The local foods movement--a social and environmental backlash against monoculture and the industrial food complex--is currently at the pinnacle of its red carpet glamour. But along with all the ideological devotees to the movement--CSA shareholders, farmer's market shoppers, home gardeners--there are those who are just out to make a buck.
In 2007, the Oxford English Dictionary crowned "locavore" the word of the year. This past spring, Christine Reid--owner of Red Room, Pair and the now-closed City Grill--opened a restaurant of the same name in Bown Crossing. A chalkboard sign defines the term: "Locavore: (N.) One who eats locally grown or raised food. From local + ending from devour." That definition is the most specific signage in the place. Besides R.R. Ranch beef, the tri-fold paper menu doesn't detail where anything else is produced; it just thanks a handful of "local partners" on the back page. As customers--locavores, presumptively--we're left to take the restaurant on their local word.
After biting into a particularly lovely pesto, onion and gorgonzola filled portobello panini on a recent lunch trip, I stopped my server. "Where does everything come from in this meal?" I asked. "Almost 100 percent of our produce is local, but it's hard to do everything 100 percent local in this geographic and economic climate," she responded.
But scanning the menu, there are a number of things that obviously aren't local: California avocados, Danish havarti, Nova Scotia smoked salmon, Bermuda onions, San Juan Island oysters. And while these items are all luxuries of the modern global food system, they nonetheless stick out at a restaurant named Locavore. So does the fact that the walls are lined with mass-produced vegetable-themed art. And the fact that the wine list is littered with non-local options.
But perhaps the most obvious disconnect between the local foods ideology--nourish your body with fresh food, know your farmer--and execution at Locavore became apparent on a recent dinner trip. A friend ordered the chicken piccata in a lemon caper beurre blanc ($12.95) and her face soured after the first bite. Pushing the plate aside, she flagged down our server and told her the chicken was spoiled. The server took the plate back to the kitchen to be examined. When she reemerged, she said two of the most unsettling things I've ever heard in a restaurant: "The chef questioned that before he sent it out." Yikes. And, "We have fresh chicken if you'd like him to make another." Shudder.
Though my other pal's Wimpi burger ($8.95) was top-notch, served on toasted focaccia with red onions and cheddar, and my Hagerman trout ($14) was pungent but edible, topped with poached eggs and a lemon caper beurre blanc, we had mostly lost our appetites after the chicken debacle. Regardless of what ideology or trend a restaurant espouses, or how many miles the tomatoes have traveled, a kitchen should never serve questionable food. Period.
--Tara Morgan prefers "ethicurean" to "locavore."Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Locavore.