It may be the best oyster bar in Boston. It is most certainly the best oyster bar I’ve ever been to, anywhere. The setting is grand and statedly masculine with its swooping ceilings, wood and metal furnishings, a tactile wall constructed of oyster shells, a mammoth, hanging light fixture that feels more work lamp than chandelier, and the vaguely apocalyptic mural that steals focus along the bar’s back wall. But there are soft touches too, like cushy banquette seating, a smiling hostess eager to please, and the warm glow of dim light. Which is to say nothing of the first-rate oysters or the rest of Chef Jeremy Sewall’s seafood-centric menu that expertly blends classic and contemporary New England cuisine. As far as I can tell, Island Creek Oyster Bar is in a league of their own.
I came late to oysters. It took a good 24 years before I could stare down a bivale and slurp it up. My boyfriend has been tossing them back since he was four, so he’s got two decades on me and a deeper appreciation for mollusks from every maritime. Truth be told, until our first outing at Island Creek, I claimed not to enjoy East Coast oysters at all. They tend to be bigger, brinier and are harder for me to get down. West Coast oysters on the other hand, have always held more of an allure in my mind; small, supple and smooth, I was convinced I would entertain a future of Kumamotos and Shigokus without every venturing into Atlantic waters again.
So it was with baited caution on my first visit to ICOB that I set upon ordering their provincial Island Creek oysters. And boy, am I glad I did. I loved them. They were clean, silken creatures with a subtle saline bite, wetting my palate and setting the stage for the multi-course meal that was to follow.
The menu changes regularly at ICOB, but if you’re lucky enough to catch them while in season, may I recommend the fried, sweet Maine shrimp, the playful twist on lox made with Arctic char, the lobster roe noodles accompanied by grilled lobster and braised short ribs and the local clam chowder seasoned with house-cured bacon and a floating buttermilk biscuit–bar none, the best chowda’ I’ve ever tasted. Less successful dishes included the lobster risotto (bland and gummy) and the crab carbonara (lacking lusciousness). While the place isn’t perfect, the wine list, spirits menu and savory-sweet desserts are rather spot-on. Opt for hard to find bottles of white like the Jacques Puffeney Arbois Chardonnay from the Jura region of France, paired alongside a key lime parfait sandwiched between layers of chantilly cream…an utterly crave-able combination.
Island Creek Oyster Bar elevates the everyday oyster shack. I’ve been to ICOB twice, both times for a special occasion. Most recently, I celebrated my birthday there with my two best girlfriends. As perfectly apropos for a night out on the town with my ladies as it is for a romantic dinner for two, I needn’t wait for my next celebratory excuse as a reason to return.
Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215
Neighborhood: Kenmore Square/Fenway