Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Belle Isle Seafood, Boston

Belle Isle is a casual seafood restaurant located only about 15 minutes from Logan airport.  Thus it has become my goto location for a quick bite when flying in or out of Boston.  If I'm just arriving in Boston, I'm likely starving from my flight, and eager to get my hands on some east coast seafood as soon as possible.  If I'm about to leave, it is my last chance to have fried haddock!

Belle Isle is a very casual place; you order and pay at a register, cash only, and are handed a lobster shaped buzzer.  Soft drinks are self-serve, basic Pepsi (or was it Coke?) products.  Seating is actually at picnic tables, although they are indoors.  Food comes on paper plates.  Like I said, casual.  It is located right along the water, with rather nice views.  You do almost feel as if you are at a seafood shack on the coast, rather than so close to the city.  There is also a Dunkin' Donuts conveniently across the street, so you can get your first/last Dunkin' Donuts fix at the same time.

I've visited many times over the years, but I didn't take photos or write reviews for the first few years, because it was before I decided to add Boston area reviews to my blog.  Thus, I only have specific details on a few menu items.

The menu is basically all seafood.  The selection spans everything from haddock, sole, swordfish, salmon, and tuna to oysters, clams, shrimp, or calamari, and of course lobster, or lobster pie.  Once you decide on which type of seafood you want, there are still many decisions to make.  Most items can be prepared fried, baked, baked and stuffed, cajun blackened, grilled, or teriyaki.  The fried plates come with french fries, onion rings, coleslaw, and tartar sauce.  Yes, you read that correctly, not a choice of those things, you get them all.  The others all come with rice pilaf, coleslaw, tartar sauce, and dinner rolls.  Portion sizes are rather insane, which I knew before my first visit from my research.  Sharing is highly advised.  Every person who I've brought there has been fairly resistant to my suggestion of sharing, and then once we receive the food, has thanked me.  I'm pretty sure we've never managed to finish everything, even with sharing.  Anyway, back to the menu.  If you don't just want a seafood dinner platter, they also have seafood rolls and sandwiches (including several styles of lobster roll depending on what sort of meat you want), crab cakes, fish cakes, and, for the token non-seafood eaters, chicken fingers and hotdogs.

Belle Isle also has a retail seafood counter, to purchase fresh seafood to cook for yourself, or, in our case, cooked and clean shrimp.

There are obviously much better restaurants I could visit for seafood in Boston, but Belle Isle also has a large parking lot, and isn't located in Boston proper (it is in neighboring Winthrop), so my family members who don't want to drive (or park) in a city don't need to.  They don't take reservations, so if my flight is late, I don't need to worry about being late.  If I've just gotten off a plane and don't really want a long, drawn out meal, it is fast and easy.  It really is just quite convenient, and while the airport location of Legal Seafood is more convenient, the food is far better at Belle Isle.  I wouldn't go out of my way to go there however.  It is also pretty pricey for a casual place.
Haddock, Fried, Dinner. $15.99
I nearly always go for the haddock, because it is something we do not have on the west coast.  Swordfish, salmon, tuna, calamari, scallops, etc are all things I enjoy, but, I can get them regularly.  Fried haddock on the other hand, now that is special!  (which I realize is funny to people from the east coast, as haddock and cod are just the basic common whitefish readily available, and to me, they are gems).

I also nearly always get it fried, because, well, fish and chips.  Somehow a piece of grilled haddock doesn't have the same feel of indulging in my special seafood.  I am really curious about the baked stuffed version though, and always say I'll get it "next time".

A fried dinner comes with onion rings, fries, and colelsaw by default, but after hating the onion rings on all our previous visits, we asked to just have fries this time.

The fries were fresh but not remarkable.  They were not very crispy, yet were not soggy either.  They weren't too oily nor greasy.  But ... somehow they just weren't great.  They certainly needed salt.  My notes from previous visits all just say "meh, skip in the future".  The portion was huge, but, normally, half of this is onion rings.

The slaw comes in just a little plastic cup on the side.  It is mayo based, creamy, fairly generic, but, tasty.  It has been highly inconsistent in its freshness over our multiple visits however.  Sometimes I've noted that it is quite crisp.  Other times it has been incredibly soggy.  I had to write down a quote from a fellow diner once, when he had a bite of the slaw, and said, "Why did they use lettuce instead of cabbage?"  It was so lacking in any crispness that he couldn't tell the difference, and even when I insisted it was cabbage, he was skeptical.  Still, it is my style of slaw, and well seasoned, making it my favorite of the sides, but of course, I would prefer it less soggy.

