Local 360's Spring Awakening

A devoted Belltown locavore blissfully bids its winter menu adieu.

If I were forced to give up this food-writing racket and choose a 19th-century profession, I'd go with gold prospector. I'm too sloppy to be a scrivener, too prone to hay fever to make it as a ploughman, and too impatient to fix clocks. Plus, those Klondikers whose images survive in brittle photographic prints always seemed to be having an inordinate amount of fun, panning pristine rivers in their shirtsleeves and sitting around campfires with their mangy pals and dutiful pups. It only recently occurred to me that the visual record of ghastly Yukon winters is scant because sourdoughs were too smart to schlep their cameras out in the snow. When the temperature dropped to 60 degrees below and the sun fell behind the hills before the fortune seekers' more civilized contemporaries would consider taking tea, nothing could have made the situation less pleasant than an impromptu outdoor photo session. Northwest winters were rough on prospectors, who clung to their convictions even when their frostbitten fingers were falling off and their sled dogs were dying. And, judging from the recent scene at Local 360, they haven't been much kinder to single-minded restaurateurs who insist on making no seasonal exceptions when stocking their larders. "It's been a long winter," admitted my tuckered-out server at the young Belltown eatery, which takes its name from the mileage radius that more or less determines the boundaries of Local 360's ingredient-shopping district. The restaurant has been gradually dialing back its 360-mile commitment, which was so overarching on opening day that an early press release promised citrus and vermouth would be the only expatriates at the bar. The original goal was to source 90 percent of raw ingredients from within 360 miles of the city, but my server told me the kitchen is now aiming for 80 percent. "We're at about 70 percent now," he confided. Still, the restaurant's earnestness hasn't wavered: With the exception of a waitress who'd been on the job for four days, every one of my servers delivered a tableside spiel about Local 360's lofty objectives. Local 360 isn't the first eatery to contrive a geographic challenge for itself, but it's arrived at the party with as much solemnity and devotion as its earliest guests brought. Alongside the standard "menu" and "news" tabs, the restaurant's website includes a tab marked "manifesto." The document—which also appears on the back of every menu—details Local 360's guiding philosophy: "We believe that local produce, meat and grains are . . . vital parts of the intricate system that supports our environment and the good folks who live here." Did you catch that bit about folks? If closely sourced meats and greens can be put to use in elaborate, classically informed ways, eaters at Local 360 wouldn't guess it. Chef Mike Robertshaw's staunchly down-home hashes, braised meats, and pot pies could have been drawn from the recipe box of a housewife whose husband carries a pitchfork. The decor picks up on the menu's farmhouse idiom: Diners are seated at communal wooden tables set with shabby-chic silver candlesticks, or in a row of boxed-in booths that resemble horse stalls, albeit with tables on top to take advantage of the well-lit room's soaring ceiling. The restaurant's rusticity is especially pronounced in colder months, when the kitchen's stuck with game meats and root vegetables that apparently defy refinement. "If you're looking for something light, we really don't have it," my winter-weary server told me. Working my way through Local 360's winter menu last month, I was confronted by a slew of clumsy, forlorn dishes. While a few of them were ballasted by seasonal ingredients or bone-warming preparations, many seemed weighed down by the glumness of cooks who didn't want to make any more parsnips. Simple timing and saucing mistakes were the undoing of most everything I tried.Check out a "Food Porn" slideshow from Local 360. Local 360's manifesto proclaims "Nothing we do is innovative or new," but its short list of starters suggests otherwise. Easily the menu's most mischievous category, the finger snacks are rejiggered versions of American standbys: There's peanut butter and jelly encased in a chocolate shell; miniature Reuben sandwiches; and chewy nuggets of dark rabbit meat, fried and messily slathered with scads of buttery hot sauce for a frontier spin on buffalo wings. The staff is fond of a tumbler of greenish fried pumpkin seeds, but the more interesting salt fix comes from a serving of crispy pig ear. Like the rabbit, the pig's undergone too much tinkering to provoke any clear barnyard associations. The ribbons of cartilage are swaddled in so much salt that the reeds of fat could easily be mistaken for potato sticks, but the ears are a decent cocktail-hour choice. About those cocktails: Local 360 has assembled an extremely impressive list of micro-distilled spirits, many of which end up wedged into classic cocktails. The drinks would work better if the bar bothered to annotate its beverages. There's no way to discern from the current list whether a gin has been barrel-aged—which is how I ended up with a sandpaper-hued martini. When I asked my server why my drink was brown, she was similarly perplexed, suggesting it might have been an optical illusion created by ricocheting light beams. Hitching explanatory notes to the various liquors would serve both customers and small-batch distillers, as it's helpful to know if your bourbon has more wheat or more rye, or whether your vodka's been flavored with elderberries. In addition to its scalp belt of a drinks list, Local 360 has dedicated a corner of its dining room to a board listing the restaurant's "favorite vendors." Many locavore restaurants do the same, but the effect is diminished when the kitchen muffs the ingredients on its wall of honor. Trudging through a green salad drowning in sherry vinegar and a dish of crisp kale crushed by a torrent of cream, I mused on whether Local 360 had confused collecting with cooking. Entrées were similarly disappointing: A hefty pork chop bedded down in parsnip foam was overcooked, while a mixed-meat bratwurst was perilously undercooked. But I found far better main-dish options on the lunch menu, including a sloppy, beefy Reuben on marbled rye and a burger that's also served at suppertime. The "grind house" burger is a bit of red-meat roulette, featuring ground scraps of whatever cow parts didn't get sold as specials. The mix changes daily, but the bulky sandwich I sampled was admirably juicy and had a good salt crust. The burger didn't need the overpowering mustard- pepper relish that came atop it, but the accompanying skin-on fries broached perfection: coppery on the outside and custardy at the center, they had a rich, tallow flavor. I saw many customers make a meal of those fries, which is exactly the strategy I planned to endorse until last week, when spring arrived. Local 360 switched to its spring menu on May 2, and the restaurant's relief is palpable. I'm not sure whether the new dishes are better because the cooks have to concentrate on their preparations until they learn the recipes by rote, or because the kitchen's so happy to have emerged from its prolonged cabbage haze. Either way, things are looking up at Local 360. There are holdovers from the winter menu—the burger's not going anywhere, and the cocktail list was untouched when I visited—but they're joined by a few terrific new additions. I really liked a phalanx of acorn-sized lamb balls, a funky rendition of Swedish meatballs dressed with a lavender-hued red-wine gastrique. A sheer asparagus soup was so pretty that if its color was ever committed to a paint swatch, I'd wager quite a few kitchens would end up covered in Local 360 Green. Staffers' enthusiasm for fresh arrivals, including a barbecue pork belly served with a sizable biscuit and a lunch entrée of halibut and chips, was so infectious that I wondered if their purported excellence had rubbed off on the dozen or so dishes that didn't vanish with the season, pig ears and rabbit saddle among them. But my favorite dish was a dusky braised rabbit leg, exquisitely earthy and deeply flavored. The peppery bunny was plated with an effervescent potato purée, spring onions, and slender carrots. It's a meal that finally makes sense of Local 360's manifesto. Take that, winter. Price Guide Crispy pig ear $6 Lamb balls $6 Baby lettuce salad $7 Asparagus soup $5 Grind house burger $10 Pork chop $18 Bratwurst $14 Braised rabbit $19 hraskin@seattleweekly.com

 
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