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Arts & Entertainment

Nightlife: Island Creek Oyster Bar

Where the mollusk reigns supreme

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Photos by Cydney Scott

Anyone who loves seafood, and in particular, oysters, has reason to celebrate. Island Creek Oyster Bar has taken up residence in Kenmore Square’s Hotel Commonwealth. Opened in 2010, the restaurant has earned a reputation for superb cuisine, innovative décor, and a staff that knows the menu and wine list inside out.

Described by the owners as a “high-energy oyster bar and seafood restaurant” as well as “a celebration of community,” Island Creek delivers on both counts. The night we dropped by, the sleek bar that commands the front of the restaurant quickly filled with young professionals, and nearly every table in the dining room was occupied. Even with a crowd, the strategic acoustics allow for conversation without having to raise your voice.

The raw bar occupies center stage and is unquestionably the main attraction. Nestled between piles of crushed ice resembling large diamonds are a glistening array of some of the freshest oysters to be had anywhere in Boston. The Island Creek oysters ($2 each) from Duxbury and the Cuttyhunks ($2.50 each) from Cuttyhunk, Mass., were suffused with a wonderful, briny essence. The Hog Island oysters ($3 each) from the West Coast had a mellower, more buttery flavor. And if oysters aren’t your thing, there are also littleneck clams ($1.50 each), so fresh they could have been pulled from the ocean just minutes before.

A note about the raw bar: items change night to night, depending on what’s available. For the best selection, you may want to get there early. The night we went, several items were no longer available by 8 p.m.

If a raw bar isn’t to your liking, fear not. There are plenty of other notable appetizers to select from like the crispy IC Oyster Sliders ($4 each), served on a brioche roll with a lime chile aioli, or the smoked red trout ($12), with walnut pesto, rye crisp, and orange.

The main courses are equally fresh. The restaurant offerings range from fried fish and chips ($17) to scallops served in a parsnip cream, with Yukon gold potatoes ($29). We had the Mrs. Bennett’s seafood casserole ($24), named for co-owner Skip Bennett’s mother. Replete with chunks of Maine lobster, scallops, haddock, and shrimp, it could do with a little less salt. The lobster roll ($19) we sampled offered a generous amount of succulent lobster meat, but was somewhat overwhelmed by a rosemary brioche. The side dishes are outstanding, most notably the zucchini cakes ($5).

As much thought is given to the spirits and wines served here as to the food. Designed by bar director Jackson Cannon, the cocktail menu is brief, but wonderfully innovative. The restaurant’s signature drink, called the Perennial ($10), is a combination of organic vodka blended with fresh lemon and a whisper of fennel. It’s not to be missed. The emphasis here is on the freshest ingredients available. Another featured drink, the Wildwood (also $10), comprises Bonded Rye, sweet cinnamon and blended bitters, touched with absinthe and orange. The wine list has been chosen carefully to complement the seafood dishes and offers a carbonated blanc de noir on tap from Westport Rivers (Mass.) Winery. Many of the beers are made locally as well.

The décor is inviting without being pretentious. Inspired by the colors and textures of Duxbury Bay, home of the Island Creek Oysters farm, the walls re-create the look of the sun setting over Duxbury’s coast. Gabion cages filled with tens of thousands of oyster shells make up a huge three-dimensional wall. And anchoring the center of the restaurant is an arresting photograph by artist Stephen Sheffield of Duxbury Bay.

Waiters are attentive and know the intricacies of the menu inside and out, especially the provenance of the various oysters. The owners say part of the restaurant’s mission is to “celebrate and educate diners” about where its seafood comes from. With an emphasis on sustainable harvesting, the menu changes daily.

Island Creek isn’t cheap. But it’s the perfect place to celebrate a big birthday, Parents Weekend, or Commencement. Reservations are strongly recommended unless you plan to eat at the bar, and even then you can expect a wait.

Island Creek Oyster Bar is open from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday and from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday. Sunday brunch is served from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The restaurant accepts all major credit cards.
500 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215
617-532-5300.

John O’Rourke can be reached at orourkej@bu.edu.

This is part of a series featuring Boston nightspots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the comments section below.

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