When I think New England, I think seafood. Not the fancy towers of tuna sashimi or perfectly arranged plate of halibut cooked “sous vide” but rather the charming roadside restaurants in Maine. Perhaps it’s the crisp outdoor air but somehow this casual dining experience inevitably makes the lobster taste sweeter and the memories of fresh seafood linger longer. B&G Oyster has managed to capture this essence of impeccable New England seafood favorites, albeit in a much tonier environment.
The restaurant is certainly no clam shack. Located in a townhouse in Boston’s chic South End, the subterranean dining room evokes a stylish vibe with cool stainless steel, polished blue-grey tiles and a gleaming white-marble bar that wraps around the open kitchen. In warmer weather (which I’m already looking forward to), there is an adjacent backyard patio lined with twinkling lights where you can dine under the stars. The restaurant has been filled to capacity each time I’ve dined there but it somehow manages to pull off the crowded space as energetic rather than suffocating. However, this is definitely not the place to host your next section event for 90 people. Most “tables,” which are actually high tops placed flush against the wall with cool, black bar stools, accommodate only two or three people. Your other seating option is at the long bar facing the open kitchen. I prefer these seats as it gives you a chance to watch the master oyster shuckers in action and chat with them about what’s fresh in their rotating daily selection. In total, I would estimate the restaurant to seat approximately 40 people, making it preferable to dine either before or after the dinner rush.
My most recent dinner there began with crusty sourdough bread served with a creamy butter. Figuring that we should take a cue from the restaurant name, we moved on to a platter of shucked-to-order oysters. As neither one of us was an oyster expert, we left the selection of oyster variety in the hands of the capable shucker working in front of us. It was fascinating to watch as he expertly wielded a sharp knife to pry open a large pile of oysters at an alarmingly fast rate. In no time at all, our plate of quivering fresh oysters ($2.25 per oyster) on a bed of crushed ice appeared. My personal favorite was the Kumamoto.
Although one of the smaller varieties, it had a deep shell which produced a flavor of mild saltiness combined with creamy texture and rich finish. We next deliberated between equally delicious- sounding fried seafood appetizers. Fried calamari with a spicy lemon aioli narrowly beat out either fried clams or fried oysters, both served with homemade tartar sauce.
In contrast, the main event was not a difficult choice. I had heard from several sources that the lobster roll at B&G Oyster is the best in New England. Any claims of “best of” are always certain to stir up discussion so I was curious to try it for myself. The B&G lobster roll is a deceptively simple dish consisting of a buttered grilled hotdog bun stuffed with a salad of lobster, aioli, celery and chives. It is served with homemade bread-and-butter pickles, coleslaw, fries and enough lobster meat to justify its pricey cost of $24. Two other variations on this superb sandwich are the classic B.L.T. and the B.L.T. with lobster.
For once, I had to pass on dessert as we were late for a party. A quick glance at the menu confirms this was a bad decision when vanilla bread pudding with spiced figs and a butterscotch sundae were both offered.
With a blend of homestyle New England seafood and luxurious upscale touches, B&G Oyster is a good place for a fashionable dinner with a couple of friends or a romantic dinner for two. Just two words of caution: be prepared to wait, and after a few glasses of wine, be careful navigating the incredibly narrow and vertigo-inducing spiral staircase leading to the downstairs bathroom!
Dinner for two: ~ $120 (including a bottle of wine)
550 Tremont Street (at Waltham Street; take the T Orange Line to Back Bay)