By Estefania Lahera ‘20
I am a person that loves superlatives. Going through one of Food & Wine’s or Thrillist’s or Eater’s lists of, say, the best falafel in America and looking for a spot mentioned that’s in my city to try it out for myself is probably my favorite pastime.
Upon moving to Boston, I took it upon myself to put all those lists to the test and find the city’s best lobster roll.
Most of the lists echoed each other: Neptune’s Oyster, James Hook + Co, Yankee Lobster, Island Creek Oyster Bar, B & G Oysters etc.
But something was odd. I was looking for the best lobster roll, but on many lists there was tangential addition: a lobster sandwich, from Alive and Kicking Lobsters right here in Cambridge!
It was a bit odd and I put it off until the end of my list. After a month or so, however, I had already tried all the most obvious choices (for the record, my money’s on Island Creek Oyster Bar) so in order to absolutely exhaust every possibility, to leave no room for doubt, it was time to try this wannabe sandwich, this pseudo-lobster roll.
The more I researched, I saw that the sandwich was the subject of decent acclaim (as most restaurants I visit are, because I don’t want to waste my time on mediocrity). I also found out that it’s within walking distance of Harvard! A long walk, about half an hour, but still walking distance, and altogether rather pleasant on a day with good weather as the past couple have been.
The restaurant is small, more like a “lobster shack” than an actual restaurant, but I think that’s part of its charm. It’s not meant to be a restaurant, it’s meant to be a source of really, really fresh seafood. Inside there’s a display case of fresh seafood, a freezer of things you can take home like chowder and ice cream (random!), while picnic tables are outside. They don’t give water, not even from the tap, which makes me sad; you have to buy it. However, they do make their own sodas in house, which is cool.
You order at the counter, and they bring the food out. The price changes with the seasons, with summer being the cheapest, but when I went the roll, which included a bag of chips, was about $17. It was pricey for a sandwich, but actually cheaper than the average lobster roll.
Now onto the substance of the article: the actual food itself.
I was impressed by the quality of the chips: no preservatives, just pure potato in peanut oil and salt, nothing hiding in the ingredients list. Since the company didn’t make the chips, I don’t think reviewing them is really relevant, but suffice to say that chips are rarely bad.
The sandwich bread was generic white sandwich bread, but toasted a beautiful, light brown and actually not soggy, which pleased me. The lobster meat was plentiful, fresh, and not overwhelmed in mayo, which I appreciated. But what it lacked in mayo it made up in globs of butter, which I did not feel were necessary. I couldn’t taste the butter anyway, so there was really no point in it being there. If you like the sweet, slightly one-dimensional flavor of lobster, great. That’s a common flaw I’ve noticed in most lobster rolls, so I can’t fault this sandwich in particular, but still. Seasoning.
Compared to lobster rolls? This was definitely equivalent to many of the lobster rolls I’ve had. The toasted bread was a welcome twist on the original roll, and I found something to be appreciated about a higher lobster to carb ratio. Rarely do rolls have a nice crust, and there is a higher probability that they will be stale.
Given this overall pleasant experience, it begs the question: why aren’t lobster sandwiches a thing? Why only lobster rolls?
But as long as Alive and Kicking stays in operations I guess it doesn’t matter. One good lobster sandwich in this city is enough for me.
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.