Saturday, June 4, 2011

Island Creek Oyster Bar, Boston MA

…on Saturday the Boston Bruins by way of the Boston Red Sox unknowingly threw a big monkey wrench into my well planned trip to Boston. Having visited many of the most storied stadiums in baseball and the most fabled arenas in hockey I knew that the Garden would have to wait until another trip – tickets for game three were topping a thousand dollars and while I know it would have been a great experience I’d only spend that much if it were my Kings in the finals. With that noted, a trip to Fenway seemed like a must for my trip to Boston and with the Sox in town playing the A’s in a 7:05pm start and the last lecture of interest scheduled to end at 5:00pm I knew a quick trip on the Greenline would afford me a pre-game bite at Island Creek Oyster Bar and provided the game didn’t go too long (or if I left early) I could make it back to O-Ya for a late seating. With stubhub supplying the ticket and reservations made my plan seemed perfect…but you know what they say about best laid plans.

With the lecture proving less dynamic than hoped and myself departing early to hop the silverline to the greenline (breaking down only once on this trip) I found myself at Island Creek just after 4:40 and although my reservation was for 5:30 I was greeted pleasantly by the hostess in the bustling bar and within moments was led through the expansive room (easily eight fold the size of Neptine) to a great two top next to the banquet in the main dining room. Still early in the dinner hour there were perhaps three tables full when I arrived though the banquet would quickly contain a group of ten celebrating some sort of business financial success (platters of seafood, plenty of champagne, and clinking glasses abound) and the restaurant would slowly fill to 2/3 capacity by the time I departed fifty minutes later (the rush my decision.) With a wall of oyster shells to my left, the loud bar to my distant right, and plenty of leather, wood, and steel the place felt even more upscale casual than Neptune and the clientele mirrored that with most in buttoned shirts and some in ties and sports jackets.

Greeted by my waitress, a bubbly young woman with a great smile named Jillian, and deferring the cocktail list while she filled my water the daily menu (literally, printed daily, and stamped with the date) was presented and suggestions made regarding what was freshest on the raw bar. Left to decide with the note “I’ll go get you some bread” my decision process was relatively straight forward as I the two items most raved were on the standard daily menu – though I must admit the daily Johnny Cake dish and the lobster with uni stuffing sounded delectable. With my order in mind it was at this point that I became aware of something, however – the folks at the bar were cheering loudly as the Red Sox had apparently just gone up by four in the game…the game I was supposed to be going to in about two hours…the game that had (unbeknownst to me) been rescheduled to a 1:05pm start due to the Bruins.

With Jillian returning to the table with bread as promised and confirming that the game had indeed been rescheduled I explained my predicament to which she was sympathetic stating she’d understand if I wanted to run and see if I could at least use my ticket to get in and see the stadium, but with the game now in the 8th inning I decided to call it a loss and stay; I could always do one of the Fenway tours the following day. A bit disheartened my order was placed and with that Jillian promised to bring “milk and cookies – on the house” as a consolation prize and left me with bread – a basket of pillowy Honey whole wheat paired with salted almond honey butter that was nearly the flavor of sweetened peanut butter and just as creamy – the best table bread of the trip even compared to the impressive pretzel roll at L’Espalier.

With the kitchen upstairs and orders starting to appear for other tables in the restaurant I sat and listened to the light overhead music while checking for missed e-mails about the game’s time change on my phone but my browse was interrupted in less than ten minutes when Jillian returned with my appetizer course of Local Clam Chowder with Hand Dug Clams, Buttermilk Biscuit, and House Cured Bacon. Served piping hot and of medium thickness this creamy potage was everything Neptune’s was not – briny yet balanced, smoky yet subtle, and absolutely chock full of clams and less-so with potatoes. Decorated with three buttery ping-pong ball sized biscuits as opposed to generic oyster crackers this was a soup worthy of its $10 price tag and I was glad to have bread with which to soak up every bit of it.

With the soup sopped it was at this point that the bar groaned – according to my phone the Sox had miraculously managed to give up four in the top of the 9th and the game was headed to the bottom of the ninth and for the first time I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe there was a chance I might luck out and as good fortune would have it my main course arrived just as the game headed to extra innings. Having heard great things about ICOB’s Lobster Roe Noodles but somewhat skeptical given my cynicism for beef I’d decided to take the chance for two reasons – one was that my dining partners the day prior didn’t even remember short rib being included in the dish and the second was that both Jillian and one of the guys at the table across the way stated “you can barely taste it” and although they were wrong in that regard as I certainly coul taste it, the piled high plate was very impressive.

Titled officially as “Lobster Roe Noodles with Grilled Lobster, Braised Short Rib, Pecorino, Chanterelle Mushrooms” and featuring each ingredient in plethora plus sweet green peas the star of this dish was most certainly the house made noodles – briny and smooth, perfectly al dente and the very flavor of lobster roe – yet at the same time, the flavorful amalgam topping the noodles was not far behind in the flavor department with notes of sweet, savory, ocean, and earth all competing equally for palate space. With the lobster snappy, the short rib melting in the mouth, and the sauce somewhere between butter and smoky pan jus there was really nothing left to be desired and although pricey at $27 this was the sort of dish that could have easily served two as a lighter meal.

With two outs in the bottom of the 10th and the game still tied Jillian arrived at my table to collect my empty plate and asked if I was still interested in dessert – a difficult call as everything had been so excellent, but an option on which I deferred first of all because of the game, but also for the sake of my 9:00pm reservation at O-Ya. With the bill settled and a hefty tip left for the great service I made my way to the street and part jogging headed for the stadium where I would not only get in but would also watch one inning from the 6th row behind home plate and the next two from the top of the Green Monster until JD Drew ended it with a single to score Crawford in the bottom of the 14th…the crowd went crazy, I later went to O-Ya for one of my best stateside meals in recent memory, and if I ever come back to Boston I’ll most certainly return to Island Creek Oyster Bar.

No comments: