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Island Creek Oyster Bar vs. Neptune Oyster

  • c

OK, I've now had the opportunity to visit Island Creek Oyster Bar (ICOB) three times and have had three flawless experiences.

Been to Neptune eight or ten times.

ICOB oyster slider may be my single favorite thing to eat. Last visit on this past Friday, had a cod entree (for which I cannot find the menu description, sorry) that may have been the best seafood dish I have ever had. It had some sort of (very subtle) smoked meat in it.

I have not been shy on this board about my criticisms of Neptune Oyster ... but the food is superb there as well.

ICOB - large (love the space, very creative), noisy, takes reservations, awesome selection, very friendly, very knowledgeable staff, superb food, pricey

Neptune - small (cramped), no place to wait, no reservations, smaller selection, service is borderline rude - best case indifferent, superb food, pricey

Perhaps you see where I am going with this. Time to stop directing every potential Boston visitor to Neptune?


Neptune Oyster
63 Salem St Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113

Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

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  1. I couldn't agree more.
    Went to ICOB last night with 5 friends and it was awesome from start to finish. Had amazing WIld Belon oysters from Maine that were recommended by our server and they were great. I live in the North End and often send people to Neptune when they stop and ask me where to go for seafood in the NE. But I agree about the service at Neptune and I'm sorry but for the prices they charge they could be a little less indifferent about service. I agree 100% about the oyster sliders at ICOB and can't wait to go back and have more. 3 people in my party had the lobster roe noodles with braised short rib and I was lucky enough to get a bite--I have never tasted better short rib. I got the halibut with grilled ramps and roasted parsnips--delicious. Perfect crusty sear on the fish. I think the smoky meat with your cod was chorizo.
    I love the burger at Neptune with the fried oysters on top--I love everything about it from the brioche bun to the fries. Once there was a little bit of oyster shell in there and I told the server. He comped my soda! Classy. But I forgave them and have had several since. Sigh.
    For my money, I enjoy the experience at ICOB a lot more. It's just more comfy and relaxed and you don't get the rush act.

    9 Replies
    1. re: chicken pot pie

      count my vote with you. It isn't that I don't love the food at Neptune: it's just that I no longer like to pay that kind of money for no amenities with my food: rushed, crowded, sometimes close to surly. I've taken to stopping in there for a late lunch on a weekday but never for dinner and never on a weekend. ICOB and Cognac Bistro have become my two "go to places" for oysters, etc. ICOB is definitely more high end but both of them are comfortable, take reservations, and treat you as if they're happy to have you there. Makes a difference to me.

      Cognac Bistro
      455 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02446

      1. re: teezeetoo

        Loved ICOB but wasn't impressed by Cognac Bistro. I wouldn't put them in the same category. The ICOB oysters were excellent and nice to have the variety. NIce to have $1 oyster at CB but there are now numerous places that do this (not ICOB however).

        Cognac Bistro
        455 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02446

        1. re: gourmaniac

          Thank-you. We were totally unimpressed by CB. The Saturday night we went we sat at the tiny bar and were told there were no dollar oysters that night (they were listed on the website) and then the young not very professional bartender told us we would be lucky to get a reservation there during the week. As we were only there for oysters we had a glass of wine and a beer from the very limited selection and ordered 1/2 dozen full price. They were served in the towering 3 tiered fashion with way too much seafood sauce and were just run of the mill. Not inclined to go back but have been to ICOB 3 times and love the place.

          1. re: Berheenia

            Read their website more carefully - it says the Blue Point oysters are $1 every day WHEN AVAILABLE. We've been going there about once a week since they opened, always order a dozen oysters to start, and have only once not been able to get the $1 Blue Points - and if I recall correctly, it was also on a Saturday night (never the best time to judge a place by), they had had some but had simply run out. The oysters themselves - and we've tried most all the varieties, not just the Blue Points - have always been perfectly fresh and perfectly shucked. I think I've eaten more oysters since Cognac Bistro opened than I had in the previous ten years total.

            Not sure what you mean by "towering 3 tiered" serving, especially if you only got 1/2 dozen. We've invariably been served them on a traditional French-style raised frame, one tier, accompanied by little cups of sauce (one or two types of cocktail sauce and a mignonette) and lemon wedges. I usually ignore all the sauces and just give each one a little squeeze of lemon.

            For the record, no way is Cognac Bistro in the same class as Island Creek Oyster Bar, but it's not in the same price class either, not by a long shot. It is what it is - a pleasant, seafood-oriented neighborhood bistro with above-average food, a small but well-tended raw bar and excellent value for money.

