Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Restaurant Review: Neptune

When we were back in Boston over the holidays we had a couple of dinners out with old friends of mine. I typically have a running list of places new and old in Boston to hit on our annual trip, so when dinner plans come up I have a list of places to pick from for suggestions.  Neptune was high on the list this year.  Mainly because we love seafood and there are few places I'd rather eat seafood that in New England.

When we arrived at the tiny storefront in Boston's North End, I was pleasantly surprised that there didn't seem to be the telltale line in front that so many of the Italian restaurants in the neighborhood so often have.  We went inside and saw a couple of openings at the bar, and I thought we'd luck out and get seat before my friend showed up.  It was then that the hostess came over and took our name and said it would be a 90 minute wait!  On a Wednesday night no less!

 Luckily it was early and we weren't too hungry so we gave our name and number and wandered to a bar across the street for a couple of beers.  While I'm not often one who likes a long wait, I appreciate the places that take your number so you can go explore the neighborhood or find a local watering hole for a beverage and maybe a nibble while you wait.

After just a beer and a half, about 45 minutes, my phone rang with word that our table was ready.  We paid our tab and crossed the street, eager to get a taste of some deliciously fresh shellfish.

Upon sitting down I promptly ordered a glass of Albarino, yes it was a cold December night, but I love a good white wine with oysters.  My girl, CS followed suit and we both couldn't have been more pleased with the selection.  The Boy went with his go to, a beer.  But you can't hate a beer with oysters, at least I can't since it's up there as one of my faves.

To order oysters you are given a checklist, much like at many sushi bars, where you tick off the varieties of oysters you'd like to try.

We picked out the following:

Wellfleet (Wellfleet, MA) - medium, very high salt, sweet butter finish
Katama Bay (Martha's Vineyard, MA) - medium, high salt, buttered popcorn finish
Onset (Onset, MA) - medium, high salt, plump, seaweed finish
East Beach Bonde (Charlestown, RI) - medium, medium salt, mineral finish
Kumamoto (Willapa Bay, WA) - small, sweet, plump, creamy, hints of honeydew melon

We chose these varieties for the most part because they were all from the local area, with the obvious exception of the Kumamotos which are a favorite that we order wherever we go.  What was pretty amazing about these oysters and this restaurant was how spot on the descriptions were.  The Katama Bay stood out to us based on the note of a buttered popcorn finish and it completely delivered and was a really surprising flavor that absolutely worked.

There is something to be said about eating oysters so close to their source, that burst of briney goodness that tastes even more like the ocean, and just that much fresher.  It's hard to quantify, but the oysters we get when we're back in Boston just have something special to them for me.   No matter the time of year eating them reminds me of summer days on the beach.

Unbeknownst to me, the boy also ordered a couple of stone crab claws to try.  I had never had stone crab and, if I'm honest, am not the biggest fan of crab.  It feels like alot of work for not enough reward.  I will say that the sweetness of these claws was unlike any other crab I've had and I may be willing to put the effort in again.

After some more Alberino for  CS and I and another beer for the Boy, our mains arrived.  CS and I both went with the lobster roll, but rather than a traditional Maine-style lobster salad roll, we both opted to try the Connecticut-style with hot butter.  Oh boy, was it heavenly!  The sweet, tender, warm lobster drenched in butter on a fresh grilled rolled, it was everything that's amazing about lobster but made even better with the added carbs of the delicious roll.   I may be a convert to this style of lobster roll moving forward, though I think it will take alot more testing at home this summer when these crustaceans are in season.

The Boy went on a recommendation from our server and got the North End Cioppino. If you;re not familiar, cioppino is a fish stew native to San Francisco and Italian inspired.  The Italian flavor made it apropos to have on a menu in the North End, Boston's answer to Little Italy, and the fact that the Boy ordered it made me feel better for only bringing him to the neighborhood for seafood and not the delicious Italian fare it's known for.

This type of dish is not a typical choice for the Boy, so I was interested to hear his thoughts on it.  I know it was a win when he didn't say much of anything and just slurped the broth and ate the huge pieces of fish.  When he came up for air, I asked him to put together a perfect bite and completely understood his silence and why our server said she ate it 3 times a week. The broth was rich, flavorful, with the slightest bit of heat and just so warming.  The fish was perfectly cooked.  It was delicious and a strong competition for my lobster roll on our return visit to Neptune.

All in all it was an amazing meal and even though our wait was shorter that anticipated, it would have absolutely been worth the full wait time, especially since we were catching up with a good friend.

Neptune Oyster
63 Salem Street

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