Trip Report: Craigie, Neptune, ICOB, Toro, etc.
I dropped by Boston last month for a weekend of eating and exploring and loved every minute of it! Apologies for the delay in getting this post up – luckily I have some notes for reference to help jog my memory. Thank you to all of the Boston chowhounds who helped me put together my itinerary: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/766099
Friday night – Craigie on Main:
After a number of flight delays, I finally made it into Boston, and Craigie welcomed me with open arms though I was a good few hours late. Enjoyed the homey vibe of the place, which was buzzing until my meal ended around midnight. My seat at the chef’s table allowed me to watch dishes being constructed before they were served out of the kitchen. I had the four course Chef’s Whim and asked my server, who was knowledgeable and friendly (but not overly so), to help me pair it with some wines. He chose a glass of white, followed by a red.
Started out with an amuse of raw salmon with mustard & miso dabbed underneath the slice. It was a simple, fresh mix of flavours. First course was a crab salad on top of thinly sliced fingerlings, topped with black roe. The mix of crab & roe was a great sweet-savoury combo. The potato, however, felt a bit out of place. Because it was undercooked, it provided a bit of texture to the salad, but that’s about it.
Second course was a plate of fried clams with preserved lemon and a black squid ink dip. I felt that the clams got a bit lost n the breading – it was as “clammy” tasting as I’d have liked. However, the preserved lemon was delicious and complemented the clams well. Squid ink didn’t taste like squid ink – more of a refined tartar sauce – but did add a lot of drama to the plating.
Third course was a steak atop of wilted greens and barley with horseradish. Served with pan-friend root vegetables topped with bone marrow. Everything was tasty but I didn't necessarily feel like the flavours complemented one another particularly well.
Fourth was dessert! The pastry chef came out and talked to me about the concept: it was inspired by Argentina and made in the mold of an alfajores, a popular Argentine dessert. Dulce de leche, sandwiched between tonka bean crisps on a plate with some paint strokes of chocolate brushed on for presentation.
As a nice parting gift, the cheque came with a chocolate.
Overall, great atmosphere, great service, and points for creativity coming from the kitchen, but some dishes fell short in execution. For the price ($40 during restaurant week), though, it was an incredible value!
Saturday lunch – Neptune Oyster:
This place was bustling at 1pm. I managed to squeeze myself into a seat at the bar and ordered quickly. Had the lobster roll, hot with butter. Satisfying, with a generous amount of lobster chunks, but not transcendent in the way I’ve seen it described online. Could be that lobster just doesn’t do it for me! I’m still glad I went since it’s such an institution. Service was quick and efficient, though a bit rude and rushed for some other customers.
Saturday dinner – Island Creek Oyster Bar:
One of my favourite restaurant experiences, ever. I wrote down, “fun!! X 10”. I should preface this by noting that everyone will not necessarily have exceptionally memorable experiences here but I certainly did and enjoyed every moment of my time at ICOB.
One of the huge contributors to my night was my server, Devon, who doubled as the bartender (I sat at the bar). He was my type of server – engaging, informative, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Also, he was very generous with tastings, especially when customers showed some curiosity. I knew I wanted to a beer to pair with the oysters and he let me try a couple before deciding on an oyster stout. It was rich in flavor and went well with my round of oysters. Next, I moved on to the lobster roe pasta. It’s a bit of a surf & turf pasta dish, with the short rib pieces and lobster. In my version, I had some cubed carrots and mini brussel sprouts mixed in. Again, I mentioned to Devon that I was interested in finding a wine to pair with the dish and he poured me generous tastings of both a pinot noir and a non-oaked white burgundy. After we both agreed that the pinot’s acidity helped the wine cut through the pasta’s richness, he topped up the glass. On the side, I had a portion of spicy broccoli (sautéed with garlic and a sliced pepper) to get some veggies in me.
Some time during the meal, owner Garrett Harker dropped by for a chat. We struck up a conversation about my food itinerary during my trip and he noted that he was very happy to be considered in the company so many of the city’s great places, especially since ICOB is still so new.
Following the conversation, the kitchen sent out a complimentary plate of frog legs. For some reason, I didn’t write down anything about them so I can’t comment much on the actual dish. I do remember that a) the frog legs went well with that white burgundy and b) I was stuffed after eating all of that food.
At this point, I readily turned down the dessert menu in favour of sitting back and digesting. Devon then offered me some liquid dessert i.e. homemade Irish cream. It’s a restaurant recipe and a few bartenders take turns making it. It had an enticing aroma and went down smoothly.
