Boston’s Union Oyster House is the oldest continuously-operating restaurant in the United States and a visit here quickly makes it clear why they’ve earned that distinction.
This is a restaurant steeped in history and tradition an, when it comes to cooking and serving fresh East Coast seafood, they know what they’re doing. Located in the heart of Boston’s downtown area not far from the wharf district, in the early days, the water came right to the restaurant’s back door and local fisherman brought their fresh catch right to the restaurant. The fish here is still just that fresh.
Downstairs there’s a full bar and an old oyster bar where Daniel Webster and other famous folks used to gulp down plates of local oysters. The crescent-shaped wooden bar is tilted because early customers stood at the bar and they’d lean on the bar for support. Even the battered-looking cement sink behind the oyster bar is original.
When we dined at the restaurant, we were led past the oyster bar up a narrow flight of stairs to the Pine Room, a dark, clubby place with low cross timbered ceilings, orange stucco walls, and tall wooden booths. It’s the room where the late President John F. Kennedy dined and they’ve dedicated his favorite booth with a bronze plaque. It felt thrilling to eat just feet away from where one of my heroes had regularly dined.
We started our meal with the seafood sampler appetizer – baked oysters, briny¸ spinach and cheese stuffed Oysters Rockefeller, cherrystone clams baked with mushrooms, and, our favorite, Clams Casino, with bacon and bread crumbs. We followed with a half-dozen Blue Point oysters on the half shell that arrived cold and fresh on a plate of ice with lemon and a house made, spicy cocktail sauce. These local oysters are medium-sized and wonderfully delicate, with a fresh taste of the sea.
We also sampled their lobster ravioli, which you can order as an appetizer or as an entrée. The ravioli are round, cheese-filled pasta pockets that the restaurant orders fresh and handmade from a local purveyor. They cover the ravioli with a light sherry-lobster sauce and chunks of lobster. It’s the ultimate comfort food.
The Union Oyster House’s take on New England clam chowder (in Boston they call it Boston clam chowder) is good, a thick, creamy stew of chunky potatoes and plenty of tender meaty clams. We think a splash bit more clam nectar would accent the generous portion of clams even more.
Lobster scampi is a dish worth trying here. It’s large dish of fresh linguini with at least two dozen fresh, red cherry tomato halves, fresh parsley, and the sweet, tender meat of an entire lobster (your choice steamed or broiled). The pasta has just the right tooth and the lobster is fresh and perfectly cooked. The sugar-sweet tomatoes compliment the lobster, adding a lovely sweetness to the delicate, buttery sauce.
Although we were full from all the appetizers and the generous portion of linguine, we were intrigued by the Indian Pudding, which dates back to the earliest days of our country. This dessert, made from brown sugar, corn meal, and molasses, is served warm with vanilla ice cream and tastes like liquid pumpkin pie. The flavor of molasses is assertive and you can imagine early American women stirring this porridge-like dish over an open hearth. The vanilla ice cream sweetens the dessert nicely.
Real Bottom Line: The Union Oyster House has enough fame and history that it could easily rest on its laurels, but it doesn’t. It’s a restaurant that strives for the best in freshness in its seafood and, as its lobster ravioli and lobster linguini demonstrate, it finds interesting and innovative ways to serve it. The experienced waitstaff recognize that they are carrying on a long-tradition of excellence at this restaurant and provide wonderfully attentive service. Next time you’re in Boston, make a reservation at the Union Oyster House. I know I will. www.unionoysterhouse.com/ – Review Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor