63 Salem St
Boston, MA 02113-2273
Ever walk by a place and just get a good feeling? In Boston’s North End, I was walking down a side street after having indulged in a Maria’s cannoli, and saw a small, stately window that read “Neptune Oyster”. I popped my head in, hoping to try and oyster or two, but was told the wait would be 20-30 minutes, at 6pm! I left as I had other dinner plans, but resolved to make it there someday.
I finally made it back a few days later. Really, I just came back to eat. In the interim, I had looked into more about the restaurant – and realized it was lauded as one of the best seafood restaurants in Boston by many different boards and publications. A true temple of seafood that represented the local catch quite well. I was determined to try as much of it as possible.
The space itself is tiny. A row of tables along one wall, and bar seating at the other. There are no reservations, so you have to come early, or expect to wait a long time. Bar seats are usually all that are open. Be prepared for a lot of bumping if you sit there.
The biggest thing I was wanting to try were East Coast oysters. I’d had various oysters in NYC, but none that had a great selection of East Coast shellfish. Most blended the most popular of East and West. At Neptune Oyster, the oyster list is extremely extensive for both coasts. I ordered every East Coast oyster i could get my hands on. That day, there were 9 in all. I also ordered a few West Coasts for comparison. They didnt compare.
[for those interested, the oysters chosen were Wellfleet, Island Creek (Duxbury), Katama Bay (Martha’s Vineyard), IC Neptune (Wellfleet), Ninigret (Charlestown), Little Bay (Durham NH), and Pemaquid (Darmiscotta)]
The oysters at Neptune Oyster were well shucked, carefully selected (not a mealy one in the bunch), and extremely fresh. Some rare, some not so rare, the price is market price, but worth every penny. They don’t overcharge, but they are not cheap. My favorite were the Island Creeks, IC Neptunes, and Ninigret.
Next was an order of Hamachi Sashimi. They took a simple fresh ingredient and dressed it up with coriander, fresh lime, thai chili, and olive oil. The overall taste was pleasant, but the freshness of the fish was hidden by all the strong tastes. It was fine, but no where near as good as the oysters.
One thing that caught my eye at Neptune Oyster was the local fried Ipswich clams. I’ve had fried clams a few times (even getting sick on some of them), but had never gotten some that i thought were very good, let alone amazing. I figured this was my best chance at getting some exceptional clams – so I went for it. They can be a bit scary to order, being listed at Market price, but they were quite reasonable for what you got (a very large serving ended up being $18). Nothing ridiculous.
The clams were completely ridiculous in how they tasted. They were amazing. First off they were near perfectly breaded – great crumb, great seasoning, nicely fried in good clean oil. The clams themselves were super fresh – they also didnt turn into paste post fry, which i’ve had in the past. They had a nice flavour and texture, i couldnt ask for anything more. If there were two must orders on the menu, oysters would be one, and these clams would be the second. Highly enjoyable.
The clams were a hard act to follow. Unfortunately for the order of Scottish Salmon with caramelized onions and Brussels sprouts, it was only decent. Cooked well, it was nicely roasted, moist, and tender. Flavour combinations were nice, but it was nothing exciting or dynamic – just a solid piece of salmon.
Every day of the week, Neptune Oyster has a special – on the Monday i was there, it was Lobster Spaghettini. One of our party had never tried lobster, so we decided to give it a share. The dish was a well cooked al dente spaghettini mixed with rich tomato sauce with large chunks of lobster throughout. It was tasty, but nothing earth shattering. It’s the type of meal I would whip up if I was brought a gift of fresh Maine lobster unexpectedly.
Of course, I hadnt had enough yet, so I had to order one more dish on the way out.
The most controversial dish, and one of the most popular, is the lobster roll. There is nothing all that controversial about the roll itself, but i find lobster rolls seem to generate a lot of heated discussion. People tend to fall into two camps – the mayo camp, who prefer their lobster rolls in mayo like the one at Pearl Oyster Bar, or the ones who prefer the lobster mixed with drawn butter. I won’t get into the argument, as you can find it pretty much everywhere, but needless to say, I am in the mayo camp, while Shokutsu is in the butter camp. We’ve had our own arguments over this. At Neptune Oyster, you can get it both ways. But the server recommended with butter, saying it was way better. So i tried it.
The lobster was very fresh, and added a lot of sweet, rich flavour to the richness of the butter. Something that butter doesnt really need in my books. The texture of the butter-lobster mix wasnt quite to my liking, but the flavour was good. The dish was served hot, with toasted bread, which further bothered me. The bread was too crunchy to be able to get a nice mouthful of roll with the lobster. All the ingredients were fresh. This was just not to my liking – but im betting anyone it’s what Shokutsu would’ve loved. Next time, im sticking with cold and mayo.
The fries were freshly cut, and tasted great. Enjoyable.
Neptune Oyster is a great experience, and deserves all of the accolades and acclaim as one of the best seafood restaurants in Boston. This is no Legal Seafood – there are no gimmicks here. Just super fresh ingredients prepared well. I didnt love every dish – the oysters, and fried clams were the definitely highlights for me, but I always found it to be a matter of personal preference, and not ill conceived conception, or poor execution. Every dish was fresh, and done well. If you are not in the experimental mood, I would suggest ordering carefully. There are enough variety in the dishes that you can find the style and tastes that suit your preferences. And this seafood is too good not to enjoy.