Food begins with garlicky focaccia in a paper napkin in a wire cone. The dip is a white-bean paste like hummus, with fabulous olives. A best buy among the appetizers is cherrystone clams ($1.25/each) from the “Bare” menu. They’re served on melting ice, impeccably fresh even on Sunday night, and hardly bare — one has a choice of a soy dip or cocktail sauce. Mysore rasam seafood soup ($3.95; $14.95/main dish) is a redo of a dish on the Legal menu, an Indian soup with rich spices but not too much hot pepper, nicely filled with sea scallops and shrimp.
A more radical departure from Legal’s past is the whole-wheat pizza ($9.95), healthful crust almost as thin and crisp as a potato chip topped with fresh mozzarella, cherry-tomato halves with actual flavor, and dabs of arugula pesto. The whole is a bit greasy, but entirely satisfying and delicious.
Grilled tuna Niçoise ($12.95) is actually seared, sushi-quality tuna. The garlic of a traditional salade Niçoise is adjusted down to a Caesar-like dressing on greens, egg, green beans, seeded olives, and halved grape tomatoes. Steamed mussels ($9.95) are simple and classic, served in a garlic-wine sauce (or you could choose Thai green curry).
Seafood pho ($13.95) is a novel spin on the Vietnamese beef soup. The broth is surprisingly sweet and a little hot, and mostly taken up by the cellophane noodles, so we have a mini-wok full of noodles, pea pods, shitake and straw mushrooms, squid, sea scallops, and shrimp. Of the traditional mix-ins, bean sprouts, Asian basil, chili paste, and hoisin sauce are offered. It’s fun and tasty, if not convincing as fusion. The anise-flavored Asian basil is terrific in this mix.
Reaching “Zazzle” we tried “native calamari” ($15.95). None of those wetback squid for us. Our choice of method was grilled, and LTK’s kitchen knew exactly how much to grill squid before the rubber meets the road. Our sauce was “tatsiki,” a cooling cucumber-yogurt mixture, and the sides were real Thai jasmine rice and baby spinach sautéed to nearly nothing, but tasty.
The wine list runs from $19 bargains up to $85 classics, and offers a variety of tasting flights. They offer three different glass sizes, or wine by the bottle. The featured 2005 Babich sauvignon blanc ($2.75/two ounces; $5.50/four ounces; $9.25/six ounces; $28/bottle) was exquisitely aromatic, with all kinds of tropical fruit in the best New Zealand manner. Decaf ($2.50) is also quite good.
Desserts are a major test area for a restaurant concept that began with no desserts. My favorite of those tested was “BCP” ($6), an update on Boston cream pie concentrating on the custard layer, with a thin layer of sponge cake below and chocolate sauce above. The “big pancake” ($6) is pancake batter baked in a mini Bundt mold, then drenched with real maple syrup and decorated with berries. Strawberry wonton ($6) needs better strawberries, but is a structurally sound tower of fried-wonton-skin discs with whipped cream. Parfait latte ($6) is coffee-and-vanilla-flavored mousse served to look like ice cream in a parfait dish.
The hi-tech part of the concept was barely functional after a month, other than the high-def TVs tuned to the Red Sox. The Wi-Fi tablets access the Intranet menu and Google, but don’t have enough processor to read AOL Web-mail (or maybe they were programmed that way?). The iPod docks were not in the dining room where we ate.