For more than 20 years, executive chef Richard Vellante has been running the collection of Legal Sea Foods and sibling restaurants that sprawls across five East Coast states, plus Washington, D.C., and includes eight venues that hold Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards for excellent wine lists. Though the chain's cuisine is rooted in New England classics, today the menus showcase a range of foodways, including Mediterranean, Korean, Thai and Chinese.
Naturally, he's asked a version of this question often: How do you manage it all? The response isn't a simple one, but there's no hesitation in his answer. Vellante immediately thinks back to college—the time he spent abroad, in Rome, where he befriended the owner of a small restaurant and fell in love with his dedication to serving fresh food daily.
"Everything was done by hand—the best quality," Vellante says. "And it wasn't just the restaurants that did it that way; it was the people that lived down the street, it was the people that had you over for dinner; it was the vernacular of the Italian culture."
Though Vellante doesn't focus on Italian cuisine, it's this attitude that he's been trying to infuse into his restaurants: "How we handle the fish, how we choose our products and how we try to relay that to our people that are on the front lines," he says. "What we try to do here at Legal Sea Foods is take that independent restaurant mentality and bring it to the multiple restaurants that we have. Instead of it being with one restaurant, I do it with 35."
For a Memorial Day meal, managing a group efficiently without sacrificing quality is also a common concern for hosts. To solve this problem, Vellante looks to his recipe for baked lobster, steamers, mussels and clams combined with sausage and seasonal vegetables, which are all cooked and served in the same bag.
"When you're cooking lobster and shellfish, it can be a little cumbersome because you’re using three, four, five different pots to do everything separately sometimes, and you don't have the ability to have that flavor kind of blend together," says Vellante. "A bag is a unique way to cook the lobsters and the shellfish." And since everyone gets their own bag, each person can elect to add in their vegetables of choice to accompany the seafood.
The most important steps to remember are oiling the bags and making sure they are fully sealed before placing them in the oven. "But once you put everything in, you really don't have to worry that much about it," Vellante says.
For a wine pairing that works with the lobster and all the other elements, Legal Sea Foods' vice president of beverage operations Sandy Block knows exactly what to turn to: a buttery but balanced California Chardonnay. From a cool-climate site in Sonoma County's Petaluma Gap, the Chappellet Chardonnay Grower Collection Calesa Vineyard 2017 offers butter, green apple, toast and citrus flavors on a velvety texture, Block says, "but the overall impact is subtle and understated, so it doesn't clash with, or overpower, any of the seafood."
Below, Wine Spectator shares a selection of recently rated Chardonnays.
Beyond its simplicity, Vellante loves that the meal creates the feeling that "it's time to start summer; time to start the warm weather." And for those who don't live by the water, it's also a temporary substitute. He adds, "It's a kiss of the ocean that just engulfs you.”
Lobster Bake In a Bag
- 1 cup canola oil or spray can of canola oil
- 4 large generic brown paper bags
- Four 1 1/4 pound lobsters
- 1 pound soft-shell clams (steamers)
- 1 pound mussels
- 12 littleneck clams
- 8 small to medium Yukon Gold potatoes
- 2 Vidalia or 8 spring onions
- Rockweed (optional)
- 4 ears of corn
- 2 links linguica sausage (or your favorite sausage), cut in half
- 2 cans/bottles of your favorite beer
1. Preheat oven to 375˚ F. Oil paper bags inside and out thoroughly, covering all creases and folds; the bags should absorb the oil.
2. Wash all shellfish to get rid of sand and other grit; reserve in refrigerator. Put lobsters in freezer (no more than 20 minutes) to anesthetize them.
3. To a pot of salted cold water (it should taste like the ocean), add potatoes and whole onions. Bring to a boil, then cook for 3 more minutes. Remove vegetables from water, let cool and then quarter the onions.
4. Assemble lobster bake by evenly dividing ingredients among 4 bags: place rockweed inside bottom of each bag, if using. Place a lobster on top of rockweed or on bottom of each bag. Arrange shellfish on and around lobsters. Place corn, potatoes, onions and sausage in bags. Pour beer inside bags over all ingredients.
5. Close bags, place onto two sheet trays and cook in oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
6. Pull tray from oven and tear open bags, serving from them. Serves 4.
7 Recommended Chardonnays
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
Chardonnay Napa Valley Carneros 2015
Score: 91 | $30
WS review: Big, rich and buttery, offering luscious apple pastry, almond tart and ripe pear flavors. The long finish lingers with smoke notes and plenty of spice details. Drink now through 2021. 3,650 cases made.—Kim Marcus
Chardonnay Alto Adige Terlano Kreuth 2016
Score: 90 | $35
WS review: An elegant, medium-bodied white, framing flavors of glazed apple and baked apricot fruit, lemon pastry cream and slivered almond, with well-cut acidity. A clean tang of stony mineral defines the creamy finish. Drink now through 2024. 4,500 cases made, 300 cases imported.—Alison Napjus
Chardonnay Monterey Riverview Vineyard 2016
Score: 90 | $35
WS review: Plush and ripe, offering a broad array of apple pastry, dried peach and mango flavors that are well-structured. Honey and spice notes linger on the finish, with buttery hints. Drink now through 2021. 4,100 cases made.—K.M.
Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Eleven 2017
Score: 89 | $35
WS review: A plush style, redolent of pear pastry and apple cobbler flavors. The long finish is creamy and well-spiced, with hints of dried herb. Drink now through 2021. 1,250 cases made.—K.M.
Chardonnay Napa Valley Los Carneros 2016
Score: 89 | $26
WS review: Juicy, with pillowy Fuji apple, pear and pastry flavors that are well-spiced. The creamy finish lingers with hints of nutmeg. Drink now through 2021. 4,412 cases made.—K.M.
Chardonnay San Luis Obispo County 2017
Score: 88 | $24
WS review: Features hints of onion confit to the baked apple pastry and dried pear flavors. Tangerine detail shows on the fruity finish. Drink now. 4,972 cases made.—K.M.
Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2017
Score: 88 | $19
WS review: A spicy white, with hints of richness to the peach cobbler and apple pastry flavors. Buttery notes show on the creamy finish. Drink now. 31,342 cases made.—K.M.