Legros and Motti a stunning addition to local scene

Karl Wells
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Legros and Motti
127 Harbour Dr., St. John’s
Phone 709-726-6884

Legros and Motti is stunning. It is without doubt one of the biggest and best looking restaurants in Eastern Canada. Legros and Motti is the kind of money-was-no-object Xanadu dining hall that would fit in comfortably in London (maybe Knightsbridge?) Toronto or New York.

I’m told the planning of this new waterfront colossus began more than two years ago.

It’s obvious. Owners Rob Moore, Wayne Moore and Leo Power left no detail to chance with this cathedral of gourmandization.

(Their names are also linked with The Keg and the coming Jack Astor’s chain restaurants at the same location.)

Given that the restaurant is located on the St. John’s waterfront I suppose it’s appropriate that it has the ambience of a converted warehouse.

Over the years our harbour has been home to all manner of large echoing structures including a southside fish plant and a seal processing plant (Job Brothers).

The western half of Legros and Motti contains an atrium of some height.

When you enter your eyes are drawn to the ceiling from which hangs a network of bare light bulbs attached to a labyrinth of pipes. Below, at ground level, is seating of various kinds: communal benches, scalloped, padded circular booths for six along the north wall of windows and stand-alone tables.

Bar

A long bar, where additional patrons can be seated, runs the length of the west wall. The shelving behind the bar is framed on either side by very high wine coolers.

I assume the coolers are automated to carry wine bottles within reach of bar staff.

The space above the bar bears one of the largest flat screens you’ll see. It was split into six different channel feeds, five sports and one featuring music videos.

A marble fireplace of about 15-feet high (including its elaborate mantelpiece) dominates the south side of the atrium.

We were seated on the mezzanine level above, directly east of the atrium’s mostly empty loft space. (Stairs and elevator provide access.)

I counted even more wine bottles on the mezzanine — stacked as high as the eye could see — again on the restaurant’s west wall. I could wax on about the look of Legros and Motti but I have much else to tell you.

The majordomo of Legros and Motti is general manager Barb Henshaw.

Henshaw has worked on the mainland, namely Vancouver, for large catering and food service operators with multiple restaurants. She is also in charge of Legros and Motti’s more than ample wine list of approximately 85 wines. I particularly liked the simple, straightforward descriptions of the various wine groupings like: “crisp, clean, light and lean,” “full-bodied, rich and round,” and the cheeky, “second-mortgage wines.”

Legros and Motti is billed as being two restaurants in one, an Italian trattoria and a French bistro. Although you will see the odd wine from places like California, Washington and Spain on the list, most of the wines offered, as you might expect, are either Italian or French. All but one of the so called “second-mortgage wines” (Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château de Beaucastel, 2009, Rhône, $211) is an Italian red. The dearest is Solaia Toscana IGT, Antinori, 2007 at $291.

Chef

Legros and Motti executive chef Matt MacDonald (formerly sous chef at award winning Bacalao), has also been engaged with the project for more than two years. He told me part of his job during that period was to source the best quality ingredients, wherever they might be found. A delicious example is the verdant, spicy olive oil that bears the Legros and Motti label on bottles and three litre tins. It is made for the restaurant in Umbria, Italy.

A small loaf of hot bread and Legros and Motti olive oil for dipping cued the start of dinner. Although they make their own pasta at the restaurant, the bread is made for Legros and Motti by Ace Bakery. Ace makes a good artisanal style product. Our bread was aromatic with chewy crust and soft, substantial white centre. Ideal.

Polenta has been a staple for many Italians since ancient Roman times. I like porridge, grits and cream of wheat so I was keen to try the creamy polenta (essentially boiled cornmeal). It was served with a “truffled wild mushroom ragoût.” The mushrooms (a wild field mushroom mix with truffle paste and herbs) had been sautéed until very dark and rich tasting. The mild flavoured, pale yellow polenta was the perfect counterpoint.  

Legros and Motti’s crab bites with mustard aioli were a tour de force.

I taste a lot of crab cakes over the course of a year but these smaller cakes reset the bar. Four or five of the cakes came with aioli described as “spicy mustard aioli.” The aioli was mild, not spicy. The cakes, covered in a crisp shell of golden fried crumbs, broke open into a wonderful display of sweet white crabmeat with traditional binding ingredients: seasonings, possibly egg, dairy and so forth.

Meatballs

Meatballs are back, apparently. From New York’s Rocco Dispirito’s mama’s meatball’s made famous a few years ago, to the meatball creations of Newfoundlander Rod Bowers at Toronto’s Hey Meatball restaurants, meatballs are in. Legros and Motti serve an excellent appetizer of meatball sliders with tomato sauce. The balls are homemade, as is the sauce. Melted fiordilatte (cow’s milk mozzarella) adds extra unction.

The milk-fed veal chop (broiled, grilled or valdostana) is standard fare at every classic American Italian restaurant. Legros and Motti does a pan roasted version seasoned with a little sage and juniper. It came with fingerling potatoes and broccolini. The chop was exquisite: ultra-tender and mild with sage and juniper deftly added to great effect.

Another very competent execution of a classic dish was the slow braised short ribs. Succulent, almost black ribs, napped with braised onion and jus rested on an overwhelming mound of pancetta mashed potato. Next to the potato was a generous sized ramekin filled with turnip gratin. No hungry meat lover could turn down this full-on plate of homemade vittles.

Cannoli

Adam Stuckey is Legros and Motti’s pastry chef. While the restaurant’s main menu heavily favours Italian dishes as opposed to French, Stuckey’s dessert card is more balanced. We tried the cannoli from the Italian side. Executive chef MacDonald sourced made-to-order cannoli pastry shells on the mainland.  

