When I went to Boston in 2012, I was left with deep impression of a city that was clean, modern and yet without the rush that most metropoles like New York City or Shanghai have. In fact, Boston is to New York City is just like Yokohama is to Tokyo.
If you haven’t known that, when one visits Boston, he should try the lobster rolls, just like when one is in Singapore, he should try Hainan Chicken Rice, Char Kway Teow, Chye Tow Kueh, Bak Kut Teh…. Imagine my regret when I failed to try the famed lobster rolls!
Therefore, when I finally returned to Boston last year, I made sure I set aside time to try the lobster rolls. In fact, I tried lobster rolls from 2 famous places: Luke’s and Legal Sea Foods.
Legal Sea Foods
Legal Sea Foods is a big franchise name in East Coast (and even bigger in Boston), so visiting it requires little research or preparations; All you need to do is to search for the nearest outlet to get your fix. It serves a wide range of seafood, though I’m gonna focus on the Lobster Rolls and its signature: Oysters Legal and Legal’s Crab Cake.
Prior to that, N and I went strolling in MIT and Harvard Square, so we popped by the nearest Legal Sea Foods outlet at Cambridge – Charles Square (in Charles Hotel). According to the official website (https://www.legalseafoods.com), this outlet was designed to “evoke the simple style of the original Legal Sea Foods that was in nearby Inman Square, Cambridge”. I had not been to Inman Square, but I was indeed charmed by the courtyard in Charles Square!
When we reached the restaurant, it was already drizzling. The courtyard was wet and cloudy, but the wooden structure in the centre of the courtyard beckoned at us as we trudged across the tranquil space. We were met with a warm welcome by the friendly staff and an equally warm interior set up. As we were early (the crowd came fast and furious after 12pm), we had the luxury of a whole booth seat to ourselves!
Unlike the other restaurants we visited in Boston (or even NYC), the layout of Legal Sea Foods at Charles Square was spacious. The earthy wooden setting was a stark contrast to the damp and cold winter draped across the courtyard, which made the meal all the more warm and welcoming.
The Oysters Legal, being an appetizer, was HUGE. I meant the serving, not the oysters themselves. Each oyster was deep-fried with breaded crumbs, which resulted in a heavenly concoction of soft juicy tenderness wrapped in piping pot, crispy fragrance. Many Singaporeans would have been disappointed to know the oysters were deep-fried, but I must say they were not deep-fried in vain!
N ordered a Legal’s Crab Cake, which was a burger with Crab Cake as a patty. Like most American burgers, the patty was drenched in melted cheese and paired with the shoestring fries and broccoli. The crab cake did not disappoint, bringing on the flavour-burst with each bite. If you ask me, the fries were too much (maybe for an Asian), since the burger was heavy (in carbs and proteins) already.
The highlight of the day was of course the Lobster Roll. The chunky lobster meat was served in a 6-inch heated bun, along with shoestring fries and onion rings as sides. What I loved about this was that the Lobster Roll was not pre-drenched with any sauce. In other words, I could was able to confirm that the lobster served was fresh! Adding a dash of salt and pepper created an alternate flavour to the roll, but I still preferred to enjoy my Lobster Roll nude!
On a side note, I quote enjoyed the onion rings. Onion rings found in Singapore were made of mashed onions, whereas the onion rings at Legal Sea Foods used the onion in its original form. The only disappointment was that the onion cooled down quickly (as you can see from the photo, they were thing rings), and lost its flavour when chilled.
Legal Sea Foods, as the name suggested, served more than the oysters and lobster rolls that we had. When we peeped over at the family seated next to us, we were also bowled over by the tantalising spread of grilled fish and crab. We had only space for lobster rolls and fried oysters, though!
The lunch crowd soon drowned the cosiness we experienced and as the food coma overcame us, restaurant became too stuffy for us. Despite the slight drizzle, the cold fresh air that washed over us as we stepped out of Legal Sea Foods refreshed our memories of the yummy Lobster Rolls as we trudged our way across puddles of water back to Havard Yard.