            1. re: BobB

              And i didn't imply it was in the same league as ICOB or Neptune. Rather, as BobB says, my experience has been that it's a terrific value mainly seafood restaurant, with excellent oysters, a friendly staff, a nice bar, and quiet enough to hear my tablemates. I love ICOB and it is both more innovative and more expensive. Sometimes you just want less. May I say I can't fathom why, Berheenia, you would find seafood sauce, served on the side in little silver bowls, "too much." They don't force you to eat it.

              1. re: teezeetoo

                For me, 'way too much sauce'-like practices can indicate a restaurant that is not staffed by experienced professionals- chefs and managers both.

                1. re: opinionatedchef

                  Trust me - there is not "way too much sauce," we're talking little stainless cups barely larger than those serve-yourself paper ketchup cups at fast food joints. For its size this is an impressively run raw bar.

            2. re: Berheenia

              How could 6 oysters be served in a towering three-tiered fashion?

              2 oysters per tier?

      2. They are different experiences. I tried ICOB for the first time on Friday and concur that it is the best seafood in the city. We took a group of seven from out of town and the experience was great, start to finish. I've been waiting for a place like this in a city that is supposedly a seafood destination. That said, I like Neptune for non-meal times where it offers superb seafood and the small oyster bar experience. I agree that i wouldn't go at peak hours. It just can't handle the crowds. RE sending visitors, ICOB would be my choice also, but it's popularity may soon limit it to off peak hours as well (the only reservation we could get was at 6 or 9).

        1 Reply
        1. re: gourmaniac

          Yeah, timing seems to matter most for the experience at Neptune (tho I've not been to ICOB pre-Sox time). At peak Disneyland North End hours, the shucking of oysters at Neptune is an absolute abomination. So far, I've not experienced this at ICOB at all, even when the restaurant is operating at full tilt.

        2. I'm really glad for Island Creek Oyster Bar. It's fantastic to be able to have Jackson Cannon-level cocktails in another Kenmore Square venue. I really like the food a lot overall, still working my way through the menu. It will take a lot to dislodge Neptune as my favorite Western-style seafood place in town. But for all that love, I don't forgive Neptune any falling down on the hospitality front. Everyone has to deal with bad, rude customers, whether it's Red Sox fans or North End tourists.


          Island Creek Oyster Bar
          500 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

          1. I'm glad we have both, and it's true that seafood is just about the only thing these two places have in common.

            For me, Neptune is "pop in every six months or so when I'm done with work early enough to get there by 5:30," whereas I've been to ICOB six times since it opened. ICOB works well for visiting parents, birthday dinners with a party of six, etc., whereas I wouldn't even try going to Neptune with more than one other person. And oh my God the cocktails.

            1. We've been to N.O. twice and ICOB once; all in last 2 months. Our take, basically:

              ASIDE from the trad fare of fresh oysters (honestly, 95% of the MANY ICOB posts have been about the oysters), the fried clams and the lobster roll, ICOB does not have the quality of inventive seafood dishes that N.O. does. Of course it all comes down to personal taste, duh, but I found only two items that i wanted to try at ICOB(lobster roe pasta and the biscuit) while it is always a difficult choice for me at N.O.

              After all I had read about ICOB service, our servers gave a friendly welcome and then basically disappeared, food served by drones. At N.O. we've always had efficient service but it is not a relaxed place for the servers, obviously.

              Love the room at ICOB. N.O. is basic bistro look but physically very awkward and uncomfortable til you sit to eat.

              Until people start writing convincingly about non-trad inventive items at ICOB, we're not likely to return.

              2 Replies
              1. re: opinionatedchef

                I didn't audit it or anything, but I really disagree that 95% of ICOB posts have been about the oysters.

                1. re: robwat36

                  Before we tried ICOB (I'm the cautious type with raved places) I read evthng I could of comments on it; so i think if i remember correctly that the comment pool included yelp and open table, not just CH (gasp.)

              2. I had the cod and chorizo dish last week and it was perfectly cooked fish and delicious smokey chorizo in a light broth but it was a bit underseasoned. The first dish I've had there that needed a slight salt tweak at the table ... which I did and it was better. The fluke tartare is just fantastic, with a bit of sesame oil and other asiany flavors. The oyster slider is one of the best bites in town, for my money.

                That's why I have been loving ICOB... everything has been consistently great and the service is outstanding. I've taken a few larger parties there and also have just eaten at the bar and all the staff are on their game. Having Tommy S-G (formerly Craigie barman) there at FOH doesn't help either -- he takes very good care of the dining room.

                I still love Neptune, and when I can arrange to get there at an off hour I've really enjoyed myself, despite the surly owner (I think the staff are great, especially Vinny the waiter). I find it to be quite expensive though and always end up dropping way more cash than I expect to. But some of the special dishes there, most notably the crudos, are ta die fah!

