Julie Benau Picpoul de Pinet 2020

From my modest dining experiences past, I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever waited nearly 2 hours for a table at a trendy restaurant. Not sure? I mean, who doesn’t take reservations in an era of Open Table and online ordering?

Neptune Oyster, for one. This hot spot in the North End has just 37 seats (including the bar, which stretches from the doorway to the rear of the house) beneath its pressed tin ceiling, and each one of them was filled from the moment we arrived around 6pm until our seating (at about 7:45pm) and eventual departure (9:15pm) last night. Was Neptune’s Oyster, one of the city’s best-known eateries, worth the wait?

We each ordered the Julie Benau Picpoul de Pinet 2020 from among the coastal European wines that populated the extensive wine list and wrapped around the bar. With seafood on the brain, this light white from France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region seemed like an appropriate selection—I’m sure Cara and I each picked less from standpoint of familiarity and more from our waitress’s description of its crisp, citrus notes and minerality taste. Notes’ readers know my background in white wine is far from extensive and I was pleased to have her recommendation and enjoy the glass.

I also loved the oysters (great salty finish, even if i overloaded the horseradish!) and the johnnycake that we had as appetizers; the latter was particularly amazing. A salty, crispy cake tapped with smoked bluefin tuna and sturgeon caviar, the johnnycake was striking and something I will remember for a long time. For her entree, Cara opted for the North End Cioppiono, a spiced stew inclusive of shellfish, saffron rice, shrimp, monkfish, and topped with Maine lobsta. A rich, delicious brew! I did bluefin tuna, just kissed by the grill and served with haricot verts, Nicoise olives, white anchovies, and a Dijon vinaigrette. 

The food was delicious—did I mention the johnnycake?—and I enjoyed the “green apple” vibe of the Julie Benau Picpoul de Pinet 2020 very much. As I reflect on the evening, however, I’m not sure the time we spent lined up in the street lived up to our expectations of Jeff Nace’s well-regarded establishment. The music was booming and it was extremely difficult to hear your date or even make conversation. And that’s sort of ironic because, crammed as we were into the close quarters of the restaurant, I was close enough to neighbors to flinch at every hacking cough, hear every story about their Jira-based workflow, and be blinded by fellow restauranteurs who needed their cell phone flashlights to read the menu and simultaneously check us for cataracts. 

I’d grade the ambiance as meh, the wine as good, the food better, and the company as the best of all. Thanks, love, for the new food adventure and looking forward to so many more.