A brief review of a crustacean culinary experience:

Boston’s Lobsters

The story of how lobsters went up the gastronomical ranks from being served at humble plates to become a symbol of high-end delicacies should be a topic for many motivational speakers: if you are truly good, given the opportunity, you’ll move up – at least in price. 

Found in abundance on the shores of New England in the 1800s, lobster meat allegedly was the food of the poor. Until one time, the Rockefellers hosted a party with their peers and for some reasons served lobsters to the elite guests – which apparently they liked. Thus began the crustacean’s rags to riches story. 

Emphatetic seafood lovers must time and again feel sad for their compatriots who are allergic to shellfish as they are denied one of the most beautiful delicacies that planet earth has to offer. Prepared properly, lobster meat is a perfect blend of tender-but-gently-firm texture, unmistakeable aroma of the seas, and a heavenly savory saltiness with the right dash of sweetness – all in that one bite of the white plump of meat just underneath its rugged and thorny exterior. 

It is indeed difficult not to label lobsters as a snobbish meal. Admittedly, there must be folks out there who are driven more by status when they order lobsters in public establishments just to be seen rich. These clientele, albeit valuable for restaurateurs, should be put on the same bucket as those who gulp Chateau Petrus or chew A5 wagyu ignorantly without appreciating the history and richness of flavour contained in them. As long as they pay with their hard-earned money, let them be – at least they contribute to the economy. 

Luckily, one does not need to be (seen as) a snob to enjoy great lobster meals – if tasting this treasure of the ocean is the ultimate aim. And there is no better place to do so back in New England where it all began. Boston, in particular, offers a number of places where lobsters are offered as the menu’s regulars. Yours truly had the delectable pleasure of enjoying some of best places in the home of the Red Socks:

James Hook at Atlantic Avenue

On a summer day, this seafood company provides a terrace where customers can sit and enjoy their food after ordering them at the counter. They even have two counters, one in a form of a food truck – not exactly the image that most people in the rest of the world would envision when thinking of ordering a lobster. James Hook sells up to 3-pound of whole lobsters, which given it was the first day in Boston, yours truly gluttonously ordered. After sitting at a humble metal table for a while, the sizeable lobster was brought by a waittress shouting out the order number. Equally humble were the plastics cutlery. But make no mistake: the taste was far from humble. The lobster was perfectly cooked, and in spite of its size, it was tender all the way from head to tail without any stubbornly chewy side. Upon completion of the cracking and savouring, bringing back the plastic tray with one’s evidence of crime to the counter is incentivized by the $5 deposit refund for returning the cracker tool. Nothing snob about this place!

Legal Sea Food at Park Plaza

This place is more of a restaurant compared to James Hook, where customers are seated by the staff and order from a properly printed menu offered at the table. Given the time constraints, and the need to maintain a somewhat business-like appearance, it was no occassion to wrestle with the sometimes resistant shell of a whole lobster. Despair not, however, as a classic lobster roll was on the menu! To make up for the volume, a delicious crabcake with a generous chunk of crab meat complemented the experience as an entree. Back to the lobster on the roll though: the meat really filled up the roll. It was none of that scam where the lobster meat’s portion was mere decorative purpose – in fact it was almost the opposite. The roll seems to function more as a support to the lobster meat. With only a simple smear of melted butter, the warm lobster meat and the soft roll provide an enormously delightful melange of unmistakenly delicious lobster at the core of the silky and moist bread. An absolute pleasure. Enjoying lobster of a decent portion, ticked. Keeping the shirt and suits from the risk of shell shrapnels, also ticked. 

The Hourly Oyster House at Harvard Square

Nestled in the middle of a neighborhood thickly ornamented by Harvard schools, the Hourly Oyster House is open to anyone who make a reservation and walk-ins when available – no arduous admission and selection required, unlike its neighboring establishments. Its location just right next to the parking garage can easily distract visitors from their original intent and destination (like this particular visitor). The lobster meat sampled here was not as a main meal, but rather part of its famous “seafood tower” menu along with a dozen of oysters from different origin, shrimps, and tuna. The original style of serving was as a “lobster salad” with some vinaigraitte dressing – but I had it substituted with simple plain lobster meat instead. As it was served cold, as it should on a seafood tower, it will not be fair to compare with the freshly-cooked lobster meat. Nevertheless, it was quite good with a perfectly-sized bites and just-right portion to balance with the other seafood accompaniments. 

Atlantic Fish Company at Boylston street

This is certainly a higher-end venue compared to the others. It has the feel of a classic east coast American restaurant with dominant wooden panel, dark leather chairs and sofas, and white cloths. For a lobster lover, no need to look any further in the menu once one spots the whole lobster meal. It offers 1 and 2 pound lobsters on the menu. Since it was a rumbly Sunday, the 2-pound was duly chosen. Although tempted to ask whether a 3-pound was even available, this seems more like a place where the clientele are expected to enjoy things in moderation. The lobster meal came with a fresh slice of lemon, melted butter on the side, and accompanied by a corn cob (which was very soft and sweet by the way) and sweet potatoes. The lobster is already conveniently cut open whilst still leaving the succulent meat in the shell – and they are just absolutely magnificent. It’s one of those occassion where you just allow the chewing system in your mouth to procastrinate swallowing and let the taste buds immerse in utmost deliciousness. 

Yankee’s Lobsters at Northern Avenue

The last place to try, en route to the airport, was Yankee’s Lobsters. It brought back the memory of no non-sense lobster place a la James Hook. The popularity of the place spoke for itself with the long queue at the counter, to the point that aspiring customers need to continue that line outside the door. They offer 1, 2, and 3 pound whole lobsters on the menu. Although the 3 pound would seem like an obvious choice, not so much if one has spent the past few days in a lobsters feast. Nothing to do with boredom – but just being cholesterol conscious. So the 2 pound it was! The lobster was served in a metal tray along with any chosen side dish. The cut of the lobster was okay, but still require some effort especially when devouring the claws. The taste of the meat was excellent and evidently fresh. Those who have stood in the queue were bound to make the wait time worthwhile. 

So if asked, which one is the best from the sample size above? Firstly, please appreciate that they are all great, and certainly are experts in preparing and giving the respect deserving of a lobster meal – likely over generations. There is a very good reason why there are thousands of reviewers giving positive feeedback of all these places on Google review. I fully concur. 

The differentiating factor really boils down to the smaller and fine details, not so much the taste of the lobsters themselves. With that, I would put the Atlantic Fish Company at the top of the relative ranking of the sampled Boston Lobsters. I prefer wines to be served in a proper glass and not plastic cups. The way the chef cut the lobsters open was the easiest for the diner (perhaps especially for those with fingers of oversized thickness) compared to the others. A candle-lit vat for the molten butter was an especially great touch, but functional also as one dips the tail in it without fear of being resisted by somewhat hardened butter as the chill air blows (yes, posh, oh well). The white cloth was not really necessary, but  certainly nice. The friendly senior waiter gave the ambience that was only fitting for a nice sit-down dinner. 

Thus conclude a brief review of Boston’s lobsters – a meal that has been perceived as a rather posh dish but certainly available in more humble tents in the city. Bear in mind though, this is a tale of the American lobsters. Their distant cousins, the warm water lobsters have a different tale of their own far in the tropics spread across certain archipelagos but equally delicious. That’s for another time. 

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  • Byline

    Michael is a professional leader in the fields of energy investments, complex commercial deals, and sustainability with extensive international experience. His personal interests span from socio-political issues, history, and culture.

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