And finally, the haddock itself.  The haddock dinner comes with two very large pieces of haddock.  It arrives very hot, clearly fresh out of the fryer.  The batter used on the fish is the same as on the onion rings, where I find it really doesn't work, as it is too heavy for the onions, but it works much better on the fish.  It still isn't remarkable, but, much more successful than on the rings.  The haddock itself was moist, flaky, very good.  Exactly what I wanted it to be.

Of course, I'm in it for the sauce.  The side of tartar sauce was the highlight for me.  Very thick, loaded with chunks of pickles.  Good flavor, and it went very well with the fish.  Also good for dunking the mediocre fries in, although, they always only give one tiny container of it, which isn't enough for even just the fish, let alone some fries or rings.  Or uh, maybe I use an excessive amount of tartar sauce?  I've always had to ask for extra.

Overall, this always meets my craving for some fried seafood and mayo, but, certainly isn't anything remarkable.
Scallops, Baked, Side Order. $13.99.
Scallops were a bit of a strange pick for me, as I was on the east coast, and my thing is always that I want to pick the special thing I can't get in San Francisco.  I obviously love scallops, but get them fairly frequently in San Francisco.  Shouldn't I be going for the haddock or lobster?

But ... I'm just not a big fan of lobster.  I've had the lobster roll from Belle Isle on two other occasions, and others raved about it, but to me, it just isn't ever going to be my top pick.  (And, on this visit, another diner got the lobster roll, and I did indeed have a few bites.  It was ... just a lobster roll.  An insane amount of lobster, lightly dressed, but ... the lobster was a bit chewy, and the flavor just isn't there in lobster meat for me).

I also wasn't in the mood for fried food, as I had just stepped off a plane, and wasn't feeling great, so my default fried haddock wasn't sounding appealing in any way.  I could have chosen grilled or baked haddock, but that seemed boring.  Plus, I realized, aren't most scallops fished right off the coast of Massachusetts anyway?  These were just as local of a choice as lobster or haddock!

So, scallops it was.  After trying unsuccessfully to convince the rest of the group to share a few dishes, I gave up.  Each adult ordered a full dinner, as did the children.  At last minute, one person decided to cancel his order entirely, since he knew how much food we'd be getting.  I decided to just get my scallops as a side order, knowing I could steal some fries, onion rings, and slaw from the others.  Plus, on previous visits, I didn't really like the sides all that much anyway.

The scallops were a wonderful choice.  They turned out to be, by far, the best item I had at Belle Isle, in any of my visits.  Sure, the scallops were mid-size, and I prefer larger.  And they were baked, and I prefer seared.  They were cooked all the way through, and I prefer mid-rare.  But ... they tasted good.  Tender, slightly sweet.  They were cooked with plenty of butter, I assure you.  And topped with some slightly crispy bread crumbs for a little crunch.

On the side was lemon slices which I squeezed over the scallops, which enhanced the flavors a little, but quite honestly, wasn't necessary.  And tartar sauce, which is usually the highlight for me, and, believe me, it was good, but the scallops were actually better on their own, sans sauce.

The only negative I have to say is that some of the scallops didn't have the foot removed, so it was a bit unpleasant to occasionally encounter the chewy bit.

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Lobster Tail Roll with Onion Rings. $30.99.

On my first visit with my mother, I knew there was only one thing she'd have eyes for: a lobster roll.  She loves lobster rolls, and only ever gets to eat them when she goes for her annual trip to Maine with my father.  This was a serious treat for her.  I also knew, that like everything at Belle Isle, the portions were going to be huge.  She proclaimed up and down that she could eat a whole lobster roll and we shouldn't split, but, I assure you, it is a good thing we did.

This is no wimpy little lobster roll.  It is absolutely loaded up with lobster, large chunks of lobster, not shredded, not bits and pieces.  A full half pound.  There is no filler, besides some mayo, but it isn't overdressed.

For a lobster roll, this is a very good lobster roll.  But ... a lobster roll is never my thing.  First, I don't love lobster, to me, it just never is as good as our local Dungeness crab in San Francisco.  The lobster at Belle Isle has been no exception, it just doesn't have that much flavor.  Well cooked, generous serving, but ... it is lobster.  Also, I don't really like sandwiches, so the whole "roll" aspect of it is a negative to me too.

As for the onion rings, I've had those many times, and somehow keep trying them, even though I really dislike them.  They are fresh and crispy, but the breading just doesn't work for me for onion rings, and I actively dislike them every time.  I love onion rings, and they always look so good that I can't resist, but I really, really don't like them.

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Clam Chowder. $6.25
My dining companions all love clam chowder, so one time when they were with us, someone added on a pint of clam chowder to our order. Again, I tell you, no one trusts me on the portion sizes here!

Anyway, it had good chunks of potato, plenty of clams, and was decently creamy. It came with a packet of oyster crackers. It wasn't really my thing, but everyone else enjoyed it.
Belle Isle Lobster and Seafood Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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