Technically speaking, Luke’s Lobster is also a franchise, albeit a smaller one. Especially for the outlet at Back Bay, which was just around a corner from Boston Public Library, it looked like we had stepped into a lazy seaside restaurant within a second from a bustling city!
Luke’s Lobster boasted seafood that is sustainable and traceable, something which is growing amongst conscious foodies. The wooden, organic décor of the outlet spoke much about such an ideal on being responsible to the environment while basking in life’s luxury.
By the time we pulled into Boston’s Back Bay, after a late afternoon train ride from New York City (because we really could not bear to leave that city of wonder!), the sun had already set. Therefore, we were so worried that Luke’s Lobster would be closed by the time we found our way there after checking into our hotel!
Luckily, we made it in time. In fact, we were lucky that the dinner crowed had left and the restaurant was only filled with the quiet chatter of a couple of youngsters hanging out. We made our orders at the cashier that was manned by youngsters who most likely were undergraduates from the colleges in the city, before making ourselves comfortable in the restaurant. In contrast to Legal Sea Foods, Luke’s Lobster’s tables were small, configurable, yet cosy.
Huddling over a small table, we balked at the Lobster Rolls and Clam Chowder we ordered.
Although visitors to Boston would have came to Luke’s for Lobster Rolls, I went for Luke’s Trio, which consisted of a platter (of sorts) of Lobster Roll, Crab Roll and Shrimp Roll, but halved in sizes. N on the other hand, went for the good old traditional Lobster Roll, which according to the menu, was “¼ pound of chilled wild caught lobster” drizzled with “melted lemon butter, mayo” and Luke’s secret seasoning.
Just looking at the description made me drool.
Again, the lobster itself was fantastic on its own (without additional salt and pepper, I mean, since the Lobster Roll was already served with melted butter and mayo). The hint of sea rolled over the tongue amidst the waves of tangy flavour burst from the butter. More importantly, the bun was toasted to a state of light and crispy, which was a terrific match for the succulent lobster meat!
My preference was actually the shrimp roll – surprise! It was ironic, since shrimps were supposed to be in the same “family” as lobsters. However, the North Atlantic Shrimps were bite-sized chewy balls that splattered freshness over the tongue that gave a stronger, but short-lived, shiokness over the lobster. In fact, the seasoning for the shrimp rolls (which was the same as that of the Lobster Rolls) complemented the meat so well, I was immediately awakened despite the long, tiring train journey from New York City.
The small-sized bowls that the clam chowder came in with was barely bigger than XK and XD. However, they were filled to the brim with umami goodness (that you can top up by pouring the oyster crackers) over the top. The chowder was full of good old English flavour, creamy but not chunky and bursting with flavour every time I bit into the clams. For added texture, mix the oyster crackers thoroughly, so that you can enjoy some crunch with your chowder!
Just how good was Luke’s Lobster? Well… the ambience weren’t exactly spectacular (more of student-friendly than hipster-cosy), and the serving was average. However, that particular late-night meal I had got me craving for more of the Lobster Rolls that I forced N to return before we left Boston on Christmas Eve!
For first-timers (especially if you’re thinking of dropping in the outlets in Japan), Luke’s Trio is good for a taster. However, you may end up like me, preferring the Shrimp Roll over the Lobster Roll, and order a full-sized Shrimp Roll instead! No matter what you prefer, remember to pair it with good old England Clam Chowder!
Bonus! Boston Sail Loft
I can’t really say if Boston Sail Loft was an accident. It was a fact that I planned to visit it, yet it was part of a dinner plan that I thought I’d make-do with a decent restaurant while I was in the area. After all, the area was filled with restaurants that was listed on any Tripadvisor review or food blogs available.
Again, the journey to Boston Sail Loft was a memorable one.
In my past visit to Boston, I had not managed to visit the wharf area since the area was rather far from a subway station and I didn’t want to wander too far off as a lone traveller with no data roaming. This time around, though, I came well-prepared.
After switching lines, we finally arrived at Aquarium station. It had been raining when we started our journey at Park Street, but that did not prepare us for the surprise by the wharf.
