Something fishy’s always going on
Having grown up in Manchester-by-the Sea, I was all but weaned on locally-caught lobster, candy-sweet scallops, and flaky, white cod, just a few of the piscatory pleasures dotting area menus this time of year. In a region brimming with superb places to eat, where should you go for great seafood?
While obvious choices include the Legal Sea Foods and Summer Shacks, here’s an insider’s guide to six spots chosen for using an abundance of native seafood, preparing it sumptuously, and offering it in unique settings that range from homey and snug to elegant and airy.
Atlantic Fish In April, Danny Levesque replaced executive chef Tim Partridge, who during his two-year tenure at this stately, white-tablecloth fish house, transformed the menu from a baked potato and scrod sort of place to an exciting dining destination. “Ninety percent of the menu is fish,’’ says Levesque. “We have filet and sirloin on the menu, but people often accompany it with a lobster tail’’ (as actor Tom Cruise did earlier this fall).
Beyond the full bar and 200-bottle wine list, you’ll find a bountiful raw bar, classic appetizers like clams casino (crumbs and butter), and the standout sea bass chowder, a voluptuous blend of bacon, cream, corn, sea bass, and roasted poblano peppers. The day’s catch features almost a dozen simply prepared options, while the main menu boasts myriad seafood specialties, like swordfish piccata, and six lobster preparations, including the very New England steamed lobster with potatoes and corn on the cob. One of the more inventive dishes (available as an appetizer or entree) is tuna Bolognese, where ground tuna and bluefish substitute for meat in this famous Italian ragu. 761 Boylston St., 617-267-4000, www.atlanticfishco.com
B&G Oysters Each day this azure-colored ode to oysters in the South End features 12 varieties of bivalves (six from each coast), all delivered fresh that morning. Clams and easily 100 lobsters also arrive daily to become the restaurant’s signature mayo-dressed lobster roll, golden fried clams, and lobster BLT.
“We order everything fresh daily because the restaurant and kitchen are so small,’’ says sous chef Stephen Oxaal, referring to the 40-seat interior, which includes chairs at the white marble bar overlooking the open kitchen. “It’s a lively restaurant with tons of energy. You can see the kitchen staff shucking oysters, making salads, and you really get into the feel of it.’’
The menu offers various raw bar items, some salads, the aforementioned signature classics, and approximately five seafood entrees, like mussels with saffron and fennel. In addition to lunch and take-out service, you’ll find no liquor but lots of fish-friendly beer and wine. 550 Tremont St., 617-423-0550, www.bandgoysters.com
Neptune Oyster When actor-director Ben Affleck was here last month to shoot “The Town,’’ he set one of his scenes in this Parisian-style oyster bar. And for good reason. In addition to the quaint black and white tile floor, pressed tin ceiling, mirrors, and dark wood, this popular North Ender has a snug, friendly feel.
“I think of Neptune as an upscale clam shack,’’ says chef Michael Serpa. “There’s a little Italian influence, a French base, and lots of classic seafood.’’ Scribbled on the front mirror by the bar are the day’s dozen oysters, while the standard menu lists raw bar options, several crudo (Italian-style sashimi), seafood salads, and soups like New England chowder, made to order, along with lobster bisque seasoned with hunks of Hudson Valley foie gras. In addition to seasonal fish entrees, like a Maine lobster pan roast, the menu sports half-a-dozen standbys like North End cioppino and the day’s special, such as fish tacos on Sunday.
“Probably the most popular dish,’’ says Serpa, “is our Maine lobster roll,’’ served in a toasted Iggy’s brioche roll either hot with melted butter or cold with mayonnaise. A close second could be the Neptunes on Piggyback, a bevy of hot, crispy oysters served with pistachio aioli and a pulled pork and golden raisin “jam.’’
63 Salem St., 617-742-3474, www.neptuneoyster.com
Oceanaire Seafood Room Having dropped anchor in the former US Trust Bank building in January 2008, this elegant seafood eatery evokes the feel of a 1940s ocean liner.
“The servers are dressed in nice white coats, there are red leather seats, lots of cherry wood and marble, and when you sit down, we bring a relish tray with pickled herring and vegetables,’’ says executive chef-partner Daniel Enos. With soaring ceilings and seating for 275, Oceanaire also evokes a sense of grandness, which extends to the 10-ounce portions on the extensive menu, a mix of traditional and ethnic-style seafood dishes half of which are core items found at all 12 Oceanaire restaurants across the country. At the top of the menu are checks next to whatever fish and shellfish arrived fresh that day; below are myriad appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts, with a list of chef’s specialties running down the middle. Classic options include cold jumbo shrimp, New England clam chowder, and surf and turf (lobster and filet), while snazzier alternatives range from tuna tartare to yellow tail flounder stuffed with crab, shrimp, and Brie. The grand finale, found on few menus around the city, is baked Alaska, a boozy ice cream-cake bomb sealed in meringue and dramatically lighted at the table. 40 Court St., 617-742-2277, www.theoceanaire.com.
The Daily Catch In 1973 husband and wife Paul and Maria Freddura opened this garlicky, boisterous North End eatery fondly called the Calamari Café. Barely bigger than a shoe closet, this inviting 20-seat spot pays homage to two items: pasta and seafood.
“Everything is made from scratch except for the canned tomatoes and imported pasta,’’ says Maria Freddura, who adds that since she’s been in business, the food has stayed true to its Sicilian roots. (There is a second location at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse.) Most seafood, like the haddock, cod, monkfish, and calamari, is caught by local fishermen and filleted and cleaned by the restaurant. Time-honored classics include the spicy lobster fra diavolo, monkfish Marsala, and black squid ink pasta. Of course, you’ll also find calamari served nearly a dozen ways, including formed into juicy meatballs and sauteed in olive oil with anchovies and garlic to create the restaurant’s famous “white Bolognese’’ (aglio olio on the menu), served, like all pasta dishes, in a silver skillet “because the cheap dishes we bought at the hardware store kept breaking when we first opened,’’ said Freddura, laughing. 323 Hanover St. (the original location), 617-523-8567 and 2 Northern Ave., 617-772-4409, www.dailycatch.com.
Uni Sashimi Bar In the former bar area of Clio restaurant sits this 22-seat temple to raw fish, featuring two dozen of what executive chef Christopher Chung calls “Japanese tapas with a French influence.’’ What does this mean? Think long, rectangular plates holding tissue-thin slices of raw seafood dressed with seasonal fruits, vegetables, herbs, and esoteric ingredients, like Korean pepper threads. One night you might find petals of sea bass moistened with fiery sesame oil and garnished with pickled burdock root and jalapeno. Another night, you might encounter hamachi slivers topped with pineapple, sea grapes (a grape-like fruit grown near beaches), and ginger vinaigrette. For culinary inspiration, Chung draws on his eclectic heritage - he was born in Hawaii and raised in Macau - as well as Spanish cookbooks, food magazines, and Asian websites (Chung reads Chinese and Japanese). Beyond Chung’s nightly creations, the menu offers a dozen core items, including tempura vegetables, trumped up steak teriyaki, and grilled eel over rice, one of the only rice dishes available.
“We don’t do sushi,’’ says Chung, “although we have Maki Monday,’’ an all-you-can-eat, prix fixe feast featuring two types of rolls, often one seafood and one vegetarian. 370A Commonwealth Ave., 617-536-7200, www.unisashimibar.com