Friday December 13, 2013 | 07:28 AM

There’s something wonderful about an old favorite restaurant that gets better with age.  And in this case, it’sLocal 188.

With the flip of a switch, owner/chef Jay Villani is back in gear at the stove.  He wasn’t happy lately with the goings on at the restaurant, and he’s in charge again bringing back his particular style of Continental-Mediterranean-Costa Brava-style of cookery.

Named for its old location at 188 State St, this local eatery has flourished in its expanded quarters across the street at 685 Congress St.

I stopped in with two friends the other night for dinner where  Jay was hard at work in the kitchen.  Now that his Salvage BBQ is hugely popular and Sonny's as good as always, he wants to focus on his original dining establishment .

An invigorating lounge now has more seating for dining

We were lucky to get a great table in the lounge. That space has changed somewhat. .  Where it was mostly sofa seating to drink or eat hunkered down at a low-slung coffee table, it now has comfortable seating around large tables.  It’s a bit quieter than the main dining room and offers a fine vantage point to see the entire restaurant. 

The menu is more focused and offers some very tantalizing dishes.  We started off with a Ceviche of paper-thin slices of local scallops beautifully presented though I thought it needed more assertive citrus brine. But they were still very good.

Beautifully presented local scallop Ceviche

From the tapas list we tried the deviled eggs topped with crispy strands of fried onions.  That definitely made the dish. Also good was the cured white anchovies.. Additional cold small plates  include marinated feta, steak tartare with truffle oil and quail eggs and house-smoked olives. For a hot tapas offering we loved a hot dish of the quail eggs baked in a Moroccan red sauce.

Creamy deviled eggs with crispy onions

Quail eggs baked in Moroccan red sauce

Our waitress,  a potter by day, was also a great server, guiding us through the main course selections.  These included Portuguese clam stew with black beans and house-made chourico.  Another plate under “raciones” (smaller entrees) was the hangar steak served with local carrots and braised kale, which my friend Sonnie loved as her entrée. 

Hangar steak with local carrots and kale

My dish of house paella was chock full of marinated chicken, house chourico, mussels, mahogany clams and saffron rice.  It was all very good, though I thought the dish needed more chicken.

The house paella filled with chicken, clams, mussels and chourico over saffron rice

George, the third in our party, heartily dug into the Portuguese clam stew with black beans and chourico.

The Portuguese clam stew with black beans

For dessert we shared a very good flan with a garnish of cranberries.  Other sweet endings include Kentucky butter cake, basically a riff on pound cake; walnut bread pudding and a cinnamon baked apple with vanilla-pumpkin puree, coconut whip and crisp crumb.

Excellent flan with cranberries

It’s always true that when the boss is in the restaurant it runs better and everyone is happier for it.  In this case, with Villani back at the stove you’re apt to get a very good meal.

 I’m glad to reacquaint myself with Local 188. With so many new restaurants springing up in Portland all the time, it’s nice to go back to an old favorite, especially when it’s fresh and good.

 


 

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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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