Location: 1113 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square. 412-371-1815
Hours: Tue.-Thu. 5-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.
Prices: Starters $6-9; entrees $16-23
Fare: Carefully considered, Continentally inspired American
Atmosphere: Casual bistro
Liquor: BYOB, with $3 corkage fee
Smoking: None permitted
With neighborhoods, as with cars and clothes, one size does not fit all. The place to be when you're 25 may lose its luster once you've traded in the convertible for a mini-van, and miniskirts for a diaper bag. For the with-children set, Regent Square has undeniable allure: dog-walking in lower Frick Park, child-playing in upper Frick Park, an ice-cream stand at one end, a beer distributor at the other, and an arthouse movie theater in between. In the past few years, Braddock Avenue has also added an array of high-quality, family-friendly eateries, which are increasingly taking advantage of the broad sidewalks and neighborhood foot traffic to create one of the city's best little dining areas.
The latest addition is Legume Bistro, an ambitious little restaurant that has utterly transformed an old pizzeria with an atmosphere as easygoing as its palate is sophisticated. A pleasing butter-yellow and aqua paint scheme provides the background to the friendly yet restrained interior, highlighted with botanical prints that keep the focus on the food.
You'll do well to keep your focus there as well. The daily menu, highlighting organic, locally grown, in-season ingredients, is brief but enticing. Jason had a fleeting thought of ordering all five entrees, but decided that it would require bypassing the appetizers, a sacrifice he was not prepared to make.
Alas, he was underwhelmed with his starter selections. Rillettes, a sort of paté made with shredded, slow-cooked pork, made a hearty topping for toasted baguette rounds, but the overall flavor was one-dimensional in its simplicity. The pickled wax beans on top were a clever reinvention of cornichons, their slightly sour flavor balancing the savory meat, but perhaps not enough. Creamy polenta with sweetbreads, duck confit and kale sounded even more promising, but the shreds of duck were too small to carry enough flavor so that, again, the overall effect was just shy of satisfying.
All was forgiven when the entrees arrived. Day boat scallops -- the term indicates premium freshness -- were as sweetly succulent as any we've had, and the Black Pearl pork chop, a porcine equivalent to high-quality Kobe beef, was, quite simply, the best Jason has ever tasted (and he's tasted a lot of pork).
Both dishes benefited from expertly calibrated cooking: The scallops were seared brown, not black, top and bottom, leaving a sweetly rare interior; the thick-cut chop was seared more deeply, nonetheless leaving the inside juicy and medium-rare. The side dishes were well worthy of such superlative protein: Crisp, homemade sauerkraut was refreshingly sour, not salty, and the pan-fried potatoes were fluffy-crisp. More inventively, the buttery scallops sat atop corn and a trio of legumes -- al dente lentils, crisp green beans and big, tender white beans -- tossed in a fresh-tasting tomato vinaigrette.
Meanwhile, Angelique had decided that at the end of summer, it would be a crime not to order the four-course vegetarian tasting, "Tomatoes Galore."
Tomato-watermelon soup was the color of a late-summer sunset and as cold and refreshing as a Slushee. The combination of its two main ingredients gave this soup a deep, complex sweetness, both fruity and vegetal; truly, this was summer in a bowl. Crusty crostini were piled high -- but not too high -- with finely diced red and green tomatoes and fluffy white feta, a topping both juicy and creamy. The salad of beets, potatoes, beans, egg and, of course, tomato was an unexpected alternative to the traditional garden mix. Finally, baked polenta had a wonderful texture, neither cake nor mush, and was studded with actual whole kernels of corn. It was topped with resilient kale, tangy goat cheese (though not enough) and fresh, astringent tomato sauce.
For dessert, rather than argue the virtues of chocolate truffle cake versus peach crisp, we ordered both and were glad we did. The crisp -- baked and served in a broad ramekin -- was close to perfect, with a crunchy, chewy top that balanced brown sugar and oats with the tender, ripe peaches within. But even this paled beside the extraordinary chocolate cake, which was rich and dense yet as melty and moist as the proverbial pudding. Heaven.
With the arrival of Legume, Regent Square has even more to offer. If it is not your neighborhood already, borrow it for the evening, and enjoy some of the freshest, best-prepared food in town.