In the Czech Republic, "lokal" means a gathering spot for regulars to eat and drink. It's a befitting name for a neighborhood restaurant based in the space previously known as Rosebank Café. The renovated Bohicket Marina restaurant — named in honor of chef/owner Mike Petrillo's wife's Czech heritage — is bright and has an aquatic theme with ultramarine blue trim, a sea life wall mural, white-and-blue tiled floor, and a porthole window. Upon entering, you're greeted with a handful of cocktail tables, a raw bar that exhibits chilled wine in lieu of oysters, and a large bar that was previously enclosed by a wall. The open space seats up to 110 guests with dark, wood-paneled booths and opposing large windows ensconcing the scenic backdrop of the active marina. The interior décor is a vast improvement from its previous condition, as well. The dishes, however, need some work.
A menu will tell you everything you need to know about a restaurant. If the menu is simple, staying within one theme with seasonal ingredients, you can reasonably assume the plates to follow will emulate this balance. However, if you find the "fusion" approach, the melting pot of cuisines, then you're about to embark upon an "everything but the kitchen sink" meal. Lokal's menu lists a Tom Gai soup ($6), New Orleans barbecue shrimp ($12), a Cuban wrap ($11), crispy salmon roll ($13), and a lobster and crab gratin ($28) to name a few — a jambalaya of a menu, which, incidentally, is offered as well ($22).
My dinner began with a greeting of hush puppies from the kitchen in a cast iron skillet with a barbecue ketchup sauce, a highlight of the night. With the guidance of an educated and attentive server, I ordered the Cobb's Hill oysters on the half-shell (market price), which were delightful in their salinity and clean, briny flavor; they paired well with the mignonette served. The seafood trio appetizer ($16) to follow had the following description, "Scallop, Tuna, Crab Cake enough said." Well, there's actually a lot to say here. The unseasoned 5-oz. tuna steak served rare as ordered sat on top of a small seaweed salad with a sweet Thai chili sauce and a soy mayonnaise on the side. The crunch of the salad was a nice contrast to the tuna, but the combination on a whole was generic at best with all the seasoning coming from the cloyingly sweet chili sauce which lacked any heat. The two scallops were over-cooked and chewy topped with an ill-fitting charred green pepper purée over undercooked sautéed heirloom speckled butter beans. The crab cake, dense with mayonnaise filling, came with a side of traditional remoulade and an odd garnish of mixed greens in balsamic dressing, which unfortunately would rear its head again in another seafood dish. The one positive note — it's a considerable amount of seafood for the $16 price tag.
For entrees, I chose the highly recommended "Lokally inspired" Chef's Mixed Grill ($29 or market price) consisting of lightly breaded wahoo and two grilled scallops in a lemon buerre blanc over Asian noodles with stir-fried vegetables. The scallops were cooked properly, as was the wahoo, despite its unfortunate and unnecessary breading, but the congealed sauce that sat on top of the fish was more like an aioli in consistency. It didn't matter though because the pile beneath the seafood made it difficult to eat any part of the dish. Asian noodles with thinly shaved celery, red onions, and carrots sautéed in a light soy sauce was a flavor profile that did anything but complement the seafood and was akin to pairing salmon sashimi with spaghetti marinara. There's a reason why fusion food faded fast, and few are trying to resurrect it.
My dining companion ordered the lobster pot pie ($23), the top-selling entrée we were informed. The pie itself was a sight; a five-incher, overflowing with diced potatoes, peas, carrots, corn, dill, one big lobster claw with additional lobster meat topped with cheese mashed potatoes and garnished with, you guessed it, a few mesclun greens dressed in balsamic vinaigrette. Overlooking the fact that the dish was cold in the middle, the seasoning of the pie was unbalanced. Some bites were overly salty and some lacking any seasoning. The velouté sauce was thin and watery and the crust was dense. The entire dish felt overwhelmed and heavy handed.
Our accompanying side of squash casserole ($6) had good flavor though, and the vegetables weren't overcooked to mush. Less a squash casserole, it was more a dish of boiled squash in smoked tomato sauce topped with breadcrumbs.
Determined on my next lunch visit to find the "signature" dish that would make this restaurant worthy of a return trip, I made a large order. The Tom Ga soup was chock full of bamboo shoots, button mushrooms, baby corn, shrimp, grilled chicken, and cilantro. I missed the traditional lemongrass flavor and kaffir lime acidity necessary to balance the thick coconut milk broth, but I certainly got my money's worth at $6 per bowl. The Brussel Sprout Caesar ($12) consisted of blanched and then roasted halves of Brussels sprouts, artichoke hearts, roasted red bell peppers, Nicoise olives, and croutons in a parmesan Caesar dressing. Unfortunately, the Brussels soaked up most of the dressing and the other ingredients didn't pair well thanks to a muddling of flavors. The Lowcountry fried chicken sandwich ($12), with its thick slab of smoked ham, melted Havarti cheese, buttermilk ranch dressing, slaw, and fries, is a hearty portion not for the faint of heart. However, the boneless chicken breast was skinless and dry, and the bready crust did not adhere at all.
The best two dishes I tasted at lunch were the blue crab stuffed flounder ($28) and the P.E.I. mussels ($13). The flounder roulade, filled with the same crab mixture as the crab-cake, was floured and baked, and served over a delightful springy succotash in a light dill butter sauce. The dish- accompanying lemon herb Hollandaise sauce was too thick and needed more acidity, but the succotash with cherry tomatoes made this sauce unnecessary. The mussels were juicy and cooked in a delicate dill butter white wine sauce with cherry tomatoes. However, an excess of bacon tended to overwhelm the mussels.
I've been in all aspects of the restaurant business, chef/owner, on the line, expeditor, waitress, etc., and I can appreciate how tough the industry can be to survive, yet alone to thrive. Restaurants are a living, evolving enterprise and one note of praise can quickly turn sour, while one lackluster experience can possibly mature into a seasoned establishment. With the advent of summer bringing the onslaught of visitors to Seabrook and Kiawah, I hope Lokal is able to support patrons that seek local options and independent restaurant owners. Given the dearth of restaurants between the islands, perhaps with more customer volume and a wider range of available seasonal ingredients, Lokal will be able to respond in-kind with more consistently satisfying and simpler fare. Or perhaps it will be as its namesake implies, a place to meet up at the marina and have a drink and some oysters, before heading out for the evening.