As you all know, I currently have an ongoing romance with Local 188. Never have I had a bad experience there- in fact, I would go to the extent of saying that Local earns the spot of my absolute favorite restaurant in Portland. Plus Jay Villani is a mastermind in the local culinary scene. It’s only natural that Local 188 would be the venue for my semi-surprise birthday party. But before we discuss birthday dinner part II, I must relay my experience at Local during Paella Feast 2011, hosted on January 1st, in order to clean house before the Local staff went on vacation for the first week of the new year.
A & I heard about Paella Feast through a little birdie- ie one of our favorite waitresses in all of town- Sarah who works close to nightly at Local. For those who didn’t hear about Paella Feast, I’ll give you a quick run down. All you can eat Paella, meat, veggie, or seafood, for $10 a head. You could purchase salads and desserts on the side for extra cost. And in all honesty, A & I lucked out. We didn’t make a reservation, but we squeezed our way into seats in the lounge and indulged, to say the least.
We began our meal with a garden salad, filled to the brim with baby arugula, spinach, kale, rainbow swiss chard, red peppers, carrots, goat cheese, and a simple lemon olive oil dressing. The salad ($9) was big enough to feed both A & myself twice- yes we had two servings. Along with the salad, the Local staff sent over their home baked bread- both baguettes and an olive loaf with the most fantastic butter. I can’t be entirely sure what Jay did with the butter- I think he must have added a lot of garlic and some other spice that I can’t quite identify, and whip it until it was light and fluffy and absolutely perfect and tangy for the bread.
For round one of Paella, I ordered the meat special, and A chose to do the seafood paella, as we both intended to sample off the others plate. Needless to say, when mine came, my eyes were wide and I had no intention of sharing, simply because of the ample amounts of steak, chicken, and chorizo. The chicken was incredibly tender, succulent, flavorful, clear traces of saffron and other indulgent seasonings. The steak, cooked medium, juicy, red, six pieces per plate- and of course the chorizo, that garlicky goodness that comes in form of a spanish sausage. Cut into bite size chunks, hiding beneath the layers of yellow rice with fennel and cumin seeds. Extraordinary. Out of this world. Better than I can even tell you.
Plate two yielded the veggie- green beans, rabe, red peppers, olives, and capers galore. While I love veggies, and I love paella, the meat stole my heart, and as if to be conservative at this all you can eat fest, my mom and I split our last plate of meat paella, bringing us both to the 2.5 plate mark that we promised ourselves we wouldn’t surpass. The veggie paella had a stronger taste of fennel, and while I like fennel, it was borderline overbearing, yet I enjoyed it nonetheless.
To finish off Paella Feast 2011, we decided to behave ourselves and split a dessert. Trent, aka homeboy, makes all the desserts at Local, and ever since I started eating there at age 9, I’ve always thought he was the coolest guy working at any restaurant in Portland. To be honest, he’s straight up gangster- even though people have told me otherwise, and the desserts that he makes are out of this world breath-taking and mind captivating. We settled on a lemon curd tart- without debate, and enjoyed every last morsel of that flaky crust, that tart filling, and those juicy blackberries used to garnish.
Now fast forward six days, and enter Local 188 at 7pm. A party of 22 are seated- all for my semi-surprise birthday party. 22 high school students, from Portland, Casco Bay, and Waynflete, piled in, making their rounds after the art walk, all to help me celebrate my 17th birthday. I had requested Sarah to be my waitress, and we were sat in the main dining room, a long table commanding attention from our fellow diners. I sat at the head of the table, next to my beau and one of my oldest friends, looking down at all my guests, enjoying every moment of their company- not to mention the absolute hospitality of the restaurant with what, doing 22 separate checks for all of us. The kitchen sent the entire table tastes of manchengo cheese and a radish chutney. We were all served our appetizers in a timely fashion- things ranging from green salads, to quail eggs, to scallops, to the soup de la noche.
I must tell you how lucky I am to have such cultured friends. The overall diversity in the food that was ordered, I found to be unreal. Especially from a group of high school students, but regardless, it was to my liking. Entrees ranged from paella, steak tartare, and quail, to gnocchi, tortilla de la noche, and the nightly prepared hanger steak. I suppose I had been craving more, because I ordered the house paella, full of seafood, chicken, and chorizo, which although went under-eaten, due to my incessant mingling, was rather delicious and satisfying.
As if out of a fairytale, my mother, the infamous A, crashed my party (though I must say it was rather staged) and brought in homemade chocolate chocolate cupcakes, that fed the entire table. After being serenaded with song, I contemplated whether or not I should blow out my candles. Impulsively I did, meaning no wish, but hey, what more could I wish for? I’ve got great friends, I eat great food, and I’m happier than I’ve been in a very long time. 2011 has been shaping up to be a great year, and it’s only been fifteen days!
As I’ve digressed I should return to the topic at hand- and just say that Local was so accommodating, letting us stay as late as we wanted, catering to our whims (though we didn’t have any unreasonable ones), and being incredibly welcoming and personal. This visit to Local defines my love of the place because everything turned out perfectly, the evening was better than I could have imagined, and I shared a spectacular memory with my favorite people in my favorite restaurant. So even though I’ve recommended Local countless times before now, I’ll be completely blunt and tell you that if you don’t go, you’re surely missing out on one of the best restaurants that Portland has to offer.
[PS] I’m going to Local tonight, right after I get out of work, to celebrate a dear yogis trip to Asia for the next six months. To Meg & Toji! Celebrate the good times to come, and safest travels. xxoxoxo.