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Legal Seafoods
The Court at King of Prussia
690 West Dekalb Pike
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
(610) 265-5566
www.legalseafoods.com

The Legal Sea Foods located on the site formerly occupied by Houlihan's in the Court at King of Prussia, is this Boston-based chain's first foray into the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Proof once again that, in the volatile world of restaurant one-upmanship, "Location! Location! Location!" is the name of the game.

Legal made its debut as a super-casual, down-home eatery associated with a fish store in Cambridge's Inman Square. Here locals came to devour huge quantities fried clams and fish 'n' chips on paper plates while seated at picnic tables in completely unassuming surroundings. Well, as the saying goes: "You've come a long way, baby" - and, in my opinion, not for the better.

What began as mom & pop hole-in-the-wall has morphed into a slick, ultramodern chain operation sporting 35 restaurants and who knows how many more on the drawing board. When this kind of corporate culinary hocus-pocus takes place, it is inevitable, in my opinion, that something gets lost in the sauce - not only the food and service but also that all-important human touch. Indeed, the atmosphere at dinner may only be described as "bedlam," and the harried servers are simply unable to keep up with the omnivorous invading hordes. Hardly conducive to a quiet, relaxing evening at table.

Let me hasten to add, however, that the quality of Legal's seafood is beyond reproach - which makes its highly-touted "Raw Bar" so incredibly desirable. Its "Treasures of the Reef" - an assortment of freshly shucked and chilled raw shellfish (small, $29.95/large, $54.95) - for example, is pristinely fresh.

On the other hand, once these noble denizens of Davy Jones' locker make their way into the kitchen, all bets are off. A starter of coconut shrimp ($10.95) offers entirely too much breading and entirely too little crustacean. And, as if to add insult to injury, the accompanying orange-ginger marmalade, when teamed up with the coconut chips, present diners with a nearly inedible cloying combo. And the Alaskan butterfish ($10.95) was equally disappointing. The tiny dollop of seaweed salad added a nice touch, as did the zippy wasabi cream sauce... but the butterfish itself was miniscule; most of the plate was taken up by a huge clump of white rice, which was never mentioned in the menu description.

Interestingly enough, the most satisfying starters tend to be those that major in greenery rather than seafood. The chopped Greek salad ($9.95) - diced olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta cheese - is absolutely first rate. And the same may be said for the blue cheese salad ($7.25), which comes replete with endive, frisée, toasted walnuts, pears, and an excellent blue cheese vinaigrette. If only other offerings were as consistent.

Unfortunately, like many of the appetizers, entrées also leave a great deal to be desired. The lemon-caper grey sole ($19.95), for example, exhibited a mealy consistency, was drowned in a viscous beurre blanc sauce, and sided by a gloppy, tasteless mound of jasmine rice. The swordfish, ordered cooked through, arrived at table nearly raw at the center accompanied by gummy mashed potatoes. The salmon ($20.95), a special of the evening, was hardly exceptional and pillowed on thick slices of slightly tough eggplant.

Even the fish and chips ($14.50), which hardly calls for rocket science on the part of the kitchen, was something of a disaster. Filets of cod and haddock were encased in heavy, bland-leading-the-bland breading and were companioned by generic fries and coleslaw.

How this place manages to draw the crowds it does is simply a mystery. There is no question that the seafood is impeccably fresh; but, as noted above, the kitchen doesn't seem to know what to do with it.

Interestingly enough, as you enter the establishment, there is a laminated reproduction of Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan's genuflecting "Very Good" review. When Legal opened its doors, it certainly didn't take Mr. LaBan long to zip right over and bestow his culinary imprimatur.

And yet... to my knowledge he has never darkened the door of Creed's Seafood and Steaks, a locally-owned restaurant just down the road (499 North Gulf Road, King of Prussia, www.creedskop.com) that prepares infinitely better seafood, in my opinion, than does the Legal conglomerate... It's your call.

The Artful Diner
April 2008

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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