by Bovey Rao ’19
In Boston, each neighborhood has a distinct personality More importantly (to me at least), the neighborhoods have developed into culinary dining destinations for their own reasons. The North End’s Italian food is nationally recognized, the South End serves some of the Boston’s most inventive dishes, and the various colleges provide cheap accessible food for ravenous college students. While these sections may be the most well-known, others still provide that awesome culinary punch. Enter the Back Bay.
Immediately across the Charles River by MIT, the Back Bay spans a wide area of Boston’s downtown. The best way to describe the Back Bay is upbeat. With Newbury and Boylston Street, the Back Bay epitomizes the concept of “hip.” With the Prudential Center, there is also the embodiment of tradition. The restaurant culture reflects that with many cheaper dining establishments as well as some of Boston’s most expensive and renowned restaurants filling the Back Bay. On Boylston Street, the Atlantic Fish Company is an upscale seafood centric restaurant that focuses on traditional preparations.
Upon entering the restaurant, you can immediately recognize the pedigree of excellence. The attentive host and hostess promptly greeted my party, and we were seated deep into the restaurant. Our seating was slightly suboptimal with poor lighting but simultaneously piqued my interest as I could glance inside the kitchen. After laboriously examining the brunch offerings (an eclectic mix of breakfast and lunch options), we placed our orders and casually talked in the subdued but still buzzing restaurant.
For the customary starter, blueberry muffins, a sweet raisin nut bread, and a crusty sourdough with a light cream butter were served. Given our appetite, we quickly tore through these loaves. The “sourdough” as described did not resemble the true soar loaves that originated in San Francisco, but the savory bread delivered a flavorful crust and crumb. The nutty raisin bread was filled with many dried fruit and a few nuts (watch out for allergens), and the blueberry muffin was passable. Appetite excited, I prepared myself for AFC’S well-regarded clam chowder and its acclaimed crab and artichoke dip.
While I had qualms about B&G’s clam chowder last week for being too thin, AFC delivered a thick and luscious version. The soup was served in a one of their excellent bread bowls, which made for an incredible dish. I found myself somewhat saddened by the end as the fantastic bread was left hollowed out. The crab and artichoke dip had similar presentation, with the dip snugly fit in a bread bowl. The accompanying chips and crudités went spectacularly well with the steaming cheesy mess of a dip. The crab may not have been noticeably visually, but it left a faint and well appreciated reminder on the palette. However, once again, I experienced incredible remorse for the empty shell of bread.
After quickly snapping pictures, we commenced with our meal. My seafood fra diavolo was an impeccable al dente with a plethora of fresh seafood. The rich arrabiata sauce was incredible as the essential tomato flavors filled my mouth. With the simple linguine and the tender seafood, the perfect umami was achieved. While the course gave off the vibe of extravagance, the dish truly delivered with simplicity.
My companions ate with gusto as I took a quick sampling of their courses. The blackened haddock was among the numerous daily catch options at AFC. Each day AFC receives large orders of fresh fish and customizes a dish specific for each variety. Additionally, they also can prepare the fish through a variety of other methods like grilling, broiling, or blackening. The haddock was noticeably fresh and paired well with the blackening spice, and the two sides of buttery mashed potatoes and crisp beans. The filet and lobster benedict (only on the brunch menu) was appetizing as well with a consistent but acidic hollandaise served in a traditional manner on toasted English muffin. Finally, the lobster roll was a true behemoth as it much larger than others I experienced. The crisp toasted bun served as an excellent textural balance with the tender and generous portion of lobster.
Finally, the table finished with a warm Michigan cherry cobbler. In general, the desserts are very traditional, so I was not particularly drawn to any. The meal concluded well with the tart sweetness of the cherries with the decadent ice cream. However, the cobbler aspect was difficult to define as the “biscuit” on the cobbler was difficult to break apart.
Given the traditional and phenomenally executed menu, it was clear to see why the restaurant maintained such an excellent reputation. Add on the stellar service and the superb setting, and AFC obviously cemented itself as a Boston staple. However, with that comes the caveat of being predictable, and thus nothing truly surprised me. The excellence of a restaurant is measured by their longevity, but the impact of a restaurant comes with its creativity and innovation. AFC serves exceptional seafood at a pristine location and delivered a meal that well satisfied my lofty expectations.