For the past few months the buzz in Boston has been over Summer Shack, Jasper White's new restaurant which opened in Cambridge last month. The idea is a marriage of seaside camp and high standards, which it mostly manages to pull off.
Arriving at 9pm on a Friday night, the parking lot (adjacent to the Alewife T stop in Cambridge) was pretty full. We were told that there was a half-hour to 45 minute wait; however, we managed to snag seats at the raw bar within 10 minutes, where there is full menu service. We started with a dozen oysters, which turned out to the night's big disappointment; we picked from as far north as their small selection allowed--Prince Edward Island--but the oysters were still flabby and creamy. One can't really fault the restaurant, though, as this isn't quite the season for oysters--nonetheless, at $21 for a dozen one might expect a better selection.
We ordered batter-fried skate wings and the clam bake. The skate wings were perfectly fried, but the skate itself is too delicate of a fish to be fried and it seems to lose some of its character in the process; unfortunately, this is the only preparation they offer.
The clam bake was great; the lobster was expertly done, succulent and perfectly cooked, and the clams and mussels were plump and juicy. Still, for $28, they could have given you a bit more of the shellfish. We also made short work of a mistakenly delivered order of chicken wings, awesomely done in a teriyaki-style preparation--a perfect balance of savory and lightly sweet.
Incidentally, lobster seems to be what Summer Shack does best; you can get it steamed, wood-grilled, wok-seared, stuffed with shrimp or pan-roasted. At the center of the garantuan restaurant is a 1500-gallon tank which can hold 1000 pounds of lobsters, and two 80-gallon steam kettles.
Still hungry, we got a pound of steamers ($11) and a positively decadent dessert of deep-fried apple fritters with caramel sauce ($4.50).
Summer Shack is a fun place. As mentioned; the restaurant is huge (not even including an adjacent lounge); the main dining area is mostly taken-up by long tables, covered in brown paper tablecloth. The atmosphere is seaside casual. The B-52's blare from the sound system (what else would you play?) and service is friendly if somewhat harried. I can easily imagine taking friends from out of town or extended family here; there's something that everyone will enjoy (except vegetarians) and it will be done unpretentiously and well.
Still, we left feel that everything was just a bit too expensive. At the end of the night we had a $100 bill with tip, when $75 probably would have been more reasonable. This could be because Cambridge is still awash in Internet money these days; nonetheless, if Jasper wants to bring his food to the people, he might bring the prices down to them as well.