The biggest trend in Boston restaurants this past year might have been big-name chefs introducing second acts, almost all of which are more-casual, more affordable versions of their sibling restaurants. Jeremy Sewall's latest restaurant (first came Lineage, then Island Creek) is Row 34. It's a so-called "workingman's oyster bar"—more of a romanticized concept than a reality, judging by the crowds of well-heeled young professionals, the industrial-chic space, and the not-inexpensive prices—in South Boston's red-hot Seaport district, and it largely follows in the footsteps of its crosstown predecessor, Island Creek Oyster Bar. Here again, the trio behind Island Creek—Garrett Harker, Skip Bennett, and Jeremy Sewall—has nailed the formula of impeccably fresh seafood, impressive execution, attentive service, and fun.
In fact, Row 34 might come to overshadow Island Creek for two good reasons. One, the craft beer program is taken as seriously as the food, with roughly two dozen well-chosen drafts and just as many bottles that rotate every few days. That makes it hard to get attached to one brew (I'm still thinking about the perfectly cold, jammy blackberry saison called Dog Ate My Homework), but it's also fun to think there will be another to try in its place next time you come in.
Second, there's the house-smoked and -cured shellfish and flatfish offerings, which also rotate regularly. They come à la carte ($9 each) or as a charcuterie-like board with four or five selections, depending on if you're sharing or not ($18 per person), which is really the better way to enjoy it. Generally, the kitchen chooses the makeup, but you're welcome to put in requests or add on. Last Friday night, the selections went as follows (clockwise, from top left):
Smoked Trout: A salad of rich, deeply smoky trout hunks with peppery arugula, shaved sweet fennel, and rough-torn, toasted bread that tasted good on its own but actually made this a rather dry preparation. The streak of beet purée tasted good, but separate.
Pickles and Herbed Crème Fraîche: Accompaniments that come with every board (along with really good oiled and grilled bread). The onions and bread-n'-butter cukes are perfect: snappy, crisp, and sweet-sour.
Smoked Bluefish Pâté: I really will be sad if this isn't on the menu next time, because it was outstanding—maybe the best version I've ever had. Rich and velvety from the cream cheese, but perfectly seasoned (the amount and distribution of the shallots was just right) and still showing off the freshness and pitch-perfect smoke flavor of the bluefish.
Tilefish Terrine: Texturally akin to country pate (hearty and coarse) with big red bell pepper flavor—but not much in terms of seafood-iness. Frankly, this was an underwhelming item, though if the octopus version ever makes a comeback, I'm told that's really good.
Smoked Mussels: Another home run. Plump, creamy, with just a hint of chew, these had delicate smoke and a dab of mayo underneath that matched up perfectly with the clean flavors of celery and fennel.
Smoked Salmon: Oily in a delicious, decadent way, silky, and a tad salty.