Review: Tonic and Re-Review: Local 127
I promised I’d go back. And I did. And it was interesting.
I’ll also be honest– there is no way that any Cincinnati food blogger or food critic, or even “social scene” blogger can write a review about Local 127 and have it be the same experience that you, a consumer, would have. Chef Geddes is smart. Really smart– he’s admitted that he has done a lot of homework on the people who have any sort of influence in town, which he must have done after I went the first time. I absolutely have to hand it to him for doing some background work there, even if it doesn’t benefit someone who wishes to remain (relatively) anonymous. I know other folks don’t wish to, but I do. For some background, I went twice in two days (two different “dates” with girlfriends; one day Chef was there, and one day he wasn’t). I did not use my DSLR– it’s a small, quiet restaurant on a weeknight, and a DSLR just screams “food blogger”. I’d rather just write than use pictures in this case, and probably others. I did take a picture at Tonic– bars are dark and not as quiet.
Also, I know I’m going to tick off Team Jean-Robert by writing about Local 127. Rest assured, I still love Jean-Robert and am looking very forward to JR’s Table, whenever the legal wranglings on both sides have settled up.
Man, that was quite a preamble. Anyway.
Longtime readers of the blog know what happened the last time I wrote about Local 127, which was, to be honest, a mediocre review– there were good things and some not-so-good things. Because of the vitriol in that post, I’ve been really hesitant to go back, particularly since some of the comments that were of, shall we say, questionable origin. Imagine my surprise when I walked into Tonic and saw Steve Geddes standing there, almost waiting for me– I swallowed. Hard.
As I sat at Tonic with another food blogger, Sara from Foodstuffsnati, Steve walked by no fewer than four times. I started to get self-conscious.
Tonic is pretty great. I was hesitant– I really liked Twist– but I actually liked the slight decor change (it’s much darker and warmer, but still keeps a lot of the architectural details I really loved), and adored the cocktails and our bartender. The cocktails are far, far better than they were at Twist, and very reasonably priced considering they are top shelf, and top notch (an average of $9 apiece). They are for people who really like cocktails, and not just syrupy-sweet “martinis”. I had an Aviation (my favorite retro cocktail), a true Old Fashioned (which is also known as a Bitters Sling, which has none of the cloying sweetness of a “new” old fashioned, and a lot of clean, citrusy flavor for a bourbon-based drink), and a sip or three of a Millionaire Royale, which involves egg white and Pernod, that our bartender decided to try as she was reading a cocktail book from 1948 behind the bar as we sat there, pretty close to alone on a Wednesday night. When I went back with Michelle, I tried a Manhattan and a Liberal Liberal, Maggie-style (Maggie is one of the bartenders), which has less vermouth and bitters than the one on the menu. I also sampled a drink that I ended up helping to name– if you see a European Bastard on the menu (a drink that’s sort of like a Negroni, but with Jameson’s Irish Whisky instead, I came up with the name!). We also tried a drink that involved raspberry and a Habanero tincture, that would best be served in a cordial glass– I could never drink an entire cocktail of it. There’s a lot of experimenting going on behind the bar. If you tell the bartenders what kind of drinks you like, they’ll make suggestions. It’s a very fun atmosphere that is less about “partying” and more about education.
After we had a few drinks, Sara and I decided we needed to absorb the cocktails with some food. We debated going to a couple of other places downtown, but we decided on Local 127 since it was right there and I hadn’t been since that Infamous Post back in September.
We walked up– no reservation, and only 3-4 tables were full at 9 PM– and the host, who was Chris, the waiter we had the first time Terry and I went– said, “Oh, we have an opening– wait, is your last name Niesen?”
Not only did he know who I was, he remembered my order from last time. To be honest, I was there– not intending to review anything, not intending to do anything but enjoy dinner with a friend– and it made both Sara and me uncomfortable.
The awkwardness lasted for only a moment, as we were instantly put at ease by our server, Erin, who asked us if we had been there before (we both said yes) and suggested that since we were both having glasses of wine, we should get a bottle. Kind suggestion (glasses are always proportionally more expensive than a bottle), but since it was a Wednesday night and I had to drive home, we declined. We each got a glass of a granache blend– very nice, and a generous pour.
We each started with a small plate, and finished with a large one. Sara got a beet and prosciutto salad which was excellent– sweet, tender, earthy beets and salty, rich prosciutto are an excellent pairing, and one I hadn’t had before. It was great and very appropriate for winter. I got the potato skins– which was brought out by the host, who said, “These should be familiar. Go ahead and get out that flash! Take a picture!” Sorry– not going to do that if a staff member tells me to. Again, sort of odd and uncomfortable. The potatoes have been totally redone since I last had them– crispy potato skins, with bacon, preserved lemon, creme fraiche and a potato foam. These were a complete turnaround from the ones I had when the restaurant open, and I’m very glad that Chef Geddes took my suggestion (and others, I know, had suggested it too) to change the dish. I would definitely order them again.
