Island Creek Oyster Bar has been a darling of this board since the day it opened, but for a variety of not very good reasons, and notwithstanding that I have been beating the drum forever about the fact that Boston was in desperate need of a higher end seafood restaurant, I hadn't made it to ICOB until last night.
Last night I found myself with an unexpected free night, so I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to see if I could get a seat at the bar at ICOB to see what the fuss was all about. Everything was going perfectly: no traffic on the drive from Cambridge, no hassle (and free) parking on Deerfield St., and the last seat at the bar when I walked in the door.
The menu is beautiful, with virtually everything sounding appealing. I really wanted the fried clams -- haven't had any in a long time -- but since this was my first visit, I didn't want to make any decisions without soliciting advice from the staff. Paul at the bar ("is a friend of mine, he gets me my drinks for free"; if he got the reference, he showed no humor about it; maybe he's heard it too often) touted the oysters (of course), but also said the oyster sliders were a "signature item." As for the entrees, he raved about the lobster roe noodles. If I wanted something lighter, he suggested the halibut with whole grain mustard spaetzle, grilled red onions and fava beans.
I liked the sound of the halibut, and paired it with a duo of oyster sliders and a glass of delicious (and strong) Belgian ale. The oysters were delicious, albeit without a lot of "oysterness" to them. Certainly for those wanting a more intense briny experience, raw oysters are the way to go, but perhaps the combination of generously buttered and grilled brioche buns, lime chile aioli and tabasco sauce (I can't eat fried seafood without tabasco sauce!!) overwhelmed the poor little bivalves. Yet they were delicious nonetheless, and when my plate was cleared, I commented that I thought I wanted another dozen of them. A good start to my meal!
Next came the halibut, the most disappointing part of my meal. The moment my fork touched the fish, I knew it was overcooked. Instead of yielding to the slightest touch of my fork, the fish required firm pressure to penetrate it. And while it wasn't completely devoid of moistness, it just wasn't what it should have been. If I were the type to send food back to the kitchen, this would have been the time. (We could, of course, have a many-post-long debate on sending food back to the kitchen, but irrespective of your position on the matter, my view is that this piece of fish never should have come out of the kitchen in the first place. Although I have no training in professional cooking, I have to imagine that any well trained line cook would know by the firmness of this piece of fish that it was overcooked.) The spaetzle was fine, although probably overcooked, too, and the whole grain mustard flavor was perhaps too subtle.
For dessert, I ordered the donuts with lavender pastry cream and red berry coulis. They were very nice, but would have been much better if served warm. (They were served at room temperature with refrigerator cold filling.) Like the mustard flavor with my fish, I found the lavender flavor of the filling to be too subtle (although I'm willing to admit that I might not be the best judge of these things, as I constantly overwhelm my taste buds with rivers of hot sauce, strong beers, and strong coffees). Also the red berry coulis smacked to me of the sauce that gets served with the cliche flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce; my view is that a velvety chocolate sauce would be a great improvement.
I'm sorry if I sound overly critical. I enjoyed my overall experience -- the vibe of the place, the service, the action at the bar -- and certainly will go back. But it wasn't as good as I expected, and unless my future experience demonstrates that my meal was an anomaly, I'll go back to lamenting the lack of good, higher end seafood restaurants in Boston.
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