October 29, 2008

Legume Meets (High!) Expectations

We had been in Legume Bistro in Regent Square -- aka, downtown Edgewood -- for a matter of 10 minutes, and already I felt like I had left western Pennsylvania. I won't say I had been "transported to a glorious place" or any nonsense like that, because then I'd have to slice off a pinky or something as punishment. But, at that moment, I did have a feeling of having escaped the boundaries of Pittsburgh.

And by the time I had chomped my first bite of a crisp crostini with chicken liver mousse and a sweet apple sliver, chasing it with a sip of a staggeringly good Spanish red wine, that feeling was completely substantiated.

I'm sure many people would recoil just reading "chicken liver mousse," and, to be honest, its color wasn't something that would instill lust in even more adventurous eaters. And I know that "chicken liver mousse" is a loaded term, conjuring up images of tacky chandeliers, funereal silence, musty odors, and waif-like waiters in black vests and skinny ties with slicked back hair and a built-in sneer for anybody who dares ask to split an appetizer.

But Legume is not that kind of restaurant, at all. It has simple food with obviously quality ingredients --much of it obtained locally -- prepared by what our experience there indicates is a skilled kitchen staff. It seats, by my guesstimation, about 40, in a rectangular room sparingly decorated with small prints of herbs and veg along the wall and diminutive lights and small, white round "platforms" hanging from the ceiling.

It's BYOB. And you'll drink your beverage from small, plain tumblers. The service is professional and friendly. The menu has a brief choice of appetizers and entrees, and an even more austere list of "sides" and desserts. The customers are not concerned with being quiet, nor should they be.

My wife's appetizer, just as delicious as my mousse, was warmed goat cheese and roasted pears, coupled with a single pickled sour cherry and bean. Again, very simple, but really enjoyable.

I had -- and still have, in fact -- a hankering for red meat, so chose for my entree the lamb shank with roasted carrots, radishes, salsify, on a bed of spaetzle. My wife had monkfish and mussels in a creamy and rich, yet light, broth with potatoes and leeks.

Both were excellent. The lamb was very tender and not overwrought with herbs, particularly rosemary, as is often the tendency even in better restaurants. The vegetables were cooked to perfection. I particularly enjoyed the salsify. The spaetzle was a neat touch. The monkfish melted in your mouth, and the mussels were as delicate as any I've had.

The lone disappointment was the dessert. A warm gingerbread with poached quince and whipped cream. It was adequate, but forgettable.

I'd been meaning to go to Legume for quite some time, and hope to return soon. Having been in operation less than two years, based on my limited experience, it's clearly among the elite class of Pittsburgh restaurants, without making you cringe when the check comes.

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