Monday, September 17, 2007

Neptune Oyster, What a Dissapointment

As mentioned the other day, I wanted to talk about my dining experience on Saturday night at Neptune in Boston's North End at 64 Salem st. I had heard many great things about the restaurant, particularly about their oyster selection. They are known for their seafood dishes as well and an eclectic wine selection.

The street front as you can see from the picture is interesting with a nice blue awning and a huge picture window. When walking by the restaurant you can see the entire inside and watch the oyster shucker at work. The restaurant easily could have been a diner or at least a lunch counter years ago but not with the marble and wood adornments. It had a nice feel to it, the marble counter/bar had a large mirrors behind it informing the guests of the day's oyster selection. The tables lining the opposite side of the dining room were marble topped and unadorned. Simplicity seemed to be the key for this room, evoking the feeling of walking in from the wharf to have one's fresh seafood. This theme played into the napkins as well which were what I call "side towels" but others would think of a kitchen towels, Jasper White does the same thing at the Summer Shack as does, Gaslight, B&G Oysters and others, so it is obviously a trend.

I sat myself down at the bar/counter. The server plopped a list for oysters down for me with a pencil to select what I like and a full menu as well. They carry a large variety of raw oysters as well as clams and shrimp cocktail. I ordered five different oysters, two each, and one shrimp cocktail. Those who know me, always know why I order the shrimp cocktail at a restaurant. If you can not cook one of the most expensive ingredients in your kitchen properly, the rest of the meal is going to be awful as most other ingredients do not cost as much as shrimp. The oysters were excellent, the shrimp on the other hand was not deveined and it was severely overcooked. When overcooked, shrimp is dry and tough as this was. Not a good way to begin the meal, but I had a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand and as others had suggested I try the place I figured I'd continue.

The menu reads well, some traditional fish house looking items on the appetizer list like clam chowder, oyster stew, crab louis salad, steamed mussels, fried clams. There were some other eclectic items like fried cauliflower with anchovies, bottarga, fresh mozzarella; lump crab scampi with with green garlic crepe, fingerling (potato) crema, spec ham; fried oysters with pickled beef tongue, cabbage, warm gruyere and Russian dressing. The people next to me got the fried oysters, they fried oysters were sitting on a bed of cabbage and were drowned under the dressing which seemed to have the tongue in it. I felt bad for the crispy oysters as they became soggy under the sauce.

I opted for a "Crudo" (as the menu stated for the Italian neighborhood feel) or salad as my appetizer, which was sea urchin with fried chickpeas, grilled eggplant, cucumber, torn mint and a "nero style" vinaigrette. I could have gone for the sea urchin along with the grilled eggplant, cucumber, mint and even the dressing and maybe a few of the chickpeas. What I got was this honking mass of leathery greens that had seen better days, mixed with everything else and this odd "crema" Ill say on the bottom as a few of the dishes have what they called a crema on them on their menu descriptions. There were enough stale fried chickpeas to feed the dining room for bar snacks on my plate. Our path toward entree isn't looking too strong at this point, luckily there was still the Sauvignon Blanc.

Entree time, the menu has nine options for entrees, seven of which are seafood items, the others were ribs and a steak. A trout dish that has in its description "multi-spring onion invasion". Well they must be invading, because it's late summer; a traditional looking Cioppino which is appropriate for an Italian neighborhood (if only I ordered that), salmon with a saute of crispy duck, sounds interesting; red snapper with sweetbread butter, mortadella, green bean artichoke lace (I'm confused); roast monkfish and clams, charred broccoli, olives, white cornmeal; and the two items I was torn between a marlin duet tartare with sweet pea crudo, mint yogurt, then flash grilled(?), carrot marscapone, chilies and pecorino; the other option is the one I went with was Columbia river sturgeon with a black current caviar "pearl" jam, plum/graham cracker panzanella and marrow crema.

I've had fresh sturgeon once before this, and telling the waitress this and that I disliked the overly dirt flavor you get from it (hence most sturgeon is smoked), she stated it was subdued and the sauce complimented the flavors of the fish. If there was more sauce I may have been able to cover up the flavor of the fish, I'll give the kitchen credit as the fish was perfectly cooked with a nice crust on it, but wow it was like eating properly cooked fleshy mud. The sauce was incredibly sweet, the "panzanella" was as such in name only. I understand trying something different, but all ti was was crumbled graham crackers with wedges of plum, truly a disappointment. Mind you also, this dish is $25.00, not inexpensive. I am willing to pay even higher for a good dish as I have many times, but this was not one of those cases in which I was pleased.
Would I go back? Maybe for oysters and to have some wine. I might even try one of the traditional dishes on the menu, but this visit literally left some bad tastes in my mouth. The service was pretty darn good I have to say, and she was very attentive and helpful as well. I also met a great couple who were out for the day in town that were really into food.
At the end of the meal I have to say I went back over to Marco to see the great people I had met a couple weeks prior and had some great traditional Italian food to recover from the experience at Neptune. I always tell people to make their own judgements on a place, so feel free to try out Neptune, but do so with caution with some of the menu items. Shrimp cocktail, I should have stuck to my rule-of-thumb

Appetizers: $10-$15.00
Entrees: $21-$34.00
Sandwiches: $12-$22.00

Sun-Wed 11:30am-11:00pm
Thu-Sat 11:30am-12am

Phone 617-742-3474

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