You’ll be forgiven for not knowing what to expect passing by LOKaL. Its decor (white tables, white chairs) is cookie-cutter “modern.” It opens at 9am but looks like a late-night spot (which it is—it closes at 2am). And the menu, which ranges from pierogi to scallops, is as intriguing as it is confusing.
Walk in and order, and you’ll realize that even though this food culls from a globe’s worth of ingredients, what comes out of the kitchen is the dense, rich food of Eastern Europe. Nearly every dish comes with a cream-based sauce—thankfully, usually on the side—and most have at least one thing on the plate that’s fried.
Take the cabbage cakes: patties of deeply fried cabbage, served with a mayo-like dip. There’s no contrast of flavors or textures—it’s just fat on fried. Same with the pierogi, which stuffs mashed potato inside tender, thin dough. This time, it’s carb on carb, and again, it’s not making any apologies for that fact. Even the braised short rib (pictured) comes topped with a dollop of goat cheese. A poblano pepper, stuffed with sausage, then wrapped in puff pastry and fried.
I find this gut-busting food a little thrilling. But I can’t condone the soggy pastry wrapping the poblano, the cold, overcooked crème brûlée nor the way-too-dense potato pancakes. Heavy food is easy to understand. But an Eastern European restaurant screwing up potato pancakes is too much for me to wrap my head around.