Shore, which bills itself as an oyster bar and seafood tavern, is a critic's nightmarea place that shows flashes of brilliance, but with food so wildly uneven that, when friends are invited, you never know if they'll leave raving or complaining.
This was well illustrated on my first evening there, when I went with a close acquaintance. She ordered the lobster roll ($24), while I feinted downscale with the clam roll ($12). Hers was well stuffed, with outsize hunks of scintillatingly fresh lobster in a thick mayonnaise, cushioned on the puffy bun with only a little shredded lettuce. The assemblage was as good as any in the city. My sandwich, though, was a disaster. While I had expected a modest number of fried clam bellies in the style of our premier seafood shacks Pearl Oyster Bar and Mary's Fish Camp, the split roll was heaped with clam strips. Though the bready tendrils came in profusion, they had virtually no flavor, making me feel like I had a mouthful of rubber bands. Luckily, the tartar sauce was excellent.
It needn't have been that way. Shore is the offspring of Fresh, one of the three or four finest seafood restaurants in the city. It moved into an aged bar on Murray Street a few months ago, making little modification to the woody and well-worn interior. It feels like Durgin Park, a venerable Boston seafood spot. Shore shows its parentage by offering a splendid raw bar, with as many as eight oyster choices. It's a mistake not to begin your meal with a half-dozen Malepeque or Fisher Island beauties, accompanied by mignonette, lemon, and, sometimes, freshly grated horseradish. This bounty comes at a price, though. While places like Grand Central Oyster Bar offer local varieties for as little as $1.75 each, ostensibly off-price Shore charges a whopping $2.50, whatever the type of oyster. To its credit, the bar also shucks raw littleneck clams and serves them on the half shell, a New York tradition that's a real rarity these days. Why, I wondered, couldn't any of these babies have found their way into my sandwich?
41 Murray Street
The New England clam chowder (cup $4, bowl $6) is exemplary, though, as at Shore's rivals Pier 116 and the Mermaid Inn, the flavor owes too much to bacon, and too little to clam. Much harder to love is the oyster pan roast ($10). Begging comparison with the pristine product that contains only plump bivalves, tomatoes, and cream at the Oyster Bar, Shore throws a niggling number of oysters into a shallow iron skillet and smothers them in crumbs. The seafood pie called lazy man's lobster ($21) was similarly deficient one evening, composed mainly of crushed Ritz crackers and kernels of corn. Its competitor among the Coastal Pot Pies, however, was an unmitigated delight. The "Crustacean and New England White Fish" pie ($17) arrived jammed with all sorts of seafood, including plenty of scallops and shrimp.
In pursuit of some concept involving summers at the shore that I didn't quite understand, Shore dilutes its mission by offering burgers, ribs, steaks, chicken, and all sorts of other stuff, which is not usually what you feel like ordering in a seafood joint. Better to stick with the saltwater basics, like the Tuesday special of fish and chips ($16), a goodly heap of crisp fried lemon sole filets with minimal breading, sided with very good shoestring fries. And it comes with that wonderful tartar sauce.
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