The Restaurant Adventures of Papa Sim and Daughter Sim: Neptune Oyster
by Katya Simkhovich
… and a mere two days later, my hunger for what had previously been a figment of my imagination, expectations, and one offensively fishy experience with lobster when I was 12, was satisfied at Neptune Oyster. Hidden amongst the less traveled streets of the north end, flanked by a confection and cupcake shop and an undoubtedly suffering oyster bar, Neptune Oyster was a hidden gem if there ever was one. Was. Until of course it became recognized for it’s superb raw oyster bar, supposedly best lobster rolls in Boston, and beautiful (not wobbly – my satisfied father noticed) marble tables. Ok, so maybe not for the tables but they are really nice and I have to agree with my father, it’s nice when a table weighs so much that no part will ever leave the ground to the annoyance of a customer. I’m entirely serious.
Neptune Oyster is charmingly small, and this supposedly almost always results in a one to two hour wait (this is based off of other reviews I’ve read) for dinner, especially on weekends. However, my father and I being the odd people we are went at the awkward time of 4:45 pm on a Monday. Too early for an early dinner, too late for a late lunch, but just perfect if you want to be seated immediately and desire quick service. But enough about the formalities of eating out, onwards to the food!
A meal at Neptune would not be complete without trying some raw oysters, especially considering I’ve never had oysters of the raw variety before and I figured this would be a convenient time to give them a taste. And my oh my! Raw oysters are quite something.
I had set my expectation for raw oysters to be terrifyingly ocean-y tasting – I expected it would be much like drinking sea water, but in a solidified chewy form. Happily, my expectations were very incorrect. After squeezing a couple of drops of lemon on each slimy gray mass (there’s really no way you could describe them as beautiful), residing in a considerably more beautiful shell, I slurped my first oyster. And then I chewed. And chewed some more. And wondered where the ocean was. And then, I tasted it. It was briny and salty and gladly reminded me nothing of the many years as a small child swallowing obscene amounts of ocean water when trying (and clearly failing) to face the waves head-on. To say my first taste of oysters turned me into a devoted oyster bar hopper, would be incorrect. It was an interesting and valuable experience and I will never be opposed to slurping a few raw sea creatures in the future. However, my immediate future was seeing a heaping lobster roll accompanied by an equally heaping pile of crispy golden fries coming my way.
The cold lobster roll at Neptune is a buttery grilled bun stuffed beyond its capacity with a generous pile of incredibly large chunks of tail and claw meat ever so lightly coated in mayo. The fries tasted incredibly fresh (as fresh as something fried can taste) and were fabulously crispy. It was exactly what I had desired, although a few little bites of celery would not have been amiss and I ended up adding a little tarter sauce for some more zing. I know, so untraditional. What can I say, I am a liberal. My father ordered a plate of fried ipswich clams. They arrived beautiful, whole, and a crispy golden brown and alongside was a tartar sauce that my father declared to be the best he’s ever had. Not to mention he found the clams to be quite delicious too. We agreed that when clams are fried whole, belly and all, it creates a better balance between sea critter and crispy fried coating. Ordered whole, you can still taste the clams, whereas clam strips are more like fried strips of stuff that are afraid to boldly assert themselves as members of the clam family.
But back to the lobster roll. For I must rant.
When I think of lobster, I cannot help but be reminded of the fact that once upon a time it was considered the food of the poor and to even look upon a lobster would lower your social status to serfdom. Since then, the lobster has made a complete turn around and now makes nuisances of us all. People are now willing to pay “market price” to wear bibs, hack away at a hard shell for a few pieces of rubbery meat, only to obscure any trace of flavor by dousing these few prized pieces in butter. Frankly, I find it a little humiliating. Now I don’t mean offense to anyone, because lobster is a pleasantly sweet and very meaty crustacean. I myself appreciate it and don’t mind self-humiliation. But really, it’s not that good. Why else is it usually doused in butter or obscured by the rich flavors of dishes such as mac and cheese or ravioli (that conveniently allows restaurants to charge exceedingly more for such dishes that really wouldn’t be that different without lobster)?
Of course none of this means I won’t return to Neptune to give their hot lobster roll a try – the same generous chunks drenched in hot clarified butter on a roll. Everyone’s a hypocrite these days anyways.