Stuckey fills them with a mixture of mascarpone, ricotta, icing sugar and vanilla.

It may sound weird but I was desperate to try cannoli after I first saw “The Godfather.” Eventually I did, many times, and the best I ever had was in Little Italy in New York. Next time I’ll try Legros and Motti’s 10 layer chocolate cake.

Legros and Motti is an extraordinary restaurant on many levels, including service.

I was hugely impressed by the obviously well-trained staff. However, they need to find their groove. A little less intrusion and better timing would help.

We were interrupted too often to be asked, “How is everything? How does it taste?”

Initially our mains arrived within 10 minutes of being served our appetizers. We had no choice but to send them back until we were ready for them.

No doubt individuals will soon find their groove.

Meanwhile Legros and Motti, the restaurant, is well on the way to finding its groove, and making its mark.

Rating: * * *        

Price: Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip — $180 (approximatly)

Sound level: High

* Fair  * * Good  * * * Excellent  

* * * * Exceptional

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com

Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells

Organizations: The Keg, Canadian Culinary Federation, Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador

Geographic location: California, Little Italy, Vancouver Washington Spain Châteauneuf-du-Pape New York Umbria Toronto

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Molly Stacey
    July 02, 2014 - 09:51

    I lust want to share with you the experience had when I visited your restaurant. I so looked forward to it. We had an appetizer of French Onion Soup before our main meal into which when I got to the bottom I found a squid ring.The waiter offered to take it back and when she looked here were the people on the other side with our main course. The was no apology made and it really spoiled our first experience.

  • Nicole
    April 08, 2014 - 19:11

    Horrible food. Horrible service. VERY disappointed.

  • Ellen
    April 03, 2014 - 08:31

    If you all have nothing better to do than go sit up at a restaurant and criticize the food and service, you shouldn't be eating out in the first place. Everything I've tried at Legros & Motti is delicious and each time I've eaten there I've received great service! You all have to remember that this is a new restaurant and there will naturally be kinks to work out, but I think the crew down there are doing a great job!

  • Darren
    April 02, 2014 - 05:42

    There is at least 10 smaller, quaint, Chef owned, restaurants I'd rather eat at before I'd even try this "theme, chain style" monstrosity on the harbour front. I'd say it will be years before I bother to step through the doors.

  • AndyG
    March 30, 2014 - 09:23

    Has Karl Wells ever given a bad restaurant a bad review? Karl Wells is the Pollyanna of restaurant reviewers. He can find the bright side of any restaurant no matter how terrible it is.

  • Allison
    March 30, 2014 - 03:06

    Another horribly written article by a pretentious, self-proclaimed "foodie". The rating he gives is directly dependant on how much celebrity treatment he's given. If you roll out the red carpet for Karl, he'll slap together a positive article. This is the same person who gave a local restaurant a bad review because the first words uttered to him upon his arrival was "do you have a reservation?" - the classic sentence all us commoners hear EVERY time we eat out. John's needs a new "critic" - desperately.

    • Observer
      March 30, 2014 - 12:51

      There you go, Karl.....if you're good at anything around here, be it business, politics or even restaurant reviewer, they'll slap ya down. Wouldn't want to get above yourself around here or, look out, the knives come out. I say, well done, Karl. What a fun niche you have carved out for yourself!

    • Jonny
      March 30, 2014 - 14:14

      Allison legros and motti is a local restaurant so you should get the fact straight before you comment. Mike do you think there's no deep friers in French food if so you should never comment on anything food related again cause you don't know what you are talking about and yes there is a burger and steak on the menu for the reason that if you have 10 people at a table then 1 or 2 will prob not want to eat French Italian so if you had a resturaunt would you just leave these people out of the group and plus that burger you talk about is hands down the best burger I have ever had. Guy incognito I can't say for sure in this case but I think every review he shows up blindly. And last off this is a completely new concept with many thing involved be completely new to not only to the city but canada so yes there will be kinks but I've been there 4 time and have yet to find something that was not just a small kink this

  • darrell
    March 29, 2014 - 18:30

    I think the boys made a good effort in the design but forgot what the joint was put there for. Very slow and confused waiters/waitresses. Love the little black dresses though!

  • ronnie brophy
    March 29, 2014 - 17:11

    Karl needs to be more honest as he must have be stoned during his visit. The food was so bad i was embarrased when i went there. They really need to find a good chef to take the food to the level that it deserves. A 6 figure chef. I have had better food in Labrador hotels...

  • Michael Richard
    March 29, 2014 - 16:46

    He sounds more like the owner of the place than a critic. Id like to see what some food critic from Montreal thought about the place last night ! It would be more akin to Gordon Ramseys Kitchen Nightmares than this load of bologna

  • Guy Incognito
    March 29, 2014 - 15:00

    They must have put on a show for you Karl. Everything I've heard has been bad from hours long wait to incorrect orders. Who at the telegram decided this place gets free advertising a la Karl? Furthermore, does anyone care what Karl Wells says anymore?

  • Mikes
    March 29, 2014 - 12:20

    Im not sure we were dining at the same place....yes its nice looking but noise level is way too loud. Service was the worst I have ever experienced. The Food was overall very bland and I would never know it was French Italian judging by the menu of deep fried items and burgers . I highly doubt I will return . Clearly Mr Wells was given special treatment for this review because we couldnt even get a drink.

    • Guy Incognito
      March 30, 2014 - 10:19

      Maybe Karl should visit restaurants blindly instead of calling ahead and warning that he is coming..... He gets special treatment to secure a good review obviously...