After moving to a larger space in Oakland, Trevett Hooper's bistro returns, better than ever.
Photos by Laura Petrilla
When Legume closed its small Regent Square restaurant to expand in Oakland, fans were genuinely worried. How long could they wait to reopen? And could Legume maintain the high quality of its homey food in a bigger space?
The good news is that the food is better than ever, and now, you can enjoy it with improved amenities: a full bar, easy parking, a more sophisticated interior — and the hopes that with more seats (90 rather than 30), you can actually secure a reservation.
The space was completely revamped. And during renovation, the carpet was lifted to reveal a beautiful terrazzo floor, which became the focal point of independent designer Joy Robison’s makeover that features understated tones of taupe and pale blue. The result is a cool, modern space. Miki Szabo renovated the 30-seat bar, housed in a separate room that features mood lighting designed and installed by Rick McGee of Hilbish McGee Lighting Design.
Chef and owner Trevett Hooper and his wife, Sarah, relocated to the larger space for personal reasons: He wanted a place big enough that he could hire others to cook some nights and, as his young children get older, he could “get a night off once in a while to see a play or attend a parent-teacher conference.”
The food itself is wonderful. In fact, it has emerged as one of my favorite restaurants in Pittsburgh. The key to this place is high-quality ingredients — such as hormone and antibiotic-free meats and fishes, a variety of grains (farro, spelt, barley) and lots of veggies — all perfectly cooked and seasoned.
The menu is an interesting mix of simple and complex: Some dishes comprise three components with familiar ingredients—such as the rib steak with french fries, greens and red wine ($34) — while others are complex with less familiar components, such as crispy farro with sweet potato, candied ginger, chevre, mushrooms, pickled shallots and braised greens ($17).
The menu starts off with “Nice Things to Share,” usually including a wonderful, fresh pâté prepared by Hooper’s “right-hand man,” Justin Lewis. I sampled the pork, duck and pistachio pâté ($8), served with coarse mustard and toasted baguette from Mediterra Bakehouse; I was struck by the freshness and clarity of flavors in this country-style pâté.
The “Soups, Salads and Small Plates” portion of the menu changes daily but often includes one or two salads, a soup and a bean dish.
Again, the salads range from the simplest butter lettuce with homemade buttermilk dressing ($6) to kohlrabi and cauliflower salad with tiny homemade croutons, Swiss maiden cheese, cornichons and small bits of duck prosciutto—all tossed in a mustard vinaigrette ($8).
Of the “Mains,” I tried the spelt and beet risotto with ricotta, topped with a sunchoke salad and drizzled with pumpkin-seed oil ($17); I enjoyed the texture of the risotto with a little bit of “tooth” and the intensity of both the flavor and color of the beets, melded with the creaminess of the ricotta.
Another superb choice is the “Chicken Cooked Under a Skillet with Garlic” ($18); this is far and away one of the best chicken dishes I’ve eaten, featuring crispy, garlicky skin and tender meat—and it’s made to order with a 40-minute wait. During the wait, our server brought us a complimentary bluefish pâté (in itself impressive, since it’s not easy to make fatty blue fish into a tasty pâté) to help ease the wait.
The chicken is served with different accompaniments each night — but typically a starch (potato, other root vegetable or polenta) and a green vegetable.
An interesting, decadent side is the tallow french fries ($4): thin-cut, served in parchment, with a flavor that only tallow can impart.
The desserts are absolutely divine. The chocolate truffle cake ($6) is rich with deep chocolate flavor but light like a soufflé. The warm gingerbread with poached pear and whipped cream ($6) is a moist cake packed with spices like ginger, clove and cinnamon. The “Apple Quince Crisp” ($6) tastes as good as Mom’s — the fruit cooked perfectly with a crumbly, buttery topping.
Legume’s drink menu in the restaurant is relatively small, but well-thought-out nonetheless: a few aperitifs, four housemade cocktails, draft beers and about a dozen wines by the glass; the bar is full-service.
The servers were very efficient during each visit; like the space itself, they are lowkey.
Bottom line: The food at Legume tastes great. And that’s what really matters.
214 N. Craig St., Oakland (15213); 412/621-2700, legumebistro.com
Hours: Restaurant: 5-10 pm Monday-Saturday;
Bar: 4 pm-12 am Monday-Saturday
Prices: $6-$14 starters; $15-$34 entrees; $6 desserts
Full bar; major credit cards accepted; reservations; some vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options; wheelchair-accessible; no smoking;
parking in garage across the street (210 Craig St.) costs $2 with restaurant validation (ed. note: Legume no longer offers parking validation)
Trevett Hooper, Chef and Owner
What should we know about the new restaurant?
It’s remarkable that our whole staff came with us. We were closed for three-and-a-half months, and every single person came back — every dishwasher, server and cook. That’s something I’m really proud of.
What do you think about your new space?
I’m really proud and honored to continue cooking in the kitchen that chef Louis Moré [of the former tenant, Moré] cooked in for 40 years. I just have so much respect for him. He raised his family there, and I want to do the same thing. He cooked from the heart, and he’s a really sincere person. Our styles are different, but I want to cook from the same generosity that he did for so many years.
In terms of the cuisine, what is your goal?
I’m trying to make food that is, at one time, nourishing and delicious. And I think there’s this idea that there’s healthy food and there’s decadent food at opposite ends of the spectrum. I think that truly good food is both. And that’s the path we are trying to cook toward: a well-balanced meal made with good ingredients, properly seasoned — we’re not afraid of butter, salt or sugar. But when you are working with a good product and you cook it properly, none of those ingredients have to be used in excess.
Is there anyone who has influenced your point of view?
A lot of it comes from growing up in a household where my mom cooked good food, and my dad gardened. At certain times of the year, we would go strawberry-picking or to the apple orchard. I grew up in Maine, so we always had clams, lobster or haddock. We ate things that were basic. This way of cooking seasonally and produce-centered is the way I’ve eaten my whole life.
What advice do you have for home cooks?
Don’t try to cook like a chef. Keep it simple. A chef has so much mise en place on hand — chicken stock, veal stock — plus, tools to make it easier. I think a lot of home enthusiasts should be learning how to make a great roast beef or roast chicken.