Sunday, February 5, 2012

Feelin' Like a Tourist: Legal Seafoods with Celiac Disease

For years, I've raised an eyebrow at people who go to Legal Seafoods. Honestly, I found it stale and boring, and the type of place that only tourists go to. I also never understood the buzz surrounding their "award-winning chowder." I ordered it once, and it's one of the few things I've ever sent back to a kitchen. It was cold and runny, and the potatoes were mealy.. absolutely inedible. The chowder paled in comparison to the chowder at my old place of employment, Great Bay. The chowder at GB absolutely knocked it out of the park and is still the best chowder i've ever had.

After they introduced Legal C Bar in Dedham, however, I saw the changes going on at the company. They were evolving as a restaurant with new menus and decor, and I started to warm up to the company. Once I learned about their attitude towards food allergies, I warmed up even more. Legal Seafoods is one of the few restaurants where my little nephew can eat. He's got severe food allergies (dairy, eggs, nuts, mustard), and they take his allergies in stride and are prepared when we call ahead. The staff is trained about allergies, and I've heard they even scrub the dishwashers in the bar to prevent any cross contamination.

They also have a great dedicated gluten-free menu. The meal began with hot gluten free bread (!!) with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and poppy seeds on top. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the bread -- the texture was a bit rougher than their usual rolls, and they weren't crusty, but they were a little closer to cornbread in texture, though less crumbly. But the bread was moist and warm, and I was thrilled to have the rolls. Nothing makes me sadder than watching my husband eat his chock full o' gluten warm crusty rolls at a restaurant while I sip my water.

I was skeptical when I saw calamari on the menu, but it's battered with brown rice and cornmeal. I was still skeptical, as calamari is obviously fried, and I asked if the calamari was fried in the same oil as everything else. The server assured me that the calamari was actually pan fried to prevent cross contamination. I ordered it Rhode Island style, with hot peppers (is there any other way?), and was relatively pleased with the product. The pan frying vs. deep frying meant a chewier product, unfortunately. But I understand that I can't have it all! The flavor was great, though it would have benefited from a marinara dipping sauce.

I had a mild panic attack when I found a French fry in our calamari. I know that the fries at Legal are NOT gluten free, and I wasn't sure if that was because of the frying oil or because the fries were actually dusted with flour -- some places actually do that to boost crispiness. Our server let us know that the fries were not treated with flour, but she also double checked with our chef to make sure that I was still safe. I felt VERY taken care of, and every dish was delivered by the manager because of my allergy. The server also told me that though it isn't on the menu, Legal will pan fry French fries for its customers with celiac disease. Woohoo!

For entrees, I tried Anna's baked scrod, with jasmine rice and sauteed spinach. The scrod was perfectly baked, though I found the gluten free crumb to be a bit flavorless. A dash of salt and lemon juice helped a lot. The portion was plentiful, but it just wasn't my favorite.

My husband's entree was much more successful -- he got a mixed grille of seafood. Scallops, shrimp, mahi mahi, swordfish, and tuna, all cooked on the wood grille, with a side of broccoli and brown rice. I LOVED the shrimp and the scallops.. I stole two shrimp from him. They were perfectly cooked with just the right seasoning. I even enjoyed the swordfish -- I normally don't go for swordfish. Once you've seen prep cooks "deworming" a swordfish, your desire for swordfish changes. Next time I go to Legal (and there WILL be a next time), I am ordering the wood grilled shrimp.

The sad thing about Legal's gluten free menu is that all of the interesting sides are only on the regular menu. Broccoli and cheese, mashed potatoes, jalapeno cheddar polenta, seaweed salad, onion strings -- all of these things are contaminated with gluten. And honestly, I think this is easily avoided. Do the onion strings like the calamari, with brown rice flour and cornmeal. Use freshly grated cheese on your items instead of bagged shredded/grated cheese, and the broccoli, mashed potatoes, and polenta will be celiac safe. Use gluten-free vinegars and soy sauces in the seaweed salad. I hope someone at Legal will read this and take these ideas into consideration!

Our dessert was this decadent Belgian chocolate mousse parfait, both gluten free and sugar free. The rich chocolate mousse was light and fluffy, layered with an unsweetened whipped cream. It was pure dessert heaven. This was easily the best gluten free dessert that I've had since my diagnosis, and it gave my taste buds hope for dessert in the future.

Overall, this was a great experience. My gluten free needs were not only met, but they were understood by the entire staff. That's the biggest frustration for me, when I go out and eat. It's hard to explain celiac disease to people and get them to understand that I'm not on a gluten-free diet as a choice, but because I will become gravely ill if even the teensiest bit of gluten finds its way into my food. The food was good, and it wasn't even an expensive evening -- I believe our bill was $80. I will definitely be returning to Legal when I want some gluten free seafood. I am dying to try their crispy fried haddock. I miss fish and chips so much!

Check out Legal's gluten free and regular menus here.

Next up: The failed (but salvaged) gluten free mac 'n cheese experiment.

No comments:

Post a Comment