Inside Look: Oyster Saloon Row 34
By Scott Kearnan
January 6, 2014
With its December opening, Fort Point's Row 34 made our list of the year's 12 biggest openings in Boston. Not only did we love its uniquely unstuffy approach to seafood — a sophisticated but accessible spread of fish, raw bar and beer — but it comes from great stock. Row 34 was opened by the same team behind Island Creek Oyster Bar (ICOB): Island Creek Oyster Farm owner Skip Bennett, ICOB partner Shore Gregory, restaurateur Garrett Harker and chef Jeremy Sewall.
But its management team is entrusted with taking Row 34 in a different direction. It's more relaxed than ICOB, befitting the industrial Fort Point neighborhood and harking back to days of oyster bars as convivial gathering spots for slurping shellfish and suds that cut across class lines. "It's New England seafood with a twist," says chef de cuisine Francisco Millan. Think house-cured salmon, pickled herring and a staple like swordfish served with the unexpected punch of bone marrow horseradish butter. Still haven't gone by for a visit? Here's an easily digestible primer on the approach: Row 34 by the numbers.
1907: The year that the building, which was originally a steel mill, was constructed. So it's a fitting home for Row 34, which bills itself as a "workingman's oyster bar," distinguishing itself from the more upscale vibe at Island Creek Oyster Bar. Today a rarified air accompanies oyster eating, but around the turn of the century, "there was an oyster bar on every corner, accessible to every social class," says Row 34 general manager Jillian Rocco. "Oysters have become something of a luxury item. We want to provide a space where anyone is able to have oysters and beer: from friends on the way home from work, to Fort Point construction workers having lunch."
8: About how many oyster varieties you'll typically find on the raw bar menu, according to chef de cuisine Francisco Millan. Right now that includes First Light oysters out of Mashpee, cultivated and harvested by members of the Native American Wampanoag Tribe; Spring Creek oysters from a family-owned farm in Barnstable; and the bright, high-salinity Sunken Meadow oysters out of Eastham. But the raw bar also boasts the pescetarian answer to charcuterie, with a generous selection of smoked and cured fish (including fish head terrine with chorizo and potted smoked trout with pickled beets) and crudo and ceviche like striped bass ceviche with coconut milk-pickled mango and grilled pineapple.
Behold the raw bar at Row 34, where you'll find a host of oyster options, littlenecks, lobster and more. Above, the rotating selection of featured beers.
34: A numbered row of cages in the nursery of Island Creek Oyster Bar, for which the restaurant is named. Maybe you knew that. What you probably didn't know is why they're special. Founder Skip Bennett allowed rows of oysters (starting at Row 34) to mature in racks off the bay floor, resulting in an umami-heavy, nutty flavor profile that was distinctly different from the other, more buttery ICOB oysters. Naturally, the restaurant has both the 34 and traditional ICOB varieties available for your personal comparative taste testing.
36: The number of bisected, galvanized steel oyster sorters that constitute a huge 23- by 10-foot light installation on one wall. It's the centerpiece of an interior design Bentel & Bentel, the NYC firm behind restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern. Other standout elements include vintage subway tile, wire mesh details, open kitchen and an exposed beer cooler — all of which lend a gritty-chic vibe.
Expect to find the occasional surprise on the menu, like these cod rillettes. (In background: potted trout and smoked mussels.)
24: The number of draught lines, emphasizing innovative craft selections inspired by Skip Bennett's "restless innovation" and Jeremy Sewall's "attention to where product comes from," says beer director Megan Parker-Gray. "I really want a program that feels like it's fleeting and always in motion," says Parker-Gray of curating her list. There's also an array of botted options, including one of Parker-Gray's current obsessions: a Gueze Tilquin ($30) a sour Belgian that is spontaneously fermented and, she says, pairs exceptionally with oysters.
242: The Harvard Street address of Jeremy Sewall's Brookline restaurant Lineage; Row 34's "242 Fries" use the same recipe. One other carryover is Ethel's Lobster Roll, the creamy favorite made famous at Island Creek Oyster Bar and named for Sewall's grandmother.