December 18, 2017 | BITE: My Journal

Mastering the Passage at Legasea


We ask for more dark meat and a chef himself delivers a fresh batch of fried chicken. Photo by Dana Stoddard.

          We’re deep into fried chicken tonight at Legasea. We fixed on it under the listed “Pots and Pans to share.” A grotesque mob of indelicate battered wedges and giant biscuits is piled onto a dishtowel on the pan that sits in front of us. There’s honey butter and hot sauce and honeyed hot sauce. This is serious.



Bulky bundles of crusty bird are piled on a dishtowel with outsize biscuits on top.


          The pieces are so massively coated in crust that it’s impossible to tell what’s white meat and what’s dark without making an incision. I recognize a leg and claim it, so nutty in its ugly wrap, so juicy. That’s the overnight bath in organic buttermilk. My niece Dana is scouting a thigh. Happily Lyn goes for the white meat. I don’t know our fourth companion tonight well enough to scare her away from claiming a thigh.



Everyone offers branzino but you don’t find wild branzino on many menus.


          There’s a large slab of wild branzino on another plate with lettuce curls, and a bowl of farro tossed with golden raisins, romanesco cauliflower, and mint in a small bowl alongside. Though the thicker side of the fish is a bit too cooked for me, it’s just right for Lyn.



Our friend across the table seems to be checking out the extra fried chicken, but she’s just dodging the camera.


          Even so, the bird is disappearing fast. “We don’t have enough dark meat here,” Dana tells the waiter. “You didn’t give us enough dark meat. Can you ask the chef to send more?” She’s from Montana. I want to tell her that in New York City you can’t just eat all the dark meat and ask the kitchen to send more, even if one of the executive floor walkers here seems to have noticed that I’m me.



“Spicy” means a super dose of heat in the smashed cucumber with ponzu chile sauce.


The spicy crab beignets with chipotle crème fraîche and butter powder are even better the second time.


          The additional bird is taking a while to appear. Not that we’re hungry. We’ve shared starters: an acceptable Caesar, smashed cucumber brilliantly ignited with ponzu-chile sauce, and the spicy crab beignets primed with chipotle crème fraîche and stuffed into small buns.



Ask for bread and you get warm Hawaiian rolls slicked with escargot butter and a side of relishes.


Sheep’s milk ricotta, cole slaw and a little tin of pickles come with the bread.


          The sybaritic Hawaiian rolls slicked with escargot butter are still warm and we’ve kept the sheep’s milk ricotta dip, the chickpea tahini and the side of pickles. I’m dabbing a puff of bun with the last of the ricotta when one of the cooks delivers our chicken. No surprise, we’re too stuffed to finish it. We ask for twin carry-home bags: white and dark.


Mint chip, chocolate sorbet and Greek yogurt sundae with hot fudge, salted caramel and toppings.


The mirrored specials near the bar draws you into the room.


          Dessert is a distinctly different category. We'll have the “Sundae Bar,” three giant scoops – mint chip, chocolate and Greek yogurt sorbet -- and four toppings. The tower is about to topple over as we dig in. Is it possible this costs only $16.25? Or is it another bow to a critic?


Battered and fried long island calamari, with shrimp and zucchini to drag through cherry tomato sauce.


Yellowfin tuna au poivre with green beans in a puttanesca sauce.


           An earlier dinner, just after opening, was equally satisfying, even though the serving crew had yet to acquire sea legs. We started sharing those same crab beignets, and a chopped green goddess salad with avocado, green beans and chickpeas. We dragged crisp fried calamari and zucchini through a light cherry tomato sauce. Yellow fin tuna au poivre was a tablemate’s choice and quite lively.



Chatham cod fish and chips, fish exuberantly fresh, chips extra dark as ordered.


The four of us divide the double bar burger with cheddar, tomatoes and 1000 island dressing.


          And everyone was pleased by the Chatham cod fish and chips -- the fish wondrously fresh, delicately coated. I got my quarter share of the double bar burger, layered with cheddar, red onion and tomato and painted with a thousand island sauce that reminded me of my childhood.



The lightly browned mac and cheese layered with smoked gouda and white cheddar remind me of my mom’s.


          The truth is I don’t really need more than the macaroni and cheese with a mixed melt of smoked gouda and white cheddar, browned on top and a bit crusty. It’s enough like my mom’s that for a moment I can imagine her hovering overhead and saying, “But mine is browner, and isn’t American cheese good enough?”



The Rockwell Group’s design is complex and lively and welcoming.


          Gooey chocolate-caramel cake. Double-layer cheesecake with cherries. Banana cream parfait with vanilla wafers and caramel. Yuzu Bismarck doughnut with marshmallow meringue. There are many intriguing dessert temptations, but we are simply too full to handle even one.


          The Tao group, led by Marc Packer and Richard Wolf, has a longtime, loyal following of dining and nightlife savants and doesn’t need to be overly obsessed about the food. But maybe an expert touch in the kitchen is one reason for the devoted turnout.



Legasea is one flight up from the entrance to the Moxy Hotel. Photo by Dana Stoddard.


          It was Café Du Monde’s beignets sprinkled with powdered sugar, on chef partner Ralph Scamardella and executive chef Jason Hall’s study tour of New Orleans that inspired the butter powder on Legasea’s crab beignets. Hall auditioned a dozen hot sauces before settling on Crystal Hot Sauce. “It’s a bit low brow,” he tells me, “but it has the right amount of acidity.” I like obsession.

Chef de cuisine Jason Hall and Tao executive chef Scamardella toured New Orleans and conferred on sauces.

          If our server is any example, the Tao directors encourage the crew to make traveling salesmen and visiting rubes feel as welcome as the smart hotties restaurateurs covet. Tao also relies consistently on the Rockwell Group. who created the stunning Asian fantasy of Tao Downtown. Here David and the Rockwellians have put together tiles and bricks, driftwood-like tabletops, ship’s rigging at the bar, and a collection of lighting options that signal relax, make a friend, make a sale, make a conquest. Dare to ask for seconds on fried chicken. Say you didn’t get enough thighs. It’s not like you’re eliciting sexual harassment.



Louisiana’s pure Crystal Hot Sauce is a fiery option.


485 Seventh Avenue at West 36th Street in the Moxy Hotel. 212 268 1888. Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 5 pm. Dinner Sunday to Tuesday 5 pm to midnight. Wednesday through Saturday 5 pm to 1 am.

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