Monday, February 28, 2011

Island Creek Oyster Bar, Kenmore, Boston

Some restaurants are just home runs.  Each dish is an exploration of flavors and techniques, the service is friendly and accommodating, the drinks are well prepared, and the ambiance is welcoming.  These are the restaurants that one returns to over and over again knowing that a wonderful evening is almost guaranteed.  There are not many restaurants that I would state have this reputation, however, Island Creek Oyster Bar, opened just about six months ago, located in Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square, is one of these.  

I have dined at Island Creek Oyster Bar a couple of times now, and have enjoyed beverages at their bar several times as well, each time I have been greeted and welcomed, made to feel at home, and generally have had a fabulous time. I dined there again on Saturday evening, and had a fantastic time once again.  

The thing about Island Creek is that its incredibly popular, so the first reservation that we could get, seated us at 6:00 pm.  Now, I'm not in love with super early reservations, but happily took this one.  We were seated immediately, and left to peruse the menus, drink and dining.  I love the menu at Island Creek.  Nothing more than a folded piece of paper, its unassuming nature masks the treasures it describes.  I recently perched at the bar with a friend in "the business" visiting from out of town, and he remarked on just how incredible this menu is.  Not only is it well put together, and lists amazing entrees, the extreme care taken with the raw bar offerings is clear. Island Creek Oyster Bar, possibly as expected, pays great attention to their raw bar, and notates this on their menu by including not only where the oysters were harvested, but the name of the person who completed the task.  As someone who reads menus to an almost obsessive degree, this is something I have never seen before.  However, it comes as no surprise.  Jeremy Sewall, part owner and executive chef who also has Lineage ins Brookline and Eastern Standard to his credit, is known for his care with seafood. His cousin is a lobster man off of Gloucester, so you know that when you order lobster from Sewall, you're only getting the freshest possible.  Obviously, he applies this principle to his entire menu.

We had some difficulty deciding what items to order, but with my dining companion not being a big oyster fan, we elected to choose the sweet Maine Shrimp Crudo as our appetizer and then to split two entrees- the lobster roll and their cod, served with potatoes, artichokes and a spinach "fondue".  If there was a hiccup to point out, it was that despite clarifying the order to serve our dinner in, the lobster roll arrived ahead of the shrimp.  However, this was not a major issue, and the incredible deliciousness of the roll more than made up for it.  Delicate chunks of fresh lobster meat, lightly dressed in mayo and herbs, jam packed into a buttery rosemary roll.  Served with potato chips and cole slaw- it was the perfect dish to emulate summer.  The roll, stuffed to the brim, was difficult to eat without using a fork, which recalled perfect memories of messy eating during those hot summer months by the ocean.  The chips and coleslaw were a nice complement, however the real star here was the lobster.

The shrimp crudo came to the table next.  Crudo, in case you aren't 100% of the definition of the preparation, refers to a similar form of serving seafood to ceviche.  In this form, seafood is mixed with olive oil, an acid, and sea salt.  The idea is that light fish can be "cooked" by acid, like a citrus juice, and this procedure almost cures it.The shrimp at Island Creek were mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and tarragon.  The flavors were really fantastic.  Each shrimp exhibited soft lemon flavor, a beautiful bright feel, and wonderfully savory tarragon.  Preparing shrimp in the crudo way does result in a texture that is unlike conventionally cooked shrimp. It is a bit softer and perhaps a bit more "slippery".  I would have enjoyed a bit of a crunch served with these shrimp just to keep my palate awake.  

The cod, was absolutely perfect. Poached to a creamy perfection, the inherently light flavored fish was buttery and delicious.  The spinach fondue, which I feared would be heavy and cheesy was a simple, elegant puree of spinach, served as the base of the dish which allowed every bite to be dragged through it.  The spinach had been pureed with thyme which gave it a beautiful, natural flavor. The potatoes, perfectly cooked cubes of starch, gave a beautiful toothsome texture to the dish, a wonderful contrast to the fork tender cod.  Similarly, the artichokes provided the same texture contrast, but with a more tart flavor, they added a beautiful addition.  I cleaned my plate with this one.

We finished off our meal with a shared piece of their Rosemary, White Chocolate Bread Pudding served on top of caramel sauce and with a lovely scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.  I am not a huge fan of white chocolate- I often find it too sweet for my taste.  However in this application, paired with the ever savory and wonderfully earthy rosemary herb, it was perfection.  The bread pudding was firmer than I normally enjoy, but it's sturdy-ness I felt actually battled down some of the over sweetness as well, and that rosemary.  Like a welcoming hug coming in out of the cold, the rosemary greeted each bite with vigor, and then faded to allow the white chocolate and yeasty-ness of the bread to shine forth. 

I must note the wonderful assistance of the servers. We had a difficult time deciding what entrees to order, and Island Creek's willingness to split each entree into our own portions made it easy to share, and to taste a fair amount of the menu without juggling plates and having awkward table space. While I'm sure that the request made it a bit tougher both on the servers and the kitchen, they suggested it without any hesitation and made it appear effortless.  

With fresh seafood, inventive preparations, and welcoming and attentive staff, I know I will soon return to Island Creek Oyster Bar            

Island Creek Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon


Delicious Dishings said...

Great review. I cannot wait to go there!

In and Around Town said...

Sounds fantastic! This review makes me push Island Creek Oyster Bar to the top of the "to-try" list!

Jen said...

Everyone in Boston should check this place out. We've been for dinner and oysters 3 times now, including this past Saturday. The food, service, cocktails, everything is amazing every time.

I highly recommend the lobster roe noodles. SOOOOO GOOD.

Anonymous said...

I have been wanting to go here FOREVER!! I may have to talk hubby into going there for our anniversary!

Unknown said...

This restaurant has been on my shortlist of new places to try for a while now. Your excellent review has pushed me over the edge and left my mouth watering! If you happen to have an urge for oysters or other seafood anytime soon, hit me up! xoxo

Vivian said...

Hmm I wish you had pictures! I love oysters!

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