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

Conti - Brunswick Head, NSW, Australia

We arrived at Colongata Airport early enough in the morning the day of our first performance at Byron Bay Bluesfest to stop off at a nice spot for lunch. The beauty of the country side here really struck an accord with me right away. It's unlike the country side you see in NC but more like what you'd see in Hawaii. The lush trees are spotted with bright colorful flowers and the air smells sweeter for some reason. Conti (short for continental) was recommended to us by our artist liaison from the festival.

Everything here just seems a bit fresher. The seafood obviously comes out of the water and has to travel a shorter distance from water to plate so I'm sure that has something to do with it. There's something so tropical about this place. Conti is a nice little restaurant situated among a short row of small independently owned shops all in the open air. We sat down not knowing what to expect but certainly enjoying the pleasant sounds of rain hitting the ground around us. Sipping on a cup of ginger beer I sat back and remembered how lucky I am to be doing what I do.

Bundaberg Ginger Beer
The spaghetti had a spicy broth containing charred zucchini, tomatoes, onions, and fresh squid. It tasted like a smokey, rich, spicy, oceanic, cup of ambrosia. Truly amazing!

--Joe Kwon