B&G Oysters, Ltd. is, along with The Butcher Shop across the street, the first off-site venture from the brilliant Barbara Lynch of No. 9 Park. The "G" in "B&G" has moved on to other ventures, but the fingerprints of the rest of the No. 9 Park team are all over this restaurant.
B&G is a slickly-designed hole in the wall, of a sort; a central kitchen around which are situated a (food) bar and a series of high tables around the periphery of the room. This is not to say that it's a dive...after all, it is in the South End, and despite the casual atmosphere the operation itself is quite slick. The only drawbacks are a precarious staircase descent to the restroom and a front door that lets in blasts of frigid air when the weather turns wintry, but otherwise it's an efficient and functional space. Reservations are taken at 11 a.m. on the day of, for groups of four or more only; other business is walk-in, which is usually no particular hassle but can lead to extended waits on busy weekends.
The food is mostly lower-concept seafood (and in fact, the higher-concept items often work less well), but executed to a degree well beyond the capabilities of most joints that serve this food...and, one must add, priced accordingly. It's not expensive (though it can be made to be so depending on what one orders), but it's not clam shack cheap either. One can dabble with the kitchen's flights of fancy, but the better choices are basics and small twists thereon: fried clams, calamari, clam chowder (a touch lighter than the Boston norm, but no less flavorful), lobster roll, lobster "BLT," fish stew and tuna tartare. I do not love the desserts.
However, the real stars here are the oysters. B&G offers fresh, ever-changing and seasonal menu of multi-coastal goodness, served with expertise and helpful on-plate signs that indicate which varieties are which. As an absolute oyster freak, I could happily gorge myself on just this part of the menu.
If it stopped there, B&G would be a worthwhile destination and unquestionably the best option when trying to satisfy the endless requests of out-of-towners for "a good Boston seafood restaurant." But what really sets B&G apart are the wine list and the service. The wine list is, not surprisingly, another masterwork from No. 9's Cat Silirie; there are some reds and a few bigger whites to satisfy those who absolutely must have such things, but the majority of the wines are crisp, mineral-driven bottles from places like Muscadet, where the saline couples with oysters in a truly majestic way. And the service, while casual and friendly, is just as drilled on the details of wine and food as their counterparts at formal No. 9, which is absolutely crucial when presenting a list full of lesser-known appellations and grapes.
My only complaints would be the aforementioned expense (though servicing the oyster menu and the wine list, plus paying a much-better-than-average staff, is coupled with the usual South End rents to lead almost inevitably to these prices) and the table/chair combos, which could be more comfortable. With more than two people and a bottle (or more) of wine, putting a tray of oysters on the table becomes a circus act of balancing and tipping. But these are minor quibbles in comparison to the restaurant's true strengths. And it is not fine dining, by design.
(This review is based on multiple visits in 2005 and 2006.)
June 2006 update. Another pair of fantastic meals here...they really do have exceptionally solid takes on New England seafood classics...but there remains one omnipresent problem: climate control. On two recent visits, excess heat was a problem. This is something I hope they'll be able to address soonish, because on a humid summer evening, things can get awfully steamy inside the restaurant.
Copyright © Thor Iverson