Neptune Oyster

Feb 25, 2008

Boston has many a good oyster bar, but it’s got nothing else quite like Neptune Oyster.  In fact, neither does anywhere else. Look around this tiny North End gem and you’re convinced you are in a Paris bistro—that is, until you look at the menu, when you instantly know you’re in New England. Neptune carries a dozen different oysters nightly, all extraordinarily fresh, and the focus is, quite rightly, on New England. When I stopped in on a Saturday night, they had no less than six different Massachusetts oysters—Wellfleet, Island Creek, Katama Bay, Marion Port, Taylor Bay, and Martha’s Vineyard—plus oysters from Rhode Island, Maine, and two from PEI. A Fanny Bay (Pacific) and a Kumamoto rounded out the dozen. Island Creeks were, as always, a standout—somehow they manage to be both intensely briny and sweet-creamy at the same time—but the Katama Bays (from Martha’s Vineyard) gave them a run for their money, showing the same flashiness but perhaps a bit more cohesion in their flavors. The Taylor Bays, which I hadn’t had before, were interesting, less salty and with a pleasantly bitter finish. The Summersides were superb, more savory than the rest. (Summersides are unheralded oysters from PEI, but their rich umami flavor consistently has a wow quality. Order them if you see them.) The only duds were the Martha’s Vineyards, as dull as ever, and the Kumamotos, which tasted fine but were laughably small (an inch?) and really should have been put back in Kindergarten for another year. The oysters were so fresh and firm that I ate them unsauced, but Neptune serves an interesting mignonette made with Prosecco instead of vinegar—much less acidic than a typical mignonette, which may or may not suit you.

 

I’m not always a fan of wine with oysters, but Neptune owner Jeff Nace nailed perfect matches twice. (Which should come as no surprise; Nace was the wine buyer for Olives for twelve years before starting Neptune.) A 2005 Cinque Terre, a mix of various grapes, had a fresh, piney olive scent that stood up to the Atlantic oyster brine. With the West Coast oysters, Nace recommended a South African Sauvignon Blanc called Beyond. It was a revelation, its musty flavors wholly unlike California or New Zealand SBs. It was like a woodsy, smoky Sancerre, and I’d love to see it entered in some of the oyster-wine contests out there.

 

The ambience of Neptune Oyster plays into the pleasure. The dominant colors are white and glass. The oyster selection is chalked on the mirror behind the bar. The pressed-tin ceiling casts a glow. As I ate my Island Creek oyster and set its shell face-down on the tray of ice, I realized all the colors on the tray—the chalk-white shell, the lights refracted in ice—were perfectly mirrored by the room. Sitting on a high stool at the bar, with that bright, dreamy glow all around, made it seem like a place out of time, and gave the impression that Neptune Oyster is where ostreaphiles who are very, very good get to go when they die.

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