                I'm glad to have them both in town, but frankly see myself going to ICOB more often if only because I can get in more reliably as a drop in, or make a reservation for a group.

                Pictures below of last week's meal:
                Fried clams, fluke tartare, oyster slider, cod with chorizo, homemade ice cream sandwich (not pictured oysters to start, excellent shuck.)

                2 Replies
                1. re: yumyum

                  Gorgeous photos, Yumyum! Is that ice cream sandwich as good as it looks? I've wanted to take out-of-towners here, but they've got nothing for vegetarians (me). I think I could be pretty happy with that ice cream sandwich and great cocktails, though.

                  1. re: pollystyrene

                    Hey Polly... dessert really isn't my thing, but the ice cream sandwich was pretty great. Their cookies and ice milk are also very comforting, in a very simple old skool way. The cookies are warm and the ice milk is like a grown-up slushie.

                    I was thinking you could put together a veggie supper of various sides (and their amazing biscuits) but I recall a lot of veggie sides have ham and bacon and such.

                    Dessert and cocktails could scratch an itch though.

                2. I like both, however, I find ICOB to be a bit sterile. I like NO for the inventive food, interesting staff (have never experienced anything less than great service there) and the amazing fried clams. The space is funky and the lines long -- depending on when you go, of course) but, for me, it's the winner. Unless, of course, I HAD to have a reservation.

                  1. ICOB IMHO is best - however, we should give others who prefer other places to exercise their own options and leave those of us who are smitten with ICOB to get a chance at those few remaining seats.....

                    1. Agree with Carty on this one. I have been to both places many times but honestly, I am not one to line up to get into a restaurant, no matter how good. Especially for a place that is as tight and cramped as Neptune's. (I've been only during off hours.) I really do love the spaciousness of ICOB and the fact that they take reservations and don't rush a diner through the meal. And of course, the really tasty dishes. Both places have great food, but if pressed, I'd probably choose ICOB just knowing that I could get a seat.

                      1. While the food is delicious at both restaurants, the service at ICOB is by far much better. The service at Neptune in unfriendly and pretentious. I stopped there for lunch recently and the woman who was the bartender as well as serving food at the bar had such a bad attitude. I was astounded by how rude she was. She was very tough and her negative energy was really obvious. There was a couple sitting next to us at the bar and when the woman asked for things that any normal diner would like she acted as though these people had never eaten out before.
                        The service at ICOB is amazing, warm and just plain lovely. That is what the difference is. It's service with a smile and making diners feel welcome and comfortable.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: cherrytomato

                          I agree, sort of. While I've never had unpleasant service at NO (though many say they have), I've ALWAYS had stellar, warm, wonderful service at ICOB. And had oysters, fried clams, fish dishes and pasta that were equal to, or superior. Had Kumamotos, Island Creeks, and Blue Pools last night that were fabulous. Never a hint of shell, never a dried out or bad oyster.
                          And a great, innovative bar to boot... c'mon now.

                        2. One anecdote in defense of Neptune's hospitality--I'm not saying it's representative of all service there. I dropped my mother and her beau off at NO on the way to bringing them to the airport. By the time I found a parking spot and trekked to the restaurant they'd finished eating (and loved their lobster rolls). They called me frantically from the airport saying he'd lost his jacket with his phone in it. I called Neptune, could hear the place was slammed, and they said they had it and pleasantly agreed to FedEx the jacket and phone to them in California so I wouldn't have to drive in and do the whole musical parking spot thing again. That's pretty accommodating.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: pollystyrene

                            i agree w you that we have not had rude service at NO. We are lucky enough to occasionally eat at both NO and ICOB and i just wish ICOB had the many innovative dishes that NO does. While I find many apps and entrees to draw me at NO, I consistently only find the lobster roe dish(yes i know, woe is me ) to draw me, aside from the scallops dish sometimes, and the occasionally available razor clams (headlines: < Local Chowhound Makes Reservations by the Full Moon">) at ICOB.

                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                              Agreed on two counts: I've never, ever had bad service at Neptune (15+ visits over the years) and the menu at ICOB doesn't wow me. It's -fine-, just not all that exciting. I know a lot of people love it, but I find the whole experience at ICOB to be rather vanilla. Well, to each his own, right? It would be a bummer if all of us were trying to go to just one restaurant. ;-)

                              Oh well, will you look at that, I already commented last May. Didn't realize this was an older thread brought back to life. Well, at least I'm consistent!

                              1. re: purple bot

                                pb, Ha!
                                and rest assured, MANY other CHs have done the same thing!