Kirsten Parmer -- October 9th, 2009
It’s rare that on opening night a new restaurant has all its ducks in a row, but Local Chop and Grill House does. Restaurateurs Craig and Bert Moore, the original owners of the Joshua Wilton House and partners in Cally’s, have jumped back into the business after a five-year absence with another excellent downtown dining option.
Don’t expect to walk in and see a huge physical change from the previous Downtown 56 tenants. They did get rid of the awful hotel check-in desk in the main dining room and tucked some cozy seating behind a wall of wine. The bar has recycled some of the artwork and added recessed lighting, but feels pretty much the same. On the opening night of Downtown 56, I actually had to uncork our bottle of wine for the server. You won’t find anything like that here. The wait staff is well prepared and not new to food service.
But the shining star here is Chef Ryan Zale’s food. Zale honed his skills at the highly-acclaimed Inn at Little Washington and the Joshua Wilton House and what he is cooking at the Chop House is good. Really, really good. Our group sampled several appetizers including a delicate steak carpaccio, beautifully seared dry Maine scallops, spiced calamari with coconut-tomato sambal, and creamy arancini (fried risotto balls) with cilantro aioli—all under $10. The mixed drinks are excellent with creative libations such as a port and blackberry fresca, and a lemon basil Collins. The beer and wine lists are equally good. If you’re going for drinks and appetizers, a limited list is available until 7 pm that includes a glass of beer or wine and one appetizer for $6.
There are two menus, one for the bar and one for the main dining room. Many of the small plates and salads overlap. In the bar you’ll find burgers and sandwiches—most of which can be converted to slider size—and duck fat fries, which if you haven’t ever tried you need to. In the main dining room, you choose your meat (various cuts of steak, pork, lamb, duck, chicken, and fish), its rub and preparation, a sauce that’s served on the side and ranges from sweet mango hoisin bbq to savory veal demi glace to spicy grapefruit red curry, and two sides. I’m not 100% convinced that all of the rubs and sauces work together, but each good in their own right. Do not pass on the local chevre mac and cheese gratin; it’s out of this world. The most expensive cut is the filet mignon at $27, so the price point is quite reasonable.
For dessert we passed around the goat cheese cheesecake, a fruit crisp, candied bacon ice cream (yes bacon, and the jury’s still out on that one), and crème brulee that rivals that of the Wilton House’s, likely because it was Bert Moore’s recipe all along.
I actually hated the idea of going in and reviewing a restaurant on opening night, but it far exceeded my expectations, made me want to come back, and elevated my hope that downtown dining will stretch it’s physical boundaries just a little bit further than Court Square. Go. You won’t be disappointed.
Kirsten Parmer was the food writer for eightyone magazine from 2006 until its closing in 2009. She loves nothing more than having a reason to eat out with friends.