Seafood lovers have it made in Boston. Deciding where to go for the best cup of chowder, the tastiest lobster roll or the freshest oysters off the boat is the only difficult part about enjoying the bounty of the sea. There seems to be no end of the love for bivalves, with raw bar options exploding over the last few years in the Hub. Restaurant after restaurant, from the Back Bay to the Seaport District, keeps popping up with menu descriptions as detailed as wine lists, with origins, flavor profile, and farming method of the cherished oysters all for the world to see. It’s a trend we hope continues. Here are some of our current favorites.
B & G Oysters
Opened in 2003 by Boston powerhouse chef Barbara Lynch, the South End’s B & G is still as popular today as the day it opened. The key to Lynch’s success — beyond her brilliance in the kitchen, of course — is in her dedication to detail and consistency in every one of her many ventures. On each visit to B & G, you can count on having at least 12 different types of East and West Coast oysters to choose from, as well as a variety of other seasonal seafood dishes. Not to be outdone, executive wine director Cat Silirie’s vino list offers a number of whites and sparkling wines, as well as a surprising selection of reds that she has chosen to complement the seafood. Along with oyster choices, deciding where to sit is a pleasant problem in warm weather. The cozy patio beckons, though getting a seat can entail a long wait, while the modern chic space inside offers a cool respite from the heat. Either way, you’ll be in the company of fellow oyster lovers, many who like to linger at the seafood bar, watching a server shuck away.
Select Oyster Bar
When chef Michael Serpa left his post at Neptune Oyster, a popular restaurant in the North End, to open his first solo operation, Select, fans of his were sad to see him leave but excited to find out what he would do on his own. We doubt anyone has been disappointed. This Back Bay winner is a sleek little number, with a pewter-topped bar and tin ceiling, where you can sip cocktails like Death in the Afternoon (sparkling wine and absinthe) and slurp a variety of oysters from the ever-changing menu. It can be difficult to score a spot on the 22-seat patio but, if you do, you’ll love the little courtyard, decorated with lights. From some seats, you can catch a view of the raw bar inside. Besides the oysters, other menu highlights include other raw dishes like scallops and salmon and, rare for Boston, traditional Russian caviar service.
Stepping into Marliave in Downtown Crossing is like taking a quick trip into another era. Opened in 1885 by French immigrant Henry Marliave, the restaurant has withstood the test of time, keeping its classic appeal is intact. Owned and operated today by chef Scott Herritt (of nearby Grotto), the landmark restaurant with two dining rooms has been lovingly restored. The downstairs bar, which evokes the establishment’s bootlegging days, serves classic Prohibition-era cocktails like smashes, sling and mules to the crowds who gather for each of the two daily half-price raw oyster happy hours from 4 to 6 p.m. and 9 to 10 p.m. Outside, the popular patio is another favorite when the weather cooperates. The menu runs mostly French, with escargot, omelets and steak frites being highlights from the kitchen.
“We’re Row 34. If we could eat oysters and drink beer for every meal period, we probably would. Professionals Only.” That is the opening line on Row 34’s website and it pretty much says it all. This place is a celebration of seafood and everyone appears to be on board. Located in the Fort Point neighborhood, this is a sister restaurant to the wildly popular Island Creek Oyster Bar in Kenmore Square. The interior could be called industrial chic, with monochrome colors, lots of brick, steel and weathered wood beams. Beyond the variety of oysters (Island Creek included, of course), the kitchen smokes and cures seafood on site, which is definitely worth sampling. While the wine list is well curated, the restaurant is justifiably proud of its extensive beer list, with two dozen ever-changing varieties on tap. And if you think beer doesn’t mesh with mollusks, just sidle up to the bar and let one of the well-informed bartenders change your mind.
Mare Oyster Bar
Much like the smell of mignonette sauce, change is in the air at this North End favorite. Mare is one of the many properties in Frank DePasquale’s North End restaurant empire (Trattoria il Panino, Bricco, Quattro, among others), but the eatery has proven to be a bit too small for its popularity. Among one of the best parts of the new, larger space opening in late July is that it will have an outdoor patio, a definite perk in a neighborhood where every foot is at a premium. Menu standards, including the raw bar, crudos and other seafood specialties, will still be available, as well as all of the tasty cocktails guests come in for, like the Old Cuban (maple rum, lime, mint, bitters and prosecco) and the Moonraker (Grand Marnier, Grand Marnier raspberry peach, Campari, sour mix and bitters).