Here I am in Boston. On my way into the city, I knew I’d be here for a while. Before I hit the tarmac on the runways of Boston Logan International Airport, I was determined to find out what grounds I must cover, culinary and otherwise. Besides chowda, I knew I couldn’t leave the New England region without a lobster roll.
In my pursuit, as an eager rookie, I swiped my bank card at a vendor among those lining the halls of Quincy Market. Bad life choice. Sometime later, I was relaxing on the lawn of the Commandant’s house, clearing my thoughts as students of Berkeley produced their traditional concert. I asked a lady for a good place to get a lobster roll, explaining my prior failure. And she, without hesitation mentioned Neptune Oyster in Boston’s North End, adding it to my to do list.
The trip was weeks in the making (as this post, weeks in the publishing). As often as I do it, I try not to go it alone. But weeks prior, time ran out before my family and I could walk in. And just a week before, I invited people from work with zero success. So here I was, requesting a table for one, and I was kinda glad that I did; the dining room was small and packed. Sardines in a can? The lay out sort of encouraged the family style atmosphere. Waiting on my table, I admired the silhouette that shucking oysters in the window, with the clean and fresh presence of lemons in the corner.
Seated at the bar and presented a menu, the voyage began. As small as the menu was, I had some trouble navigating the menu, making such critical choices as what to have for dinner. I started with the P.E.I. mussels swimming in a red curry broth with a splash of lime off the shores of toasted cashews with sprouts of cilantro. (I thought about the johnny cake but I couldn’t make myself feel better about paying two dollars more for a pancake regardless of what embellishment topped it.)
As I sipped my ginger ale 🙂 in wait of the arrival of my mussels, the couple to my right visiting from Australia were having fun comparing a sampling from the raw bar, until my domed plate hit the bar. When I say domed, I’m referring to the bowl that hovered over the dish; I used it to harvest my shells. As the cover was removed, a fragrant cloud of smoke took its place. And when the smoke cleared, it revealed a heap of mussels, greater than I had imagined. I thought about asking my Australian neighbors for help but that just felt weird. So I got to work on the task at hand.
I’m no mussel expert so forgive me if my use of the word buttery to describe their flavor offends you. There was more flavor in the broth to be spoken of. Pleasantly warm and cozy considering the cold front moving in over Boston. I could quite clearly taste all the flavors listed on the menu: the lime, cilantro, and garlic. It was a bit salty I must admit, but I was overall satisfied (what else can you expect out of the seas?). Perhaps a smaller portion would’ve been more palatable, for an appetizer at least. (By the way, I’m not complaining.)
Somewhere during my analysis of my mussels, the folks to my right had moved on to their main course, which appeared as though it too was intended for sharing: the nights special, lobster spaghettini, and a warm, toasted lobster roll with melted butter and a pile of fries. I promised myself I would have to return for the handsomely stuffed lobster roll.
I had instead ordered arctic char. I think my reason for ordering was its accompaniments- some personal favorites. It was served atop farro, an ancient Middle Eastern variety of wheat, surrounded by cubes of roasted beets. I was intrigued, also, by the salad of sliced green grapes and cress and crème fraiche that rested on top. At this point, my experience wasn’t ruined but I did expect more. I’ve been trained to serve hot food on warm plates, and now when I go out I can’t help but to feel the rim of my plate for the warmth that it ought to bear, and the only warmth on this plate was that which it coerced from the entrée at its center. Now this being a seafood restaurant, I certainly had high hopes for my fish: skin on, grilled or broiled crispy, yet moist and plump beneath the surface. Neptune got part of this right. The skin had crispy bits but it there was no consistent crunch. The fillet itself, however, was succulent. As for the beets, they were cold. I don’t know if they were intended to be served cold but I felt they ought to have been served warm. The grapes pleasantly paired with the beets though- something to keep in mind for the future. (I might employ the combo when I go home for Christmas. )
And finally, what meal is complete without dessert? This one was. Not that I was looking for any, but with the North End so heavily populated with bakeries and patisseries, it’s not so uncommon for the restaurants here not to offer dessert, leaving it to those who stand solely for that purpose.
Please see through my tone and recognize that this is not a rant. My server was accommodating. Granted that in a space this intimate, there wasn’t much space for hiding but he was there when I needed something. What more do I really need him for? I enjoyed myself and the food was a nice break from what’s become the norm for me. However, the more you ask me to pull out of my pocket, the more quality I expect you to put on my plate; the more I pay attention to the finer details. Nevertheless, I will certainly return to Neptune, but next time for the lobster roll.