>> Wednesday, January 05, 2011
There's no question that Boston is known for its seafood. Tourists near and far don't ever leave without trying our lobsters, fried clams, or a decadently delicious bowl of our New England style clam chowder.
Many visitors whisk in and out of the city, content with dining at the iconic Legal Sea Foods and calling it a day (as far as Boston's seafood is concerned).
Now don't get me wrong. I love the clam chowder at Legal's and I do think they offer excellent quality fish that's very very fresh. However, I think there are much better places to visit in Boston if you want an intimate and authentic New England seafood experience that is several steps above your classic grilled fish, baked potato, and steamed broccoli crown.
Neptune Oyster has won Best of Boston in the categories of lobster rolls (2009), clams (2008), raw bar (2006), and seafood (2009). It's generally regarded as one of the best seafood places in Boston.
Why oh why did it take us so long to try this place?
First, it's located in the North End, the main Italian neighborhood in Boston. Byran loves Italian food and loves fresh homemade pasta even more. Thus, if we're ever in the neighborhood, it's virtually impossible to convince Bryan to give up the tantalizing homemade pastas beckoning his name from Prince Street, Fleet Street, or North Square in lieu of seafood.
Second, Neptune Oyster does not take reservations, and thus the lines can get unbearably long if you want to eat at a decent time. The restaurant is tiny (only seats 42 people total) and thus it can fill up fast. On the other hand, you can make reservations at all of Bryan's favorite Italian restaurants.
Raw oysters - $2-$4 each
Finally, just a week ago, we somehow managed to try this place; and I am sooo bummed we didn't come sooner! This place is the real deal. We really liked every dish we tried. There wasn't a single "miss."
Of course, you must try the raw oysters, which we enjoyed immensely. Neptune Oyster actually brings out a small sheet that describes the fresh available oysters of the day, complete with tasting notes (e.g., high salt, popcorn finish). You fill out the sheet with a pencil, sort of like at a sushi restaurant.
It was fun trying the different ones and comparing the written flavor notes to what we actually tasted. "Oh, how funny, it does taste like a popcorn finish!" The selection changes every day but it's always very very fresh and predominantly local.
Buttermilk Johnnycake: honey butter, smoked trout tartare, Little Pearl Caviar - $16
Oh, you must try the buttermilk johnnycake! We saw the ingredient list and knew we had to order it. Of course, it's hard to go wrong when you throw smoked tartare and caviar onto anything. Nevertheless, we still thought this dish was very well executed. The johnnycake was nice and crispy on the edges, yet buttery and moist on the inside. The combination of the caviar, trout, creamy sour cream (?), and buttery johnnycake came together very nicely. I was almost half sad that we were sharing it. I wanted more!
Seared Georges Bank Scallops; braised pork shank, Siena Farms root vegetables, baby Brussels Sprouts, Chanterelle mushrooms - $32
I loved my entrée, the Seared Georges Bank Scallops ($32), as well. Chef Michael Serpa likes to experiment with contrasting flavors and textures. In this case, the perfectly seared sweet and buttery soft scallops came on top of a bed of rich and savory braised pork shanks. The roasted vegetables, which had absorbed all the deliciousness from the umami of the meat, were offset by the sprinkling of raw sprouts and thinly sliced radishes on top.
I highly recommend this dish. Not only was the seafood itself seasoned and cooked perfectly, the flavors that accompanied the seafood accentuated it in a way that elevated the entire dish to a high level.
Bryan ordered the "North End Cioppino," ($24) a satisfyingly spicy stew full of grilled fish, shrimp, clams, mussels, and lobster with saffron rice. Bryan loved the surprisingly strong kick in the stew, and really enjoyed the dish a lot.
We were lucky this time. We both liked our own dish better than the other person's dish!
Overall, I had a really really good time at this restaurant. I was impressed by the high quality of both the ingredients and the cooking. The service was friendly, although a bit choppy at times. One really nice thing about the wait is that you don't have to hang around. You give them your cell phone number and then they call you when your table is ready. We ended up going to a local wine shop, picking up some cool Italian liqueurs, and then hanging in a cafe until we got called (about a 30 minute wait).
The North End is such a fun place to hang around, it's really not that painful of a wait. It's so interesting to explore the neighborhood. Check out a butchery, any of the wonderful bakeries, or a local Italian market.
There's no doubt. I definitely plan on returning to Neptune Oyster. I really can't wait to try the rest of their menu (like those famous lobster rolls!).
63 Salem St
Boston, MA 02113