The Director & I have an understanding that the Chowhound part of my heart belongs to David Nevins. The original chef of Neptune Oyster left Boston at roughly the same time I did to open Osetra Sono in Connecticut, leaving in turn a void for the place I’d call my own that no place since has ever filled.
Upon our first return to my old stomping (sometimes slurping, sometimes lurching) grounds in the North End a couple of years ago, I feared Neptune itself couldn’t quite fill it anymore; Nevins replacement Nate Nagy’s cooking, though technically every bit as proficient, just wasn’t, well, Nevins’ cooking. Upon our second a year later, Nagy’d come into his intelligent own, & Neptune felt exactly like home again.
And yet with the installment of Michael Serpa in the kitchen still another year hence, I suddenly got the weird magical sense that Nevins was back home where he belonged, at Neptune with me, in the form of our spiritual love child. Serpa may have “parents” & “a life” & his own way of doing things, but he’s got our twinned soul. I could see it, feel it, taste it in every bite I took on our, er, 3rd & 4th back-to-back return visits.
And there were a whole, whole, whole lot of bites.
Like the grandaddy of all New England oysters, Wellfleets, at 1 o’clock, followed clockwise by Summersides & Kusshis (which are hot these days, though I have to admit I prefer the similar but sweeter Kumamotos), plus the oyster crackers I can never stop popping no matter how much grub lies ahead.
Or the incredible welcome home I got in the form of diced scallops atop cornbread so dense & honeyed it was almost blondie-like, along with rhubarb mostarda & caviar—a dish in the classic Neptune style, composed of startling, intensely luscious juxtapositions.
Lighter & less classically Neptunian but no less satisfying was another off-menu amuse derived from an on-menu appetizer: generous slices of hamachi with bright mint kimchi, cucumber, lime & spiced sea salt,
Crudo specials change constantly, but if you hurry, you might yet catch the blue marlin tartare with sweet pea yogurt, mint & olive oil. Raw marlin tastes raw in the figurative as much as the literal sense: raw, deep & elemental. It’s eye-opening.
To say that the PEI mussels in red curry broth didn’t trump my all-time favorite mussel preparation at Neptune—basically an extravagant robiola-shellfish soup from 3 years back—isn’t to say it isn’t delicious, with cashews adding an unexpected flourish.
Many a meal here with the Director has been entirely & happily composed of appetizers. But when I found out he was a softshell crab virgin, there was no way I was going to let the opportunity to pop that particular crustacaean-based cherry & turn him into an ooh softshell crab lovah pass.
Sure enough, he should’ve gotten a room with what was basically an insane crab sandwich, thickly stuffed with tuna tartare & in turn sandwiched between mounds of avocado salad. The 1 bite I managed to swipe practically from between his lips was pure creamy-crunchy luxury, though. Take that, Double Down.
And as long as he was going all the way, I figured I might as well indulge in roasted striped bass over suckling pig hash & sauteed squid. Again, classic Neptune, the wildly original combination of fish & meat, the smart balance between creamy elements & fresh herbs—undeniably rich but never merely rich.
Which, speaking of calamari, brings me to another atypically simple special: grilled calamari salad. In less capable hands it might have been boring; in Serpa’s, the squid, tossed in black olive vinaigrette, just melted with complex flavor.
Much as the menu changes, there are a few signatures without a taste of which no trip to Neptune—hell, no trip to Boston—is complete. This time I had to revisit the vitello tonnato sandwich.
On the one hand, every time I have the two-hander composed of brioche piled high with roast veal, tuna tartare, cucumber salad & spicy mustard—accompanied by mwah! perfect crispy fries—I kinda can’t help but wonder what it would be like slathered with the traditional sauce, essentially a tuna-anchovy-caper mayo; on the other hand, I appreciate how damned inspired the modern update is. I just happen to be slavishly fond of creamy shit.
Like the highly pickled housemade tartar sauce that comes with the fried Ipswich clams. Of the 20 or so orders I’ve had over the course of Neptune’s 5 years in business, they’ve never been anything but expert, equal parts greaseless, well-seasoned breading to funky-sweet clam.
Looking at the photos, I’m practically tearing up. I already can’t wait to go back to see what my boy Serpa will come up with next! Couldn’t be a prouder imaginary mama.