Locale Café and Bar quietly slipped onto the Bergen dining scene in late winter, opening without any fanfare. In fact, if you live on the other side of the county, you may have never heard of the restaurant, but consider this a prompt to put it on your radar.
The new owners of the property have transformed the former Korea Palace into a streamlined, contemporary space, warmed with dark wood floors and a rich color palette of browns and golds. Despite this modern look, the mood is firmly old-world, thanks to the gracious, all-male wait staff and a sharp-eyed, courtly maitre d’.
In the menu, executive chef James Corona demonstrates his global cuisine chops, interspersing the Italian offerings you might expect with more eclectic ones.
The basket of airy, crusty Italian bread came with a silver dish of olive tapenade and white bean spread – an early indication of the chef’s attention to detail.
Corona also mixes up the refined with the rustic. A special starter of smooth and mild chicken liver pate on French bread toasts over a salad of unusual red watercress and medjool dates was earthy and satisfying; as was a napoleon of roasted beets with goat cheese. A wedge salad with applewood-smoked bacon and Gorgonzola was a nicely done version of the classic, but lobster bisque was too intense, with a tinny flavor.
Entrees were all beautifully plated, showcasing the variety of textures and colors in each individual dish. A huge roast breast of duck was perfectly cooked and traditionally accompanied by a lush Grand Marnier sauce, wild rice and just-done haricot vert. Both the mustard-crusted rack of lamb and rib-eye steak were equally as generous in cut; the lamb served with a creamy potato cake and ratatouille, the steak with hearty, crispy fries, shallot confit and a side dish of creamed spinach that while tasty, had an overabundance of cream. My entrée – three, fat, tender sea scallops atop a garlic-scented stew of which beans and escarole, napped with blood orange vinaigrette – was hands-down one of the best scallop dishes I have ever tasted. In the halibut special, eggplant caponata and braised escarole with Meyer lemon offered complex layers of flavors that buoyed the meaty yet bland fish.
We were happy to find that desserts at Locale are as good as the rest of the meal. Coconut panna cotta was silky and not overly sweet and both the tiramisu and Key lime pie were spot-on renditions of classics that are too-often poorly executed. Another excellent, traditional dessert was the tarte tatin, with soft, caramelized apples and flaky, buttery pastry. The restaurant also offers a menu of unusual teas – one of which I found to be an ideal ending to a substantial meal.
A final and charming touch was the decorative jar of fruit grappa – with a spigot on each side - that the host brought to our table and set on a stand. We were encouraged to fill our own cordial glasses – a far more gracious parting gift than the standard shot of sambuca and another reason why even if Locale is not “local” for you, it is indeed worth a visit.