The wind was so strong over there that we had a hard time even exiting the station and opening our umbrellas! Apparently, the structure of the station had an effect on the wind. By the time we were away from the building and headed into Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, the wind had wound down a little, though it was still blowing hard and cold. Therefore, if you are going to Boston Sail Loft in winter, remember to put on waterproof and windproof clothing!
The wind chill was terrible, especially with the open concept of the park creating a huge fetch for the wind coming in from the Atlantic. However, it was all worth it. In the middle of the park, one could catch a good view of the harbour on one side, with the city on the other, by just standing beside (Christopher Columbus?) the statue.
Boston Sail Loft is 2 small junctions away from the park (yes, small, because according to Google, Boston Sail Loft was just a good 250m away from the station). The facade of the restaurant was deceiving; the small shopfront facing the junction gave the illusion that it was just a small restaurant. However, it was an elongated building (refurbished from old warehouses by the wharf). After entering the doorway, one would have to walk past the bar before settling down at the dining area.
As we were early (again, because we planned to have our meals before peak periods kick in), we scored ourselves a table by the window, overlooking the harbour. It was hard to imagine from the warm restaurant that the peaceful wharf outside was in fact enduring harsh winter winds!
The ambience of the restaurant reminded me of the The Crab Shack at Auckland, though not so much. Their similarity lie in the fact that they were both by the harbour, super winder and served seafood. However, Boston Sail Loft has a much older charm than The Crab Shack, which also embraced alfresco concept.
I don’t know what got over me, but we did not order Lobster Roll (which was Lobster Salad Roll Market on the menu, which probably didn’t catch our eyes as we were still reeling from the cold). Instead, we ordered Clam Chowder to warm ourselves up; N ordered a Boiled Fresh Scrod while I went for Fish and Chips.
N’s Boiled Fresh Scrod was grilled cod covered with a layer of piping hot Ritz cracker crumb sauce. That added a crispy texture to the tender fish, which was nothing short of fresh! The meal was served with a warm, fluffy baked potato (other options included rice or mashed potatoes) and vegetables. As usual, that serving was too much for an Asian.
In fact, all servings in the US were too much for us!
My Fish and Chips came as a surprise. On the menu, I saw “Boston’s Best Fish and Chips” and decided that I wanted something simple and reliable. I had missed the description of “Mounds of fresh cod fried golden brown”.
First, my fish was not served in fillet forms like Singaporeans used to (I mean, Swensen’s is of American style, right?). They came in nuggets. And they came piled up in a HUUUGE mound that really took my breath away (granted, they were seated on a bed of fries, but I was contemplating how to fit all those goodness in my tummy!), while N eyed me with a sly smile.
When I said “fish nuggets”, do not imagine they were like McDonald’s chicken nuggets, made up of mashed up fish parts. They were whole, small fish fillets wrapped in golden bread crumbs. The amazing thing was that the fish remained soft and moist despite the deep-frying process, and the outside was crispy and light! I am a sucker for tartar sauce, which paired very well with the fish, though I would say the fish was fresh enough to be savoured on its own! (N.B: the fish was not well marinated; the crispy outside was plain and if the fish was not fresh and tender, that would have been a bad dish)
The highlight was of course the clam chowder. It came just like how the menu portrayed it: in a bowl, overflowing at the sides, topped with that crunchy oyster crackers. Just the sight of the cream flowing down the sides of the bowl was enough to whet the appetite (it came before the mains).
The chowder was a heavenly mix of savoury seafood and sweet, buttery flavour. Despite the thick texture, one could taste the clams with every bite. I guess we were both too overwhelmed by the cold outside that when the warmth of the chowder flowed from our tummy through our veins to every corner of our bodies, that sense of gratification was unspeakably ecstatic!
If you planned for a longer stay or have a huge appetite, you could actually order a jug of beer to chill, since the harbour was a pretty view to behold. My only gripe was the strong, fishy smell that, well, reminds one of an old wet market. That was quickly forgotten when them chowder and fish and baked potatoes started coming! lol
Cambridge – Charles Square
20 University Road
Cambridge, MA 02138
Luke’s Lobster Back Bay
75 Exeter St
Boston, MA 02116, USA
Boston Sail Loft
80 Atlantic Ave
Boston, MA 02110, USA