Jeff Nace, owner of the North End’s palpable Neptune Oyster, began our conversation by calling the iconic Italian neighborhood “the underbelly of Boston.”
When he opened the seafood restaurant on Salem Street in 2004, shellfish and crudo were an exponential departure from the region’s traditional dishes. trattorias And enotecas. In fact, that’s how Nace conceptualized the restaurant. He worked in the North End and remembered tourists regularly asking him where to eat seafood nearby.
Although it was created as a unique concept for the North End, it has become a neighborhood staple for locals and tourists alike.
“We respect the neighborhood while doing our own job,” Nace said. “I think Boston is the seafood capital of the world and the North End is the underbelly of Boston, so we’re in a prime location.”
From bluefin tuna crostini to a celebrity-approved Monday night special, here are the menu items you can’t miss at Neptune.
There’s no better place to start than with a tray of briny bivalves on the half shell. Oyster Shells welcomes guests from their windows behind the decadent raw bar with no fewer than 12 varieties on display each day, six of which are always local. “The oyster farmers come directly to us,” Nace said, noting that many of his trusted suppliers are old friends from Martha’s Vineyard to Maine. All oysters are served with a rosé champagne mignonette made with light champagne vinegar and pink pepper, as well as a classic horseradish cocktail sauce.
A signature of Neptune’s menu, the crudo selection always highlights seasonal seafood, from bluefin tuna to fluke to Nantucket Bay scallops. All are lightly decorated and combined with sea salts from as close as Duxbury and as far away as Iceland or Hawaii. “You want to taste the fish,” Nace said. “I don’t like to hide it. To me it’s like putting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.”
Although Johnnycakes are more famous in their native Rhode Island, Neptune adds a twist to this cornmeal pancake with smoked blue fish tartare, a dollop of caviar and a drizzle of honey butter. “That (dish) plays a lot of violin,” Nace said. “Sometimes people have it as an aperitif. Sometimes we put a candle on it and serve it for someone’s birthday because we don’t have dessert on the menu.
“When we first opened, Boston was just one lobster roll town — they only served it cold,” said Nace, who grew up in Newburyport where his grandmother made hot lobster rolls. buttered. He took a page out of his grandmother’s book at Neptune with their very popular hot buttered lobster served in a toasted brioche bun from Iggy’s Bakery. “I think it’s the best bakery in Boston,” Nace said. The restaurant also serves the traditional cold roll with Maine lobster meat mixed with mayonnaise. Whether it’s hot or cold, there’s always eight ounces of fresh lobster made to order.
Neptune offers a dish of the day seven days a week. Monday, it’s always lobster spaghettini: thin noodles in a garlic, white wine and tomato sauce, covered with Maine lobster meat, breadcrumbs and parmesan (freshly shaved truffles are available if you fancy). In addition to being a local fan favorite, it received Hollywood’s endorsement, Nace said. While filming “The Departed,” Nace served it to Leonardo DiCaprio. “He didn’t say a word for three minutes, and then he just said ‘wow’ three times,” Nace said. “I wish I had it on film!”
Sign up for the Dish
Stay up to date with the latest food news at Boston.com.