What, you ask, would galleygirl be doing at Legal Seafood? Well, even I have parents, and since Galleymom will talk to anyone, at any time, at great lengths, we ended up with gift certificates to Legal, after Mom chatted up Derek Sanderson at a charity event...(Hussey!)
I know, once a month, in answer to the "Where can I get great New England Style seafood in Boston?" someone answers "People are gonnah jump all over me, but I stand by Legal's", or something similar...I usually nod along, because I've always remembered it as a decent place to get a piece of fresh fish, so I'm certainly not gonnah diss anyone's recommendation. I will give you that Legals' chowder is great, but I wanted to see, was there actually anything else that would rate as the best in town? After all, that's what we're continuously asked for here, or that's what I try to locate, not a decent meal, not decent fish--- GREAT fish.
I swore by Legal in the 80's...You couldn't get good seafood in every restaurant, Hong Kong style seafood hadn't established a beachhead in Chinatown, New Englanders pretty much ate baked stuffed scrod or fisherman's platters...Seafood was seen as exotic, or, as the ubiquitous Roger Berkowitz likes to suggest, less than safe...Hey, Legal has built a rep on telling everyone about the standards their seafood is tested with, intimating that if you're eating it elsewhere, you could be putting yourself at risk. But I was curious to try them once again, now that they aren't the only game in town.
We chose a variety of dishes, Seafood Fra Diavolo, skillet blackened tuna, a fisherman's platter.. I had already seen the woman at a near-by table with a woefully overcooked tuna slab, so I made sure to specify RAW in the middle...Their tuna was pan-seared with everything, kind of like an everything bagel, sesame seeds, garlic chips, salt, pepper, kitchen sink...Unfortunately, even though they warned on the menu that it was medium rare, one would be lucky if it was medium well. And to add insult to injury, there was a cool-cucumber cream sauce over it...What were they thinking; how many things can you do to embarrass a nice piece of tuna? When you've had the tuna at ECG, this tuna didn't come close. For the record, even the tuna at Barking Crab is better...if you've had the fra Diavolo at Village Fish, this left the searing edge of spicy, dense tomotoe-y sauce to be desired, the pan-sauteed sauce that captures the fresh essence of the tomatoes, while keeping the fish tender, the pasta finished in the skillet to soak up the heat...This was nice spaghetti with shellfish...When you've had a fisherman's platter at Essex Seafood, their fisherman's platter didn't measure up. As a matter fact, the FP didn't measure up to a lot of places...Lots of calamari, and for non-cephalopod eaters, as seafood platter types often are, that could be a big drawback...A 2" hunk of halibut, a few clams, lots of squid...I adore squid, but serve some people big calamari bodies, when they're thinking clams-plus, and they're not so ecstatic.
The positive, of course, is that one could get a decent version of these three disparate dishes in one place. Great for a corporate meal, great for a hard to please family, I guess. But food for people who love food? Food for the best seafood in Boston? I just don't see it. It made me sad, because I wanted to come out and say, "Yeah, you stuck up snobs, or anti-snobs (like me!), who think you can't get the best in a chain, you're wrong!" But Legal is not what it was, because decent is not what I'm looking for. Nothing (except the fish chowder) was the best you can get in our city. It may be the best in DC, and lots of the other far-flung outposts, but not here anymore...Are we looking for convenience, or food that's memorable? No one is going to post about a meal at Legal that keeps them awake nights, reliving every morsel in gustatory wet-dreams.
The food seemed homogenized to me...Imagine a seafood restaurant, on the East Coast, with no daily specials...Yes, they have their suppliers so firmly in place that they can count on them, but can the tuna be great *every*day? The effort to create consistency can lead to mediocrity...The food seemed to all be covered with lots of fat. I know this is restaurant style; we love to eat that fat, because fat is good, goddamit...But not when it's masking what should be a great piece of fish, and making it just "good". It seemed like they wanted to make sure people who didn't really like fish would like it here. This is restaurant style food, and it's a restaurant that you could find in the midwest, or at least as far away as Washington DC, and it would be the same...A big, grand restaurant with a big menu, kinda like when we import a steakhouse from KC to Boston. It reminded me of going to Anthony's Pier 4 with my parents, as a kid, kind of ossified..But when you institutionalize what should be regional food, do you lose something? In the case of Legal, the answer is yes.