Melancholy descended before we did. Though Denver is not yet my home, one glimpse of the skyline from the plane window confirmed that Boston no longer can be.
Not that melancholy isn’t its own form of joy. Especially under the spectacular circumstances: the Director & I shot straight from Logan into Chinatown & The Best Little Restaurant, where we caught the tail end of a raucous party of dear old friends from chowhound.com, who plied us with leftovers—unbelieveable fried squab (is a pigeon just 1 big liver? Something of that rich iron savor seems to suffuse every inch of its flesh), eaten with squeezes of lemon & sprinkles of salt & pepper from a finger bowl; braised duck; deep-fried garlic spare ribs—& whom we plied in turn with booze until the movements of at least 1 of us began to resemble those of some sort of cross between a squid & a corpse. & I’m relieved to say for once it wasn’t me. As far as I recall.
From there we hit the poshest sack I ever did hit: the apartment of 1 said hound, whose terrace affords (definitely the right word for it) a nonpareil view of much of Boston proper & its landmarks—the Pru & the Citgo sign beyond the Common to the west, the capitol dome & the brownstones of Beacon Hill to the north—
while the couch afforded an even more stunning view of Sam, landmark of his own domain, totally as wide as he is tall:
Next morning, after coffee on his freakin’ great yacht, moored at Commercial Wharf on the harbor, the same hound showed us his lobster traps
which were however filled with crabs, apparently too small for good eating, so he stabs them with a nail & makes bait of them. This one made a break for it to no avail. Hypocrite that I am as an insatiable carnivore, I couldn’t watch but I think the Director couldn’t not.
The moment I crossed the threshold of Jeff Nace’s wee seafooder in the North End 3 years ago, all of a block & a half from my then-apartment, I knew it would be my place—clean & well-lighted indeed, from the pressed-tin ceilings & the subway tiles to the etched glass & the mirrors lettered with the names of the oysters of the day—
which are also listed, complete with the most charmingly precise tasting notes (Katama Bay, MA: “briny, buttered popcorn finish”; Kumamoto, WA: “plump, creamy, hints of cucumber”) on the slips of paper on which they record your order—& the Director & I record our memories of each visit:
What I didn’t yet know is that my place, low-key & laidback as it appeared, would introduce to me a chef whose culinary style was so startlingly bold & intelligent as well as just plain fun as to be, I dare say, absolutely original in a field where most so-called creations are really just reactions, variations. David Nevins has made many of the best dishes I’ve had in my life: a salad of salt cod & crispy lamb with parsnip puree; smoked salmon mousse with roe, kiwano melon & horseradish croutons; above all those unforgettable fried oysters with pickled beef tongue, gruyère, sauerkraut & Russian dressing—which, for me, truly expanded the horizon of a single plate—& on & on.
4 of the last 5 meals I had before moving to Denver were at Neptune; so genuinely broken up was I about saying goodbye that it wasn’t until I heard Nevins had left to open his own place—Osetra in Norwalk, CT—that I could genuinely say I’d done the right thing by moving halfway across the country to be with the love of my life. Sure, the Director’s my soulmate, but Nevins was my soulchef.
I trusted, however, Nace’s savvy, & imagined he’d hire someone who’d follow in Nevins’ footsteps—however wildly, wonderfully all over the place they may be.
& so he has, though I can’t say from 1 meal this Nate Nagy fellow is quite Nevins’ equal.
On the flavor spectrum, the Director’s pan-seared bass with succotash & a mussel vinaigrette (they were out of the razor clams they usually use) ranged from bright to brighter.
Octopus salad with fennel, green apple & citrus sparkled too; still, I couldn’t help but dream of how Nevins’ version might have looked (especially given that the menu at his new place boasts a braise of octopus with chicken, of all things. Another dish combines caviar & bone marrow. The mind boggles).
Cornmeal-crusted fried trout & crab hush puppies with blueberry brown butter & parsnip puree was the most like it, veering from sweet to salty & back again.
As always, we were treated with tender care by servers highly seasoned for their youth; complimentary welcome-back glasses of brachetto d’acqui ended the meal, & we knew they wouldn’t be the last. Neptune will always be my first Boston stop, if never again my home away from home.