Still waiting for bells and whistles at LTK

Email|Print| Text size + By Devra First
June 30, 2006

We were promised Disneyland, but we wound up on a carousel at the county fair.

The new restaurant LTK, a hipped-up outpost of Legal Sea Foods (the letters stand for Legal Test Kitchen), started hyping its high-tech bells and whistles months before it opened. So, like excited kids, we show up with our iPods, ready to plug them in to the individual docking stations, to have our orders taken on the handheld wireless devices, to check out the digital menus we've read about.

But when we're handed menus, they're made of old-school paper. Our orders are taken on the handheld wireless device known as a pad. And the iPod docks are there, but unless you hold one right next to your ear, you can't hear your own music over what's playing on the restaurant's sound system.

But LTK, you said we were going on Space Mountain!

Despite its website's claim that the waterfront establishment "offers a glimpse into some of the restaurant industry's most innovative technology," it's clear that LTK's plan to digitally remaster the dining universe is still a work in progress. In the meantime, though, it offers a glimpse of something else: what can happen when a restaurant gets too caught up in its own concept. Namely, the food and service may lag behind.

LTK is brand spanking new, so there are bound to be some kinks to work out. But Legal runs such a tight mother ship, we figured its offspring would hit the ground running, with everything more or less in place.

Instead, it hits the ground creeping. At LTK, you don't get anywhere fast.

The restaurant doesn't take reservations; it has a preferred seating system, meaning you call that day and let them know you're coming. Then, when you arrive, you get bumped to the top of the waiting list and sent to the L-shaped bar for a drink. "Try our watermelon mojito!" the hostess calls after us. "It's awesome!"

Pity those at the bottom of the waiting list. We're at the bar for what is possibly decades. And the watermelon mojito is not awesome. It's made with melon-flavored booze instead of fresh fruit, and it tastes like a Jolly Rancher. (It's also not awesome when the profusely sweating bartender mops his forehead with his hand, swipes it perfunctorily on a cloth, and proceeds to mix drinks.) The Pome-rita, a margarita-like thing involving pomegranate juice, is much better. Also very good: a whole-wheat pizza "skin" covered in caramelized onions, mozzarella, and roasted tomatoes. The bar is fun. Everyone is friendly. We have a nice view of the stylishly decorated room, with its white brick walls and O-shaped, red-accented ceiling lamps. But we'd really like a table now.

When we finally do get one, we spend a very, very long time waiting to order. Then we spend a most absurdly long time waiting for our wine to be poured. And then we wait some more. We're doing more waiting than our waiter, so why is he getting the tips? We crank Beyonce's "Check on It" on our iPod dock, hoping he'll get the hint and check on us, but of course he can't hear the song. Neither can we.

Like its technology, LTK's menu has claims to reinventing the dining experience. Appetizers, entrees, and desserts be damned! LTK's categories include nosh, nibble, simmer, comfort, refresh, and zazzle. (Zazzle?) Why steak tips exhilarate while a tuna burger merely comforts, we'll never know.

It is true, however, that the juicy, delicious tips are better than the greasy burger, which has a weird aftertaste. Turf better than surf at Legal Test Kitchen? We know something is afoot. And indeed when we zazzle (which apparently translates to "customize," as you can choose your own sauce and sides) with an entrée of grilled sole in lemon caper sauce with garlic mashed potatoes and green beans, the fish is off-puttingly fishy, baked rather than grilled, and served without the potatoes. Our zazzle fizzles.

But a dish called angry lobster does make us angry. With the recent debate over whether selling and eating lobsters is humane, we'd at least like one that died for us to taste good. This poor guy's meat is left in its shell, which is then battered and deep-fried. It's served to us uncracked (and without a cracker) over noodles that purport to be chow foon but are actually lo mein. What meat we are finally able to coax out is tasteless and dry.

When our entrees are just about gone, the fries that were supposed to accompany them arrive. Then we get our glasses of water.

Legal Sea Foods isn't cutting edge. The food isn't particularly soulful. But it's reliably good, as is the service. That's a formula you don't want to mess with lightly, even in the name of innovation. That said, Legal's professionalism is a near guarantee that its iPod-playing, zazzling new charge will soon be whipped into shape. In a few months, it will be worth another visit.

Until then, caveat diner. At Legal Test Kitchen, we're the lab rats.

LTK , 225 Northern Ave., 617-330-7430. $3.95 (simmer)-$23.95 (heat up).


Cuisine: Seafood

Address: 225 Northern Ave., Boston (South Boston)

Phone: 617-617-7430

Prices: $3.95 (simmer)-$23.95 (heat up)

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