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Neptune Oyster, Boston

I hemmed and hawed about where to go for our 4th anniversary for weeks. Did I want somewhere tried and true (Grill 23, Smith & Wollensky, 21 Lincoln)? Or somewhere new and interesting (Mooo, T.W. Food, Eastern Standard)? Or the last category, places we've been to and enjoyed, but haven't been back in ages (Sage, Salts, Craigie St. Bistrot)?


For you, my loyal readers, I settled on somewhere new, after all it's much more interesting to blog about. Neptune Oyster has been on my radar for a while; it's well regarded on Chowhound, and known for very fresh seafood. The downside is that it is in the North End, where parking is a pain. We end up going to restaurants in Boston only when it's a special occasion due to our aversion to parking issues. (Good God, have I become a suburbanite?!?)


Neptune Oyster is a tiny restaurant. It has a long marble bar on the right that seats 16, and a row of banquettes on the left, that seat another 26. It's done with white subway tile, tin ceilings and large framed mirrors with the daily specials written on them. If it wasn't for the noise level, it would be very cozy. Our waitress was great, very friendly and attentive. Despite that fact that it's called Neptune Oyster, and they offer a dozen oyster varieties from all over the place (the Cape, Nova Scotia, Cali), R and I didn't partake in the raw bar. We shared steamed PEI Mussels, Fried Calamari, and Striped Bass.


The mussels were great; they were done with sausage, fennel, roasted garlic and caraway cream. It was quite a departure from the standard old white wine, garlic and lemon. The mussels were sweet, tender and briny. I wished we had bread to sop up the rest of the cream, but strangely enough, they don't serve a bread basket (probably the only restaurant in the North End not to). Instead they give you a small dish of large, rustic oyster crackers, which is cute, but not appropriate for sopping up sauce.


The fried calamari was the plate of the day and as you know, we can't pass up the chance to try another version. The calamari was very good; it was tender, crispy, not greasy and it came with a garlic aioli. I have two complaints about it. One, not enough tentacles and two, there were what we called “stealth peppers.” Peppers that were sliced as the same thickness of the rings and once fried, virtually indistinguishable from the calamari. You would popped one in your mouth, expecting squid, and all of a sudden there would be a rush of vinegar. Still, a good calamari, but certainly not as good as Daily Catch.


Lastly, the fillet of striped bass was pan-fried and served on a bed of ham hocks and swiss chard. Homemade sweet potato chips finished the plate. I found the bass a little over-seasoned, and I think the strong flavor of the ham hocks overwhelmed the mild fish. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the ham hocks, but as they say on Iron Chef, “this dish does not highlight the main ingredient.”


There is no dessert menu, which is fine, the restaurant is only a block away from the pastry shops on Hanover St. If it wasn't so cold last night, we would have stopped for a cannoli and a slice of ricotta pie.


 

www.neptuneoyster.com

63 Salem Street
North End, Boston
617-742-3474


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