The Pescavore’s Dilemma: Boston’s Restaurant Scene Is Having a Seafood Moment

With the tide finally turning on the city’s historically sparse seafood diningscape, the toughest task for diners may be picking a new favorite place.

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NET GAINS: Row 34, which opened in November, is bringing dishes like whole grilled fish (above) and tuna crudo with avocado and black garlic (below) to Fort Point. (Photograph by Angela Coppola)

Despite Boston’s sterling reputation as a seafood mecca, our actual options for ocean-sourced gorgery have always been surprisingly paltry. Not that the restaurants we have at any given moment aren’t stellar—but growth has remained curiously stagnant, as though some immutable natural law makes us max out at the half-dozen mark. Meanwhile, every other restaurant genre saturates our dining scene in categorical droves, be it 2007’s steakhouse-crazed Year of the Cow, 2010’s Gastropub Invasion, or 2011’s Upscale Mexican Revolution.

This winter, at long last, there’s some significant movement on the fresh-catch front, with three new restaurants joining the fish-fillet fray. Is an honest-to-goodness seafood moment in the making?

“Of all the great little restaurants in Boston, you would think you would see more seafood,” says Jeremy Sewall, chef and co-owner of Island Creek Oyster Bar. In November, he and the rest of the ICOB team upped the aquatic ante with the introduction of Row 34, a more-casual version of its polished Kenmore Square sibling. The Fort Point newbie offers 25-odd craft brews on draft, a slew of crudos and ceviches, fun snacks like fried-oyster lettuce wraps, and lots of shellfish-studded pastas.

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Tuna crudo with avocado and black garlic from Row 34. (Photograph by Angela Coppola)

Taking a similarly casual approach is Merrill & Co., a new spot from Bina Family Hospitality (Lala Rokh, Bin 26, JM Curley) that’s slated to open this spring in the former 28 Degrees space in the South End. “[It’s] a place where you can go enjoy great beverages and food—and it happens to be fresh seafood,” says co-owner Babak Bina. This translates to lots of beer on tap, a big raw bar, sea-focused dishes like fish tacos, grilled baby octopus, and fried calamari, and a variety of brick-oven pizzas from chef Jason Cheek, an alum of KO Prime and Toro.

Where Merrill & Co. and Row 34 are deliberately casual, Ostra, open in the former Avila space in the Theater District, is deliberately anything but. The newest spot from chef-owner Jamie Mammano, who also runs similarly swanky restaurants like Mistral, Sorellina, Teatro, and L’Andana, Ostra features soaring 18-foot ceilings, jellyfish-inspired chandeliers, white tablecloths, and dinner-as-theater displays (think: whole salt-crusted branzino for two cracked open and plated tableside; 3-pound lobsters served with the already plucked, blanched, and broiled meat tucked back into the shell). “There are so many great ‘little gem’ restaurants and great young chefs. We are comfortable with a certain size restaurant,” Mammano says. “There is an opportunity there for an elegant dining experience and showcasing seafood from around the world.”

Despite the difference in opulence—and price point, for that matter—Ostra, Merrill & Co., and Row 34 all have one thing in common: They’re making it a lot easier to find an exciting seafood-driven meal in the city. Fresh-fish-ionados, rejoice.

  • Ryan Wittig

    I have to agree with this article. Despite being a culinary destination on the OCEAN, Boston has a lack of great “seafood centric” restaurants. ICOB is one of my favorite restaurants and I am very excited to try out Row 34 along with Ostra (for a special occasion….).