ICOB–A New Standard in Oyster Bars

Oct 18, 2011

Island Creek Oyster Bar has been open a year now. Before it opened, the owners declared that their goal was to capture the essence of the Island Creek Oyster company and recreate it in the city of Boston. I thought that seemed unlikely. How do you transfer the beachy good vibes of Duxbury to Kenmore Square, one of the busier patches of ground in Boston? But amazingly, they have done the trick. The oyster bar, which is one of the more unusual restaurant spaces you’ll find, manages to be both chic and authentically salty and earnest, the way people who make their living on the water tend to be. For that, kudos go not just to the Island Creek team but also to co-owner Garret Harker, who is also the genius behind Eastern Standard, next door.

Oysters at ICOB (Belons, no less! Notice the bands). That's owner Garrett Harker, a perpetual motion machine, sliding past.

One effect of the oyster revolution of the past five years is that the whole concept of the oyster bar has been evolving with dizzying speed. Oyster bar owners–and patrons–have had the opportunity to think about what they want an oyster bar to be. It isn’t the old-school places where the single choice of (tired) oysters are simply the excuse for drinking. It isn’t even the old-old-school places that crank out so many oysters so fast, and have so many varieties at once, that they don’t actually pay too much attention to what’s on the plate when it goes out. You can’t tell anyway, they secretly believe. No, America seems to be coming to a moment of clarity on what it wants in an oyster bar, and that’s a relatively small place with an incredibly well-selected variety of oysters, shucked expertly.

The remarkable thing about ICOB is that they seem to believe that you care where your oysters come from. They believe this so much that they even put the provenance and the name of the grower right on the menu.

 

Waiter, waiter, there's a farmer in my oysters!

That’s the sort of earnestness that comes when the people who grow the food try to present it in the way that they think matters, and try to work directly with the growers. In fact, that was the whole vision behind the restaurant, according to Shore Gregory, IC’s Director of Business Development: “One of the great joys of opening a restaurant has been to bring to the forefront all of these amazing farmers. Farmers who take so much pride in the oysters they grow should be matched up with chefs who take that same pride and honor the food. ¬†Acting as that conduit has been really fun.”

That philosophy carries through to the oyster bar’s design. Not only should the oysters taste like the place they come from, the whole room should feel like it. This idea could easily have fallen into the trap of absolute kitsch. Thanks to somebody (perhaps the designer who insisted on turning the giant photo of the Duxbury mudflats upside down?), it didn’t.

Island Creek Oyster Bar: hints of upwellers, docks, and Cape Cod shingles.

Instead, the feeling is of transparency and light–two things you don’t usually associate with an oyster bar. Brightness seeps at you from all directions, the way it does at the beach, and you are left with memories of texture–sand and shell and wood slats. Afterward, you feel like you’ve been somewhere–a very rare restaurant experience–and it’s somewhere you can’t wait to return. As the Red Sox Royal Rooters would have put it, ‘Nuff said.

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2 Responses to ICOB–A New Standard in Oyster Bars

  1. Randy Nasmith says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. I travel for business and make a point of trying oyster bars all over the country and this one is no doubt the best. The oyster list is legendary–keeps me coming back again and again. People will be talking about this place for years to come if they keep it up.

  2. Nigel Moore says:

    I love the sincerity of the place and owners! In fact it should be good practice in all restaurants to disclose provenance of the food served, especially concerning raw food. I would like to go one better and see menus giving a short description of the cultivation methods used (inc type of seed – hatchery or natural). All that should be self-evident in this day and ageso as to capture the diner’s imagination and educate the consumer. Enjoy your website and its passion!!

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