Dining Out at Legal Harborside
The seafood chain has debuted a flashy fine-dining concept on the waterfront—and despite a few early hiccups, things are going swimmingly.
The more-classic appetizers are a surer bet. With a base of deep-flavored stock, lobster soup ($14) was elegant and silken. Lobster cocktail ($18), meanwhile, is set over dry ice, and when hot ginger tea is poured over it, a smoky cloud is released; the whole preparation benefited from a coconut vinaigrette with sriracha chili sauce and cilantro. Shrimp cocktail ($20, right) was even more dramatic: five almost scarily big shrimp are arranged on a hollow ice globe made by rolling a balloon in liquid nitrogen. It’s so Vegas-y you won’t mind paying $4 a shrimp, particularly if they’re really good, as they were at the second dinner.
At the first one, though, they were waterlogged and mealy, and at the third imperfectly cleaned, so you could see black flecks of intestine. Oddly enough, the most successful first course was meat: crispy pig’s head ($13) with fried clams. The shredded meat was formed into a croquette, breaded, deep-fried, and served with a vinegary ravigote sauce. And at my first two dinners the finest entrées were meat or poultry, too. The best was Misty Knoll Farms chicken accompanied by truffled celery-root purée and a big raviolo with oozing egg-yolk filling ($28). The white meat was moist from being prepared in a fancy CVap oven, which uses controlled steam to cook meat evenly. That oven also produces the Pineland Farms tomahawk steak ($56), which was a perfect medium-rare from the center to the butter-seared exterior. The steak is so good it’s almost worth the price.
I can’t say the same about the $54 butter-poached lobster, which comes with a few steamed mussels, chorizo bits, and pearl onions garnished with corn foam. As a whole, the dish was frilly and bland. Reassuringly, the best main courses at my third dinner were fish. The kitchen uses exotic species Legal hasn’t featured before, like hiramasa, a fish usually farmed in Australia. Here the firm, salmonlike fillet is sautéed and well paired with smoky eggplant purée and a not-too-sweet tomato-ginger chutney ($36, right). (One night, however, the purée tasted doused in liquid smoke; another night it was just alluringly smoky.) My favorite fish entrée showcased Borgia’s Siena training: pan-seared cobia ($32). Rich and firm like hiramasa, it’s served with kalamata vinaigrette and a Tuscan-style stew of green beans braised with olive oil, tomatoes, fennel seed, and rosemary.
Abalone was less successful; it’s something I always find tough, and Legal’s version, served in a scaloppine with lemon risotto ($45), was no exception. Desserts aren’t much worth trying, though three scoops of warm sticky-toffee pudding ($9) were pleasantly sweet. The gianduja torte ($11, right) was a bit too sweet, but reminded me of a radically upgraded 3 Musketeers bar, which I’ll admit I love. The food, then, isn’t where I bet it will be in another year, or even another few months. But Legal Harborside is a glorious new luxury liner, and Roger Berkowitz is pacing the decks, surveying it all. Soon it’s likely to be in full sail.
Sautéed hiramasa with smoky eggplant purée and tomato-ginger chutney, $36.
Shrimp cocktail with lemon, $20
Gianduja torte with hazelnut-praline powder and chocolate sauce, $11
Legal Harborside Floor Two, 270 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-477-2900, legalseafoods.com.
Critic Corby Kummer—an editor at the Atlantic and author of The Pleasures of Slow Food—has been reviewing Greater Boston’s top restaurants in our pages since 1997.