ginger and salt

brains and bivalves: island creek oyster bar.

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Following the New York leg of my trip this winter, I hopped up to Boston to stay with Vanessa, my dear friend and former D.C. roommate who is in the home stretch of her time at Harvard Business School.  It felt just like old times with the two of us cozied up in her apartment on campus, bantering and teasing each other about our living habits (i.e. her ability to make something delicious out of nothing in the kitchen and my ability to watch hours of trashy TV on end).

During the day, I would work out of her place and occasionally stop for a break to sit in on a class with her on campus.  It was so fun to be a student again.  I put on my convincing ‘critical thinking’ face and nodded at appropriate times, trying to blend in among the Barbour-wearing students who each speak ten languages and are about to take over the world.

On our last night in Boston, Vanessa had made reservations for us and a group of her friends at a fantastic place in Kenmore Square called Island Creek Oyster Bar.  (Side note, please go visit their website.  For someone highly visual like me, it’s a dream.)  This place exuded a lively combination of New England charm and sleek, big city power.  Friends and families relaxed over beers and sliders right alongside the suits doing bourbon drinks and business deals.  It’s a very large space, almost cavernous, and had it not been bustling and full of energy, it would’ve felt hollow and cold.  Certainly a risky move, but they really pull it off.  My favorite aspect of the room are the walls that are made of oyster shells behind wire mesh, which created a really interesting texture and feel.

We started with an assortment of oysters on the half shell, including Island Creeks and Chathams, from Massachusetts, with a couple of oysters from Virginia as well.  They were cold, delicious, and briny and it was fun to sample some of the local flavors.  They even had a couple of varieties on the menu from the northwest (such as the Hama Hama), which gave me a sense of regional pride.  We also shared the scarily good, melt-in-your-mouth Crispy Island Creek Oyster Sliders on buttery brioche rolls with lime chile aioli.

Hoping to sample a little bit of everything, we ordered some other small plates such as the Pan Fried Jonah Crab Cake with a frisee citrus salad and creamy gribiche (a cold, mayonnaise-like sauce made with eggs).  The crab cake had such a wonderful flavor, and was light and flaky with so much crab meat.   I can’t stand it when a ‘crab cake’ is made with more breadcrumbs than crab.  The Baby Arugula Salad with Great Hill blue cheese, grapes, scallions, and pomegranate was a nice, clean component of our meal and the side of Brussels Sprouts with sea salt were delicious as well.  The Brussels were incredible darling and small like marbles, I had never seem them look like that before.

Vanessa and her friend Krista shared the New Bedford Sea Scallops with Maine beans, broccoli rabe, Island Creek Oyster Bar bacon, and baby turnips.  The scallops were caramelized and tender, a very comforting dish with the beans soaking up all of the bacon-flavored juices.

Being in the northeast, my eyes were automatically drawn to the lobster section of the menu, as ICOB brings in Cousin Mark’s Lobster fresh from York Harbor, Maine.  There are no good lobster rolls to be had in Seattle (which is understandable) so ordering Ethel’s Lobster Roll was a no-brainer for me.  Served on a fluffy, rectangular rosemary roll, it was bursting with thick pieces of wonderful, meaty lobster.  The roll is such a rich combination of flavors, and not something I could eat everyday, but it’s really great when the proper ingredients are all there. Miles opted for the Lobster Roe Noodles with braised short rib, grilled lobster, king oyster mushrooms, and pecorino.  Talk about a luxurious dish, that thing was amazing.

As it was also Vanessa’s friend Drew’s 30th birthday, we weren’t leaving without a candle and something sweet. We did a couple orders of the Milk and Cookies for the table, which were perfect for sharing.  The creamy milk came served in old-school glasses with red striped paper straws, and there were house-made Nutter Butter cookies, classic chocolate chip ones, among others.  Sure it’s not particularly inventive or original, but it’s always a fun high-brow/low-brow dessert.

We wrapped up our meal with more after-dinner drinks, and I loved getting to know Van’s friends and hear of b-school adventures, while soaking in the lively, celebratory ambiance. Although finance and margin analysis were never my strong suits in school, I am an excellent student of eating and imbibing and felt very much at home at Island Creek.

Island Creek Oyster Bar, 500 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA, (617) 532.5300, http://www.islandcreekoysterbar.com, Monday – Saturday 4:00 pm – 1:00 am, Sunday 10:30 am – 1:00 am, Reservations Recommended

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3 comments

  1. Mary

    I have been to ICOB and agree it is fabulous! My niece lives in the neighborhood, which would be too tempting for me – I would be there all the time! Haven’t met many lobster rolls I don’t like but theirs is particularly good. Thanks for the yummy reminder! Mary

  2. wheatfield

    I am a shellfish food freak and remember consuming a couple of doz oysters with my mom in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in a joint down the street from our duplex in the late 60’s at their happy hour for pennies and I have to say my oyster ‘love affair’ continues for me as I read your wonderful prose about your affection for oysters, especially the ‘scarily good, melt-in-your-mouth’ ones. Thanks for the memory lane revisited!

  3. Con

    Way to go T holding your own at Harvard! Would expect nothing less though. I fancy a good lobster roll myself, but also rarely get to eat them. Oh well, settling for shooting oysters isn’t so bad. Fun read!

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