The last pleasant surprise - in a night filled with them - was the size of the bill. Turns out that I wasn’t charged for the wines. When I mentioned it, the response was that my server appreciated the feedback I had given him on the wine pairings and a couple of “small” pours never hurt anyone.
So in conclusion, I found that the food at ICOB was tasty and interesting, but not brilliant in and of itself. Still, it has a great raw bar, a large selection of drinks, and the service was extraordinary. I’d go often if I lived in Boston and sample more of its varied menu.
Sunday brunch – Toro:
I shared this meal with a friend so I don’t have any details written down. Seemed to be a slow morning for the restaurant – we were there from 1045 – 11:45am and there were only a few tables occupied. My friend had the huevos con chorizo which he enjoyed while I had a couple tapas dishes. The grilled corn was delectable. Loved the contrast of the hot and juicy corn with the cold creamy cheese. Also enjoyed the asado de huesos. It turns out the oxtail marmalade is actually a small pile of what looked and tasted like braised oxtail that’s pulled like port. I do wish the bread they served with our meals was better. It was a basic small loaf of thinly sliced white bread. Tasted ok once I drenched it in marrow!
Sunday food shopping – South End Fromaggio
What a small and charming store. It’s bursting at the seams with interesting products. I spent a good amount of time speaking with the knowledgeable staff behind the cheese counter. I asked to sample a few of their domestic cheeses and ended up with a hunk of Twig Farm’s Goat Tomme and Holland Family Extra Aged Gouda.
Sunday snack – Burdicks:
Stopped by for a hot chocolate and to pick up a bag of their hot chocolate mix for a friend who used to go to school in Boston. Mmm – the dark hot chocolate was chocolatey, rich, yet still easy to drink (i.e. not too thick). I enjoyed it more than the version at NYC’s City Bakery, which I found too thick and creamy in taste.
Sunday take-out – Rincon Limeno:
I had the cab driver take a quick stop at Rincon Limeno for me to pick up the mixed seafood ceviche I ordered for take-out. Definitely worth the cost of the $5 detour and the $16 for the dish. The portion was huge and would have satisfied two people looking for a small meal, or three to four people as an app. Generous amounts of seafood (fish, squid, shrimp, and I believe octopus) mixed in with onion and crunchy corn nuts. So good! And much better than anything I could get from the airport.
Loved every moment of my trip! Thanks again, Boston.
Re Neptune I've enjoyed plenty of Saturday lunches, either really early or somewhat late, and have had no trouble squeezing into a bar seat. I've not experienced any grump there: just prompt attentive (true, not overly personable) service. And the quality of the fare would trump grump anyway. Oh those lovely cherrystones with a glass of muscadet, the tuna ribbons, that summer lobster caprese salad!
The staff at ICOB is just fantastic. Always relaxed, friendly, knowledgeable on every occasion I've been there (wow, 6 times by now!). Sadly, one doesn't always get such wonderful service at Neptune. In fact, the chilliness of the staff (and owner) always made me think twice about going. And now that ICOB is here, I haven't felt the urge to return to Neptune even once.
re: Ricardo Malocchio
oh noooooo, i don't WANT to like places w/ yechy owners. phooey. on our one brunch visit, our server was far from chilly, just wicked wicked busy. maybe the owner was having a bad day ( or NOT?) But that chef is one talented guy and while we've been anxious to return , we've had to wait through marathon and (closed) easter wkend.
re: Ricardo Malocchio
Thanks so much for the terrific report. Sounds like an ideal chow trip. I love the idea of going to something near the airport instead of being held hostage by the awful food court options while waiting for one's flight. I've done this before with BBQ ribs in Memphis and Masala Dosa in Toronto. Never thought to do this in my own city though and Rincon Limeno was a excellent choice on your part.
409 Chelsea St, Boston, MA 02128
what a great report, lam. V. helpful. Devon really was a treat when we met him our one time at ICOB a few wks ago. I wish he'd been our server, as ours actually didn't pay a bit of attention to us. An experience ike you had at ICOB is one of those trip-making ones; so glad that happened!
yours is the only review i've read of Toro brunch where you mention the bread. We had (our only) brunch there last month and they tried to pass off that horrible soft portuguese bread. i knew they had good bread at dinner so i made a fuss and our waiter got us some! but now that you've had your experience, i'm seeing that maybe it's a constant w/ Toro's brunch, and they need a whupping!
Hope you'll come back before too long; thnx so much for taking the time to report in detail; so helpful when we're advising other visitors and ourselves!
1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118