Island Creek Oyster Bar, Boston, MA: A Fresh Take on Seafood
There’s a new kid on the culinary block in Boston, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and it’s making some serious waves.
Located near Kenmore Square in the Commonwealth Hotel, Island Creek Oyster Bar is the brainchild of Chef Brian Sewall. His idea: make the journey from sea to table local and short to ensure the freshest seafood possible. And, judging from the tables of happy diners, it’s a formula that’s working.
Island Creek Oyster’s chef takes the freshness of his seafood very seriously. He offers more than a dozen oysters delivered fresh every day that are locally harvested and he identifies each oyster’s location and purveyor on the menu. We sampled six medium-sized oysters and were amazed and delighted at the subtle differences in these fresh, briny crustaceans. Our oyster sampler came on a raised stainless steel plate filled with ice, lemon slices, and spicy, house made cocktail sauce.
The Island Creek Oyster is a clean tasting bivalve with a mild ocean flavor. The Wellfleet, the restaurant’s only wild-caught oyster, has a tiny, round shell, a salty flavor, and taste so delicate you’d hardly know this was an oyster. Moonstone offers a more assertive salty flavor that’s the essence of the ocean. Matunuck is more “oystery.” East Beach Blond, the only bivale in the bunch we didn’t love, has a strong oyster taste with iron overtones. Glidden Point had a softer taste with a nice briny after flavor that lingers.
Our oysters came with house made whole wheat bread with whipped butter with a touch of honey and curry. The bread is soft and chewy with a nice wheat flavor.
The chef’s take on New England clam chowder varies from the traditional. It features hand dug clams and house cured bacon in a light cream broth topped with tiny buttermilk biscuits. Unlike many clam chowders, this one is light, allowing you to discern the individual components of the dish. The pieces of potato are perfectly cooked and the bacon, which is delicious, is a dominate flavor in the soup.
The chef is equally choosey about his lobster. In fact, all of the lobster for the restaurant comes from his cousin, Mark Sewall, and the chef picks up the lobster fresh every morning. We also ordered an Ethel’s Lobster Roll, a recipe that came from his cousin’s grandmother. Instead of the traditional “balloon bread” lobster roll, this roll is made with a heartier, more substantial roll, filled with big pieces of lobster and chopped scallion and celery moistened with mayonnaise. It is served with crisp, vinegary coleslaw.
It’s obvious that lobster salad for this dish is made fresh and it’s easy to taste each component. The lobster used is also deliciously fresh. However, the scallions are a bit strong and tend to get in the way of the sweet lobster’s flavor. The heavier roll is also too much bread for the delicate meat (there’s a reason the balloon bread works in lobster rolls).
A more successful use of the restaurant’s ultra-fresh lobster is Chef Sewall’s Lobster Roe Noodles with braised short ribs, grilled lobster, pecorino, and hen of the woods mushrooms. This dish brings surf and turf to a whole other level. The perfectly cooked lobster roe noodles, which are a beautiful orange color, have a velvety texture and a complex flavor not often found in pasta. They are accompanied by four small disks of fork tender, intensely beefy short rib and pieces of sweet and fresh lobster meat. This is a rich dish, almost too rich, and would make the perfect comfort food in the fall.
Real Bottom Line: Chef Brian Sewall combines the sensibility of a lobsterman who knows the value of ultra-fresh seafood with the creative mind of a talented chef. The result is dishes that play on the palate in surprising and wonderfully delicious ways. This is a man who knows and loves great seafood. If you dine at Island Creek Oyster Bar, you will too.
islandcreekoysterbar.com/ – Review BH