with local ground beef, veal, and pork with onions, garlic, tomato, and the Local's housemade gnocchi), was probably one of those dishes that would be best served on a rainy day when you are feeling a bit under the weather. It's super rich and meaty sauce is perfect to calm what ails you. It's like comfort food for Italians. "Just like gramma used to make." (almost, because Carmella's gnocchi bolognese is unbeatable)

Of the three dishes the one that got lost in the mix was the black truffle mac-n-cheese (macaroni and shaved black truffles tossed with a creamy local cheddar cheese sauce and topped with parmesan). Not because it wouldn't stand out as an excellent dish outside of the trio of plates here. It's just how do you top the other two dishes with macaroni. I don't think it would have been possible in any configuration. And to be completely honest with you, I don't know why you'd order anything other than the mushroom ragout anyways.

--Joe Kwon

Special thanks to Lydia and Brevy for treating me to a most special dinner!

The Local relies on the following purveyors for their operation to function:
Meadowcreek Dairy
Mountain View Farm
Everona Dairy
Ayrshire Farms
Albemarle Baking Company
Cannon Hill Farm
White Oaks Farm
Shenandoah Lamb
Organic Butcher
Twin Oaks
Green Fence Farm
Roundabout Farm
Down Branch Farm
CaroMont Farm
Double H Farm
Planet Earth Diversified
Goodwin Creek Farm and Bakery

Frasca - Boulder, CO

In Boulder, CO is a beautiful restaurant that any food lover would appreciate. It's not cheap, it's not your every day type of restaurant, but the food is delicious and the service is impeccable.

The moment you sit down at Frasca, you get a sense that you're about to take long culinary journey. After being seated, the Maître d' is promptly at your table to pour you a complimentary glass of a project wine of the owner and chef of the restaurant. Of course being on tour I had to kindly and regretfully decline. (SO SAD!!!) This kind of sets the tone for the whole meal. You don't come to Frasca to get in and out and plow through your meal. It's a place you go to enjoy a nice ambiance and a a well executed meal with excellent service.

The servers at Frasca have a working knowledge that rivals any restaurant I've ever been to. If you don't know what kind of wine you'd like with your meal, just ask and they'll bring one right over. If you don't know what something tastes like or what an ingredient is, they'll bring the knowledge of a well seasoned chef straight to your table.

The Starter: They started us off with a plate of Salumi which is a sampling of 5-6 different offerings. A prosciutto, salami, a single olive, a couple yellow beets, some grissini, and some horseradish sauce. I often wish I could assemble flavors like these and eat them in moderation like you're forced to in restaurants. If I had any of these at home I'd be on my carpet eating out of a jar of olives dipping 5 sticks of prociutto wrapped grissini in horseradish sauce. I have a problem and that problem is great tasting food.

At Frasca you have the choice of ordering a la carte or going with the 4 course tasting menu. Each category features 4 choices with the desert selection obviously featuring 7 options (a couple require a supplemental fee). I highly recommend, whenever at all possible, getting a pris fixe meal, because you're already there to enjoy a wonderful dining experience. You might as well go all out.

Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Asparagus Soup with King Salmon Salad
Antipasti: My good friend Jan joined me for this meal. Jan got the asparagus soup. This was definitely the most decadent tasting asparagus soup I've ever tasted. If butter tasted like asparagus then this would be butter soup. It was delicious and the salmon on top just sent it over the edge. An absolutely perfect seasonal dish with the most asparagus flavor you can cram into a dish. Most delectable.

Colorado Lamb Shoulder “Spiedino” White Beans, Roasted Pepper and Capers
My lamb was a bit tough but the flavor was perfect. A mixture of the gaminess of lamb and the smokiness of the grill. The white beans and arugula were an amazing complement to the dish as well. Just the right pepperiness to the delicate flavor of the white beans. I was getting extremely excited for what was to come.

Four Story Hill Farm Rabbit “Agnolotti” Marsala “Brodo” and Pecorino Gran Cru
Primi: Of course if there is wild game on the menu I'm going to select the dish. These agnolotti were so f***ing perfect. I hate them for that. I hate them for this broth too. It seemed to be some sort of consommé with such rich flavor I could drink it as a coffee substitution in the morning. The rabbit inside was so smooth and flavorful it made me borderline emotional. And trust me getting me to show any emotion is difficult. Just ask Em!

Russet Potato Gnocchi Stonington Maine Lobster, Peas and Basil
I can honestly say I've never eaten gnocchi so smooth, but not mushy. I always think about making gnocchi and then I remember how pain staking it is to get perfect gnocchi. So why not order it at a James Beard awarded restaurant and taste what it's SUPPOSED to taste like. Perfect pairing of lobster chunks with the slight sweetness of peas and fresh basil. A beautiful dish that you'd have to be crazy not to love.

Maine Diver Scallops Ceci Beans, Chard and House-Made Pork Sausage
Secondi: The story behind these little morsels is this. There is a lady in Maine who personally dives for these scallops. By hand she has a crew of people working for her who dive down and hand select these scallops from the ocean floor. Before they are shipped across the country to various high end restaurants she must give the OK. From what we were told you don't want to work for this lady. She only selects the greatest quality scallops and I imagine takes the rest home for some clam chowder right? HA!

Anyways, our scallops were flown in the day before so they were about as fresh as they could be. So what does that translate to in real terms. Well first off the scallop has the most lightly beautiful oceanic flavor. I'm not saying it's fishy. That would be grossly incorrect to call them fishy. They are just so fresh. The texture is a lot like that of pan fried fois gras. It's tender and just enough texture to cut with the side of a fork. Absolutely beautiful. The scallops were so good I don't even remember what the accompanying parts of the dish taste like.

Chocolate “Torta” Hazelnut Buttercream, Bananas, Valrhona Chocolate Ganache, Hazelnut Crumble, Banana Gelato
Dolci: It's kinda hard to turn down an option like this. I love chocolate and I love hazelnuts. If you can imagine what this flavor combination tastes like, visualize the flavor in your head and multiply it times 10. That's about how yummy it is. I just wish I had a couple more bellies to try all the deserts and all the dishes from this meal.

In closing, this meal was not the cheapest of meals. But it also wasn't the most expensive meal I've ever had. It was however, one of the most memorable. Not only for the food, but the impeccable service and care the staff treats you with. If you're even a short driving distance away from Boulder you MUST try this place out. Frasca is a restaurant that I see returning to in the near future.

--Joe Kwon

Visit Frasca's website for information about booking and their current menus.