Thursday, July 18, 2024

The bluefish melt at Puritan Oyster Bar in Cambridge’s Inman Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Last year Puritan & Co. opened an oyster bar next to its mothership in Inman Square, Will Gilson’s cornerstone in a slowly expanding portfolio of haute eateries this side of the river. Slow is relative, considering the forced pause that was Covid, but the group did well to expand into the rapidly developing space across from the Museum of Science known as Cambridge Crossing with Cafe Beatrice, The Lexington and Geppetto. The addition of Puritan Oyster Bar seems to have changed the fabric of Puritan & Co. as well; the menu there seems to have adopted more of a sea lean. More seafood in Inman Square is great, as it’s where Legal Sea Foods was born and has long been an enclave for Portuguese populations and cuisine, which pulls heavily from the ocean.   

The oyster bar space is similar to its next-door neighbor: spare and lean, with Scandinavian accents and a long, marble bar top. There are tables, but the bar is where you want to pull up a seat. The menu’s more than just raw, and there are some neat accents you don’t see elsewhere, such as the buttered lobster toast – a delicious, delicately grilled trio of lobster and scallop mousse finger sandwiches (no crust!), already golden and buttery but coming with drawn butter to dip into to double your sinful satiation. It’s big in shellfish flavor and smooth without being creamy. Also on the small-bites menu (“Something Small,” as the section is labeled) are caviar cones, a pair of petite, sesame-almond ice cream-style cones filled with egg salad and topped with a rich, dark scoop of caviar.

On the bigger side of the house (“A Little More”) is the bluefish melt, which seems as rare a find as the buttered lobster toast: lightly pressed, with a moist, lean pate (maybe more technically a salad, but it’s just savory fish meat and the right wisp of mayo), a slice of cheddar and tomato on sourdough. To think of it as the best tuna fish sandwich you’ve ever had would not be off base, but bluefish offerings usually lean more toward swordfish than tuna with its darker, richer, more pungent flavor.

The Puritan Oyster Bar’s caviar cones. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Speaking of which, swordfish pastrami is on the menu, as well as the requisite fried fish sandwich, cup of chowdah and lobstah sandwich that’s more than reasonable in cost if you consider it gives you a half-pound of meat tucked neatly into a brioche bun. You can get it warm with butter or cold with the perfectly meted amount of mayo (there is nothing more criminal than too much mayo and celery – let the lobster be!). Get the cold version and ask for a side of grilled asparagus in lieu of fries.

Fried clams are here too, while the raw bar slate is highlighted by a shrimp cocktail, a variety of crudos, oysters and a crab meat salad – simply fresh lean crab, avocado and lemon aioli that doesn’t look like much in its modest-sized bowl, but that’s a bit of a culinary deke; this is a deliciously dense dine that’s more filling than it looks. Oysters are half off until 6 p.m., and Puritan does yeoman’s work in curating a varied local offering. I’d be doing us all a disservice if I failed to mention the parkerhouse rolls, dinner buns with a middle textured almost like cotton candy and a crown of sea salt and creamy butter to make the experience sublime. Thinking about it, if you were up for a bit of a DIY, one might get some of those rolls, that crab salad and …

Puritan Oyster Bar, 1166 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.