This new restaurant on Congress Street, a few minutes’ walk from Boston’s downtown financial district and the city’s Convention & Exhibition Center, was a perfect place for lunch on a bright winter day.
A much-needed January sun was shining through the two-story windows of a the renovated 1907 brick warehouse when I visited Row 34.
The historic exterior contrasts with the modern, silver and black look of the interior décor. This trendy yet affordable fish and seafood restaurant, a “workingman’s oyster bar” as it calls itself, opened in late November, 2013, with attractive, burnished silver drop-lighting fixtures, a black-topped and silver bar and black tables and chairs, a very clean and streamlined look. Although not quite in the traditional, waterfront “workingman’s” style, the building’s 100 year-old wooden beams, a giant light installation made from older, galvanized steel oyster sorters, and exposed brick do provide nice traditional touches to the modern surroundings.
The architectural firm of Bentel & Bentel, known for its outstanding, award winning work for several Manhattan restaurants, including The Modern (at MOMA), Craftsteak, and Eleven Madison Park, designed the space.
Immediately after entering through the front door guests can’t help but notice a beautiful, spot-lighted display of fresh oysters and clams sitting on a layer of sparkling ice, with a fast-moving shucker hard at work behind the counter. I am sure I was not the only guest who immediately made a mental note to self: order a half-dozen.
After being seated I looked at the Raw Bar menu and immediately ordered a half-dozen oysters, three Row 34 oysters, and three Island Creeks, local oysters harvested in Duxbury Bay, Massachusetts, by the team that owns Row 34 as well as its sister restaurant, Island Creek Oyster Bar (a slightly higher priced restaurant located in Boston’s upscale Back Bay neighborhood). The name Row 34 comes from the 34th row of cages in the owners’ oyster farm. These cages float near the surface of the bay, allowing the oysters to eat different plankton, and thus influence their distinct flavor and texture. Other varieties of oysters and clams were also available.
The oysters, accompanied with a glass of sauvignon blanc from the French province of Touraine, were great, and the Crispy Fish Sandwich was, indeed, a crispy, nicely cooked Atlantic pollock on a toasted roll. Other lunch menu items included beer battered fish and chips, grilled salmon, lobster roll, and a chilled noodle salad with sesame and shrimp. All appetizing lunch possibilities.
Row 34’s wine selections include a large variety of whites from various world regions that pair nicely with oysters, as well as classical reds, and a selection of sparkling wines. The restaurant also specializes in American and European craft beers, offering 28 bottled brands and 24 different draught beers. The choices run from relatively inexpensive Belgian, German, Canadian and domestic craft beers to pricy Belgian, Italian, Danish and Dutch brews.
If you are walking to Row 34 along Congress Street, be careful not to miss the entrance, as there is no signage yet near the front door of the building, only a small street number – 383. Personally, I hope they never add a restaurant sign to Row 34, no signage forces visitors to keep looking up at all the beautiful 19th century facades on this stretch of Congress Street, in the historic Fort Point neighborhood, an official Landmark District that is being redeveloped into an eclectic mix of art studios, trendy cafes, and small museums. Further down Congress Street the neighborhood moves into the 21st century, with the postmodern Convention & Exhibition Center and the new business-style hotels nearby.
Row 34 is open every night for dinner; Monday-Saturday for lunch; and a midday meal (2:30 pm – 5:00 pm) is also served on weekends. Reservations suggested for busy periods, walk-ins welcome any time. If you visit, note the numbers 7.950 printed in a small circle on the side of the menu. It is not the price of any menu item, if you can’t figure it out (not sure anyone can), ask your server.
Review by Ron Bernthal
383 Congress Street
Boston, MA 02210