Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Legal Seafood

Legal Seafood is a bit of an institution in the Northeast.  They are a chain of seafood restaurants, known for being a bit more upscale than your standard chain restaurant, although still pretty casual style.  They've been around since the 1950's.

Most of the Legal Seafood restaurants are regular sit down establishments with waiter service, but they also have seafood markets attached to some of the larger locations that sell fresh seafood, and an online shop that will ship anywhere in the US.  The majority of the restaurants are in the Boston area, including the airport, which has full service restaurants as well as quick togo stands.  In addition to the normal restaurants, they operate several "test kitchens", which have more innovative menus.

I've been to Legal numerous times over the years, but I don't have notes from most of my visits, as they occurred before I started this blog.  I've never been blown away by a meal at a Legal Seafood, but it is generally pretty solid.  The menus are full of classic dishes, aren't very innovative, and it always seems pricey for what it is, but it is a dependable choice if you are in the area.
Cajun Seasoned Grilled Scallops ($8.95), Jalapeño Cheddar Polenta ($3.95), Seaweed Salad ($3.95)
On one visit to Legal, I wasn't looking for a large meal, and all of their regular meals are rather insane portions.  And, I didn't have a dining companion to split with.  So, I made myself a more reasonable sizes meal, out of several side dishes.  I actually thought it turned out to be the perfect size meal, and was quite happy with my picks!

I started with a skewer of grilled scallops.  Normally an add-on item that you can add to any entree, but you can also order it a la carte (although, the menu won't tell you this anywhere).  They can be customized with a bunch of different "flavors", including spices ("everything spice", cajun spice, chettinad spice) or sauces (red onion jam, shandong sauce, lemon chive butter, smoked shrimp butter).  I knew the scallops would be a bit bland without a sauce, so for additional flavor, I went for the cajun rub, which I thought would be a good compliment to the grilling technique.

They were medium sized scallops, not tiny bay scallops, but also not the large ones I was hoping for.  They were beautifully grilled, with very visible grill marks.  Sadly cooked all the way through, not mid-rare like I'd prefer.  There was no flavor to the scallops themselves, no signature sweetness I was looking forward to, and somehow the cajun seasoning really didn't amp them up at all.  I somewhat question if it was there.  I wish I had picked one of the flavored butters instead, but I'm not sure how that would work with a grilled item?

Since  I felt like the scallops really needed a sauce, so I asked for a side of tartar sauce.  The tartar sauce was mayo based, had lots of pickles, but wasn't really interesting.  I usually love dunking things in tartar sauce, but I didn't feel compelled to try much of this, and it really didn't go well with the scallops.  The tartar sauce is a signature item of Legal Seafood, sold in supermarkets even, so I was surprised that it wasn't more flavorful.

Overall, decent execution, but not the best quality product.  $8.95 for a skewer was a good price however.

I also got two of the regular sides.  I wanted something light, so I went for the seaweed salad.  It was highly unremarkable.  Not much flavor in the sauce, but the seaweed was at least fairly fresh tasting.  I wouldn't get it again, and $3.95 for the very small portion was a bit high.

My other side pick was the polenta.  I love polenta.  I was expecting a bowl of creamy polenta, not polenta cakes, but this was a pleasant surprise.  They had a great crust on them, well seared on the outside, but delightfully creamy inside.  However, they were very heavy on the cream and cheese, rather actual polenta, so I didn't really taste any cornmeal.  I like cream and cheese, but ... I did want to taste the corn.  Like the scallops, I wanted a sauce with them, even though the jalapeño provided a slight heat.  I tried using the tartar sauce, and it actually worked better on the polenta cakes than the scallops, but still wasn't quite right.  $3.95 for two large polenta cakes was a fine price.

I also had a few bites of my dining companion's grilled rainbow trout.  It was a very thin filet, but like the scallops, nicely grilled and quite moist.  It wasn't my thing, but the execution was good.

Also not pictured is our appetizer, the Bang Bang Cauliflower ($5.95).  It was battered, fried cauliflower in a kung pao style sauce.  Unfortunately, there was too much batter, so you couldn't taste the cauliflower at all, and the cauliflower that was there was hard and undercooked.  The sauce was sweet and unremarkable.  Very meh, not even worth a second bite.

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On a prior visit to the area, I got delayed at the Boston Airport, so I took advantage of my extra time, and went to the full service sit down Legal Seafood in the airport.  I expected it to be like eating at one of the regular restaurants, but alas, it was not.  Service was indifferent, food wasn't very good.

We started with the clam chowder, a signature Legal Seafood item.  It had shockingly few clams, and the ones that were there were super rubbery and overcooked.  A surprise, as this is an item you can even buy online and have shipped to you, so I kinda assumed it was standard everywhere.  Really not good.

Next, we went for the fish and chips.  I'm not sure what the fish was, but the breading wasn't flavorful nor crispy, and the pieces were incredibly oily.  The fries and cole slaw were completely generic, and could have been from anywhere, and were not very good.  The tartar sauce had absolutely no flavor.   I guess we were at an airport, but the $16.95 price tag seemed high for the low quality.

Not a single thing we ate in this meal was any good, and I'm glad it wasn't my first experience with Legal.
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