***Two reviews for the price of one!***
The first time I went to Island Creek Oyster Bar (report after the jump), it was relatively empty; though the buzz was loud among the city’s food geeks, it had yet to spread. On my return visit a year-plus later, the giant house was packed to the gills. Little else has changed, however: both Jeremy Sewall’s kitchen & the bar—where long-&-still-rising stars Tom Schlesinger-Giudelli & Jackson Cannon ply their trade—remain at the center of a tightly run, smooth-sailing ship.
And you bet said ship trawls for daily-caught seafood. As he served us an absolute stunner of an off-menu dish composed of fish charcuterie, Schlesinger-Giudelli waxed ever so poetic about the 300-lb. bluefin that had come in straight off the boat to produce, among many other things, the pastrami-cured slices pictured center. My stars, they were beautiful, almost literally melting in the mouth, rich but clear-flavored—only subtly pungent (if that sounds like a contradiction in terms, trust me, it isn’t). The fluke crudo on the right might have been outstanding on its own but couldn’t quite hold up to its neighbors—the leftmost item being a luscious tidbit of smoked steelhead trout over a walnut pesto–daubed rye cracker topped with an orange segment: funky, salty, sour-sweet.
I followed it with the signature dish of fresh pasta tossed with pieces of braised short rib, copious chunks of lobster, & maitake mushrooms, which served as the icing on the umami cake;
it’s a solid hit, elegant yet robust, though it too was overshadowed by the unexpected: a buttermilk biscuit half-hidden among the side dishes.
Golden-topped & flaky-layered throughout (no small order at its 3-inch height), then lightly drizzled in a gently spiced honey butter, it was just obscenely spot-on. No meal here should go without at least one.
Not should it go without at least a few moments in the company of Schlesinger-Giudelli, as gracious as he is extremely well versed in all things boozy.
My take on the erstwhile Kenmore Square seafooder Great Bay—that the soaring, minimalist space in the Hotel Commonwealth was gorgeous; that the light, elegant plates mostly sparkled like sunshine in a pastel sketch of a stretch of oceanside—was not shared by everyone, which is why it’s no longer open. My initial take on its successor—that the mod, stone-toned space is gorgeous; that the mostly light, elegant plates sparkle profusely—seems to be shared by nearly everyone. Why I’m alone in feeling that the emperor hasn’t really changed clothes—that Island Creek Oyster Bar is awfully similar to Great Bay in spirit, in scope, in price—is beyond me.
But as long as he’s clad head-to-toe in stellar shellfish, I guess I don’t much care.
Having downed bivalves in every way, shape & form (unpictured: raw on the half-shell) over the course of 3 hours there, I feel as though I can summarize Jeremy Sewall’s repertoire in a sentence: wonderfully precise technique yields clean, crystal-clear flavors & textbook textures.
That’s true from the fat, funky fried oysters on butter-soft brioche buns with a lime-chili aioli that essentially gilds the lily of tartar sauce
& starkly, almost obscenely pure, firm razor clams with house-cured bacon (money not included)
to the oyster stew dominated by a giant brown-bread crouton topped with andouille & fennel cream
& the clam chowder with more bacon & mini–buttermilk biscuits—
both beautifully balanced between creamy richness, meaty, musky sweetness, soft toastiness, & herbal steam—
to the bacon-&-paprika-crusted Oysters Gregory, electric with hot, salty crunch.
Dense-crumbed, sugared doughnuts with caramel sauce & mulled cider would’ve been better if they were made with oysters.
Just kidding. Interesting whites by the glass, too—& though I didn’t put the bar to the test, with input from the Eastern Standard crew next door, I hear the cocktail program’s now worthy of the kitchen. All in all, ICOB’s the whole pearly polished package—not that I expected otherwise from consummate host/restaurateur Garrett Harker.