Next, a “gift from the chef” came out– two small servings of risotto. We were at the end of the evening– it’s entirely possible that there were leftovers that Chef Geddes didn’t want to waste. Had I not gotten the greeting I did at the door, I might have assumed that. Either way, the risotto was really delicious– topped with thick shavings of parmesan and cremini mushrooms, and crispy chicken skin. Sara mentioned that hers had a lot more chicken meat than mine, and she loved the smoked chicken, so I’m sorry I only got the skin. Actually, I’m not sorry– I love crispy chicken skin. I ordered something similar on my first trip, and this was much better than last time.
Next, we each had an entree– Sara got the Beefalo burger, complete with homemade ketchup and fries. I didn’t try the burger, but I took a taste of the homemade ketchup and the fries. Both were really delicious– I need to make homemade ketchup sometime, and I think if I did, I would never go back to the bottled stuff again. It’s sweet and spicy and a little tart, without being overwhelming. The fries were perfectly cooked and seasoned– a hint of rosemary, I believe. Sara looked at me and said, “Man, these fries are killer.” They were. Sara ate most of the burger and made very approving sounds, but mentioned that the cheese got a bit lost with the ketchup.
I had the gnocchi with parmesan and mushrooms. They were delicious– if a bit large– pillows of potato pasta. Chris, the host/server, said that they weren’t the normal thumbprint size– or else Chef just had big thumbs. Ha. The parmesan cream sauce was highly endorsed by our main server, who said the dish was developed for a private party but uneaten by the guests, so the staff “scavenged it” (her word) and liked it so much that it was added to the menu. It’s a great addition– I love that it was so simple, with just gnocchi, mushrooms, and shavings of parmesan and a cream sauce.
Our server talked us into dessert– it wasn’t that difficult– and we got the Mason Jar cheesecake. She described it as being like cheesecake pudding, since it uses sour cream, and it was topped with “mustard fruit”, which were a mix of berries and raisin in a chutney-style preparation, spiked with mustard. You end up with a slightly sweet preparation (but not as sweet as topping it with preserves), with a hint of heat and pungent mustard just on the finish of the bite. Very, very good.
And, still, they sent out two small cookies– slightly warm and excellent.
The next night, Chris (the aforementioned waiter) had noticably relaxed. After dinner, I explained to him that I’m not a huge fan of “special treatment” at restaurants, and he admitted that he and the staff were just nervous– that yes, they had definitely read my post, agreed with a lot of it, but were keeping a lookout for me– and other food bloggers and critics too. I suppose that’s fair on their side, but I’m still thinking of investing in a Ruth Reichl-esque wig.
Michelle and I started off with the Chef’s plate of charcuterie and preserved vegetables– favorites included the salame, pickled green beans, riesling jelly, and pate. Again, this was consistent with my first visit– delicious. It’s obvious that the kitchen is passionate about charcuterie, and Chef is apparently a big fan of German wines– which we’ll see in a couple of other dishes.
We were then served two small (shot glass-sized) cups of a rich, bacon-laced bean soup, that had an incredibly creamy mouthfeel and smoky finish. I like the petite samples instead of an amuse bouche– it’s fun to try other things on the menu that you may not have chosen normally.
Michelle got the smoked chicken risotto– she’s a bit pickier than I am (“I’m wine, she’s food,” she’ll often say), but she loved it , and was the same preparation as the previous night.
I ended up with the chicken two ways: confit and sous vide. The sous vide was great– only one other place in town (The Palace) does sous vide, as far as I know– and the technique is great for chicken breasts, which can easily become dry. The sous vide breast had a moist texture, crispy skin and incredible flavor– helped, I’m sure, by the local chickens they use. The confit legs were also good– but the real standout was the breast. It was all on a bed of brussels sprouts, rice, and shallots and was actually quite delicious for lunch the next afternoon as well!
We did do dessert– a small sampling of light, fluffy chocolate mousse and apples, caramelized, and stewed in Riesling, with bits of crumble (which is nut free, we learned) in between– like a deconstructed apple crisp. The Riesling gave the apples a lot of flavor, and the sugary crust was delicious all by itself. The crumble was the same stuff they use on the cheesecake– also very good.
So, overall impression?
I liked it.
Did you read that, folks? Yup, I liked it. Liked it so much I would go back again. I’ve now heard enough opinions about the place that I’m not convinced that I had the experience I did *just* because they knew I was a food blogger– others have gone since I went and they all loved it too. And that’s a really good thing, as I feel Geddes can probably do some sensational stuff with the fresh ingredients he’ll get this spring and summer. If he doesn’t feature ramps on his menu at some point, though, I will take all of the good things I said back.
Our server encouraged us to go to the chef’s table– which I think we’ll try sometime for a special occasion (you know, there’s got to be some special Wednesday coming up…).
One impression I did come away with: I wish that the Relish Group would put as much love and care into Lavomatic, the Bistro, and Greenup Cafe as they do in Local 127– because it’s obvious that this restaurant is their flagship, and the rest (except for Chalk, I haven’t eaten there recently enough to comment) take a back burner. Spread the love around, please? Your neighbors– and customers– will thank you.