|Poughkeepsie Journal, February 21, 2008|
Local 111 harvests valley's bounty
An hour's drive north of Poughkeepsie through the rolling hills and beautiful farmland of Columbia County is Philmont, a small town that became known in the late 1800s for its textile mills, which sent woolen goods and other fabrics to Manhattan via the New York and Harlem Railroad.
Architect Linda Gatter and husband Max Dannis chose Philmont to launch Local 111 in August 2006, a casual eatery that endeavors to serve seasonal produce sourced as locally as possible, often from nearby farms. To help achieve this, they recruited David Wurth, former chef at SoHo's Savoy and champion of the sustainable food movement.
Perhaps it's fitting then, that a restaurant, which celebrates the renaissance of heirloom cuisine, should be in a reincarnated service station formerly known as Schermerhorn's Garage. Gatter and Dannis have created a unique space, adroitly transforming the twin mechanic's bays into a sleek, modern bistro. Local 111 sports lots of polished concrete and bare walls, but flickering candles and soulful Latin ballads along with a large pastoral canvas by Berkshire artist Gabrielle Senza help provide some warmth.
About half of the 21 bottles ($18-$60) on the pithy yet interesting wine list are also available by the glass ($5.75 to $12). The wines seem well chosen, as they easily harmonized with most of our fare; only one disappointed, a glass of Le Meurger Pinot Noir ($9), possibly not at the peak of its powers.
Starting off right
Grilled Sweetbreads ($9), like most offal, aren't everybody's cup of tea, but adventurous eaters should give this special a try. Resembling lobes of cooked pork, sweetbreads have a flavor and texture that's rather like a cross between duck liver and rabbit. And these were nicely rendered, cooked through but not at all grainy. On the side were some fabulous oven-steamed Yukon gold potatoes, baked leeks and rashers of smoky bacon, all drizzled with a caramel-sherry vinegar gastrique.
We were informed the Pan Fried Monkfish with Romescu ($23) was unavailable, but sea bass could be substituted, to which we happily agreed. Our instincts guided us well, as we received a beautifully sautéed tranche of the tasty, white-fleshed fish, presented skin side up. Scant though toothsome was a dab of the garlic, almond, tomato and ancho puree known in Spain as romescu. We chose two sides from the tempting list of possibilities: crisp baby Brussels sprouts, plus "winter squash agrodolce," which featured organic delicata chunks with celery, walnuts and wine-plumped raisins.
My dining companion was torn between two wines for her bass, and our server thoughtfully brought tastes of each - the Riesling went better with the romescu, but it was a white Bordeaux from Chateau Haut Rian ($5.50/glass) that harmonized best with the fish.
I needed a steak knife now and then to remove bits of gristle from my Pan-Roasted Venison ($25), but otherwise the meat was very supple, with a nicely browned crust and spot-on, medium-rare interior. The two haunch steaks were served atop a bed of wilted baby spinach in a brothy pool of venison jus, garnished with zesty roasted white turnips and a bland pair of golden-fried risotto balls.
With low tannins, bright fruit and good acidity, my glass of Aleramici Rosso di Montalcino ($12) went nicely with the deer, though the spicier malbec I passed over might have been even better with the dish.
Great desserts, teas
Local 111 has a great selection of teas and tisanes, a bargain at $2 a pot. Hot Cinnamon Spice, a scented black tea from Harney & Sons was lovely with the cobbler.
I'm a sucker for well-made toffee sauce, and Local 111's was good as any I've had. A sinful pool of this rich, buttery syrup surrounded a scrumptious turret of Bread Pudding ($6), the warm, moist slices evocative of French toast, barely unified via a delicate egg custard. Crunchy shards of almond brittle echoed the toasty flavors in the toffee.
I was further tempted by a glass of Villa Puccini Santo Vino ($7), a not-too-sweet dessert wine with nutty-raisiny notes that blended seamlessly with those in the excellent bread pudding.
It's popular these days to toot the local and sustainable horn, but Wurth seems to be making a genuine effort even in the dead of winter, when most farms are dormant. By supporting the community's small farmers and foragers, Local 111 is more than just a restaurant, it's part of a culinary renaissance that looks to the past in order to secure a better future.
The Poughkeepsie Journal pays for the meals that are the subjects of restaurant reviews and reviewers do not identify themselves prior to the end of the meal. Daniel Mochon graduated in 2000 with high honors from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. He is the director of wine and cuisine at the Hudson Valley's largest wine and spirits store.