Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston is serious about their oysters. The first thing you’ll notice is the oyster bar proper, a sparkling mountain of ice studded with twelve to eighteen different varieties of oysters and subtly highlighted by a grid of cone-shaped lights. Oysters are the star here, but there are other treasures to be had.
One such treasure is their clam chowder. It comes in a starter-size portion, a very good idea since there are those oysters you’ll want to get to, along with (at the table next to mine) a wonderful-smelling seafood stew and an incredible list of desserts (wry twists on comfort classics like a root beer float with honey rosemary ice cream and sweet/salty pretzels).
I don’t plunge into the soup right away, though. I begin with a salad of pickled beets and pea shoots, each beet cured to translucency and lightly dressed in olive oil. The flavor of each of the three varieties (orange, white, and pink) is distinct, and the plate is gorgeous, like stained glass. Paper-thin slices of fennel, cut high on the stem, add a blue note to the snappy acidity of the beets. A beautiful last whisper of winter, combined with the first flavors of spring.
Having dispatched the salad, and having enjoyed the house-baked bread with a little of the honey butter (with cayenne and sea salt) the chatty and attractive wait staff have provided, I turn my attention to the bowl of chowder. A surprisingly light (but still rich-tasting) broth holds pillows of tender clams that burst with ocean flavor. There’s chive and parsley, and a good bit of dill (an addition I don’t always see), and enough bacon to make its presence known without overpowering the clam essence. Just enough perfect cubes of potato swim in the depths, and three cute buttermilk biscuits float above, providing the crunch of croutons in a sweetly homey way. This isn’t one of those thick, chunky chowders; it’s as serene as the room it’s served in.
ICOB successfully evokes the feeling of their oyster farm in Duxbury: one monumental wall is made of oyster shells held in place by Gabion cages. Other walls are paneled with wide, rough wooden boards reclaimed from a Vermont farmhouse. They use these elements, plus a muted palette, to create a room that is sleek and sexy, modern but comfortable and inviting. The restaurant is serious about sourcing their food, their drink, and their architectural materials carefully, which gets them big points in my book. They also do all their own baking in-house, from the bread to the cookies available as dessert. Music (never overloud) tended to R&B oldies, and I’m told they vary the play list depending on the time of day and the crowd. I imagine that later hours, an excellent and creative cocktail list, and an even more serious beer list bring clientele as sleek and sexy as the room. You should come for the clam chowder, definitely; you should stay to explore farther, because there’s a lot more to enjoy.