Here we are again at 500 HarborView Drive, now J. Leonard's Waterside, formerly Pier 500.
I was here as a reviewer only two years ago; but now the place has a new name, a new owner (a partnership led by J. Leonard Schleider, owner of Cameo Caterers) and a new upscale American menu. There's even a new motto: "Fine Dining in a Casual Way." That means you can stop in after the ballgame for tournedos Atlantis with Madeira demi-glace.
I'm not unhappy about being here again, because this is a wonderful setting for a restaurant. Just about every seat in the small dining room and enclosed porch has a fine view of the water. With its deep-green walls, flickering candlelight and fresh flowers, the restaurant's decor is romantic, sophisticated, relaxing.
We've waited awhile to order, but that's OK. We've sipped our wine and lingered over the menu with its prices written out in words and no dollar signs. (As in Grilled Swordfish twenty-three.)
The waitress comes to take our order, and my friend asks if we can have some bread. "As soon as we take away the menus," our waitress says. Wow. What a rigid rule. How about saying, "Of course"? Especially as I'm about to order the lobster special, which I later find out costs forty.
This is a bit steep for the rich, mayonnaisey crab and lobster imperial, mounded in the shell of a lobster with no claws. A claw cracker and drawn butter on the side, yes, but no claws.
A nondescript stuffed potato comes with it. If you want a salad, add another four to the price.
But if the money isn't of great concern to you and you choose carefully, you can have a good meal here. There's a decent if not extensive list of mainly California wines, not pricey considering the food. And except for the staff's not giving us bread until they are sure we're going to order, the service is fine. Even the busboy is excellent, and how often do you notice the busboy at a restaurant?
I do have to steer you away from the seafood chowder with havarti gratinee, which tastes like canned clam chowder with a little seafood and melted cheese added. Forget it, and start with mussels Rockefeller, a seductive and not overwhelming layering spinach, a bit of crab and hollandaise over grit-free mussels on the half shell. Crab and grilled portobello mushroom cradled in puff pastry with that Madeira demi-glace is just as good.
The kitchen also has a nice way with fish. Both the rockfish and tuna fillets are thick, very fresh and not overcooked. I'm not wild about the teriyaki sauce that comes with the sesame seed-encrusted tuna; it's intensely concentrated and salty. But the rockfish's delicate, buttery sauce suits it just fine. Fresh green beans come with each.
Our desserts include Key lime pie and a warm chocolate bread pudding, perfect examples of their genres. But the hands-down winner is a crunchy hazelnut bar that's the base for a creamy chocolate mousse edged with creme anglaise. In fact, I can't think of a better place than J. Leonard's to go for dessert, coffee and a superb view of the harbor.
J. Leonard's Waterside
Where: 500 HarborView Drive
Hours: Open every day for dinner only
Prices: Appetizers, $4-$9; entrees, $13-$40. Major credit cards
Pub Date: 4/20/97