“I’m so glad I know this is in the neighborhood,” a friend said midway through dinner at Leland Eating and Drinking House recently, before predicting how much money he’d eventually spend over the course of future visits. The restaurant, which briefly operated last December before fully opening in February, makes it easy to imagine return trips. It’s an easy place to be.
For one, the corner spot is comfortable, divided into two dining areas. Enter from the Dean Street side and the bar is to your left with a long, pale wood banquette and tables to your right. Farther back and down a few stairs, another dining room is closer to the kitchen and looks out on Underhill Avenue. Both spaces have big windows and lots of white oak. When a protagonist is a chef/owner at an unseen restaurant in a Nancy Meyers movie, the restaurant probably looks like this.
The menu is divided, too, split into three sections. Most of the snacks and plates could just as accurately be called appetizers, and the large plates entrées. Order any combination and you’ll look like you know what you’re doing. Everything here makes sense.
The choppy smoked steelhead trout rillette ($9) is a fun presentation. Served in a jar with crispy za’atar potato chips it’s emblematic of the restaurant overall: good and unfussy and apparently effortless. You don’t worry about how to best divide it however many ways—there’s a pile of potato chips, just keep loading them up until it’s gone! This is also one of the dishes we’ve thought about the most since visiting, the typically mild fish variety pleasantly richer than expected with a saline current. It tastes like something you’d have at a dockside picnic on the first cool day of summer.
The mussels ($18) are one exception to the plates-are-apps rule. Filling a large skillet, they could easily stand for a main. They’re also an example of how Leland exceeds expectations for what’s typically categorized as a “neighborhood restaurant.” We’d never anticipate anything approaching perfection from such a place, just tasty enough food and a good enough time. But Leland’s charred lemon mussels in a shallow broth with a perky citrus pop have every indication of the preparation we would expect at a much more expensive restaurant striving to justify its price tag. Each gleaming onyx shell seemed to be open to the same degree, each with a uniformly plump interior. It’s a studied offering with ideal execution.
Other highlights among the smaller plates include crispy pollock fritters over horseradish tzatziki ($9) that you could call elevated bar food, and the mushrooms and sourdough ($15), which tops thick pieces of toast with tender mushrooms in cream, thyme, garlic and ginger.
Leland is not explicitly a seafood restaurant, it just happens to do seafood particularly well. Its large plates include a salt-citrus brined half chicken ($26) and a nicely prepared sliced grilled pork chop ($34). But the whole fish ($32)–a lovely, lightly fried scup–is a standout, the variety sometimes called porgy enlivened by a glancing, near-sweetness and caramelized flavor and texture.
A decent selection of beer and wine are available from the bar, in addition to a brief cocktail list. Tabled together, the J Bomb, which layers a barely bitter icy negroni over frozen margarita base and the Cider House, with a palm-sized apple slice in a rye, lemon and maple seem to nod goodbye this season’s weeks of heart and humidity and break into the fall to come.
We’re so glad to know that Leland Eating and Drinking House in our friend’s neighborhood, even though it isn’t in ours. But we’re already imagining return trips, in any case.
Leland Eating and Drinking House is located at 755 Dean Street and is open from 1pm-4pm Wednesday-Friday, 10am-4pm Saturday and Sunday, 5pm-10pm Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 5pm-11pm Friday and Saturday, and 4-5pm Wednesday-Sunday.