Review: Island Creek Oyster Bar

A simple, confident take on clam-shack cuisine
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  April 24, 2011
4.0 4.0 Stars

Lobster roe noodles ($27) are not the brilliant red of the roe, but an interesting orange, with some seafood flavor and a softer texture than regular fettuccine, and the chef's idea is to top them with slices of slow-braised beef short rib. Some cubes of rutabaga and mushrooms among the rich sauce of the beef make for a fascinating little platter. The only weak dish we had at ICOB was "George's Bank swordfish" ($27), and it may simply have been a particularly bland fish, on top of somewhat rubbery gnocchi, although roast asparagus and braised onion were good garnishes. Our lone side dish, a honey-glazed biscuit ($4), was good enough to fight over.

As makes sense, the wine list is mostly whites, with expensive examples of the white Burgundies that bring out the sweetness of oysters so well. The best cheat on the list is a 2008 Quincy by Philippe Portier ($38), an upper-Loire wine from a little-known region near Sancerre. A little vanilla oak would really sell more oysters, but it's a great general food wine. Tea is served loose-leaf in a filter pot; coffee is allegedly Chemex — an old filter system. Certainly the decaf ($3) was fresh and strong our night.

Sewall has long been an exponent of hearty desserts, and my favorite here was a coffee-chocolate pudding ($8) under lots of real whipped cream. The locavore/whole-food ideology probably tripped him up on mango frozen yogurt ($8). Rosemary-vanilla bread pudding ($8) was subtle on the rosemary, and very, very good. A plate of four chocolate dainties ($8) had the sampler problem. The demitasse of hot chocolate was sensational, the cube of flourless chocolate decadence was excellent, but bits of cake and tart got lost. Likewise, milk and cookies ($8) loaded the milk with vanilla ice cream, and the four cookies of different types were all in the warm, half-baked style. Some people will find this immensely comforting — I want the chef to pick his favorite cookie and perfect it, and make a similar decision about chocolate.

The redecoration of the large room has somehow reduced the sound, enabling us to hear the one discordant design element — alt-rock background music. What's oysterish about alternative rock? A mural based on oyster-farming cages and trays covers the interior long wall; driftwood-gray lattices and shutters break up the window side, and the color is the same as the light-walnut-finish tables. Black and white and gray can be too modish, and seaside décor a bit cliché. The balance of the two makes this room instantly serious yet casual, a wonderful setting for food that also confidently navigates between clam-shack informality and high chefly concepts. Steve Johnson, the other local chef who fishes and gathers his own oysters and mussels, says it's six weeks until mackerel start running. I can't wait.

Robert Nadeau can be reached at robtnadeau@aol.com.

Island Creek Oyster Bar | 500 Comm Ave (Kenmore Square), Boston | 617.532.5300 | Open Monday–Saturday, 4 pm–1 am, and Sunday, 10:30 am–12 am | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full Bar | Valet Parking: $16 | Sidewalk level access

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