Restaurant Review: Nautilus Pier 4 Finds Gold by Scouring Global Coastlines – Boston magazine

Paul Gazelka

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The whimsical world a team of experienced industry vets have created on Boston’s waterfront is rife with buried treasure.
Nautilus Pier 4 delivers globetrotting cuisine, including Szechuan eggplant, to Boston’s Seaport. / Photo by Jenna Skutnik
The nautilus, an intricate, tentacled creature with a shell like the spiraled eye of a hurricane, is a cephalopod mollusk (read: squid-like creature) that dwells far below the ocean surface during the day and ascends to feed in shallower waters at night. Its portrait marks the vestibule of Nautilus Pier 4 in the Seaport, the new sibling of Nantucket’s Nautilus restaurant. The Nautilus is also the name of the fictional submarine commanded by Captain Nemo in the Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which paints a picture of an otherworldly ocean—muted depths that might be teeming with mythical sirens, giant squids, or sunken jewels. Similarly, the whimsical world that industry vets Liam Mackey, Clinton Terry, and Stephen Bowler (the food, booze, and wine, respectively) have created on Boston’s waterfront is also rife with buried treasure.
Inside, matte brass and gilded accents glint like gold coins in a chest. Wooden tables, round peekaboo mirrors, and enormous arching entryways evoke the portholes and sloping hulls of old ships in maritime paintings. Virtually every section of the 210-seat restaurant has water views, and natural light from windows overlooking the harbor gleams against the deep blues, blacks, and greens of the restaurant’s interior.
Natural light fills the airy dining room. / Photo by Amanda James/DD Reps
Influenced by the hearty drinking food of Japanese izakayas and the tapas-style shared plates integral to Spanish cuisine, the food and drink menus, meanwhile, cruise mainly across coastal New England, Asia, Latin America, and the Mediterranean—regions where satisfying dishes are often steeped with flavors grilled, blistered, fried, herb-heavy, and citrus-fresh. Mackey, Nautilus’s culinary director, has placed at the Boston helm former Tres Gatos head chef Stephen Marcaurelle, whose talent is evident through a lineup of small and large plates, as well as table feasts. One night, I started with the silky Szechuan eggplant ($15): Spicy and smoky, it was bright with herbs, pickled chilis, and fried garlic. It was so good I ordered it on every visit, and once even considered getting it again “for dessert.” Then came the jumbo grilled asparagus ($12) in a gorgeous blanket of smoked egg yolks, Chinese mustard, and Marash pepper that reminded me of the secret sauce on an In-N-Out burger, in the best possible way.
A Thai-inspired lime sauce adds a citrus kick to crispy calamari. / Photo by Jenna Skutnik
Seafood, perhaps unsurprisingly, is stellar across the board, especially the crispy marinated calamari ($19), heaped with wispy tangles of shredded cabbage, salty peanuts, herbs, summer corn, and the sweet-spicy zip of a Thai-inspired lime sauce. The hamachi collar ($17) similarly packed a punch, with lemongrass, sour-sweet tamarind, dried shrimp, and chili-forward nam prik.
Larger, shareable plates stand in for main courses here, though whether you want to pass them around the table is another story. Gone within minutes was a bowl of chewy Szechuan dandan noodles ($27) slick with ground heritage pork, peanuts, and myriad herbs. A lovely heap of blue-crab fried rice ($34) was draped with a lacy-edged and runny-yolked egg, over easy. The single finest highlight, though, was the whole roasted Peking duck ($115), a beautiful, bronzed bird piled over white rice with ginger-scallion sauce, Bibb lettuce leaves, pickled radishes, and warm, cotton-soft steamed buns.
The nautical-inspired bar is a stunning place to sip cocktails. / Photo by Amanda James/DD Reps
You’ll need ample space for digging into the duck, so it’s a good thing that even Nautilus Pier 4’s wide, buffed bar seems tailor-made for sharing. One moonlit Monday night, it twinkled like an underwater tide pool as it steadily filled with people, the curved bowls of wine glasses catching the glow of the waterfront. It wasn’t a surprise to see crowds, given the excellent (if borderline cheesily named) cocktails, including the “Teach Me How to Dougie” ($16), a simple showstopper with mezcal, ginger, and grapefruit juice. There’s also a section dedicated to “Coffee Dranks,” such as the Nespresso martini ($15), a stellar example of the ’90s cocktail’s recent resurgence. During my summer visits, fernet branca ($7) was offered from a tap dedicated to rotating chilled digestivo, something to help polish off one of the two desserts: pots of crema Catalana ($11), a velvety custard made orange-hued from the richness of the egg yolks, as well as soft-serve gelato ($7) from Somerville’s La Bottega. The extensive wine and sake list—collaboratively curated by partner-sommelier Bowler and wine director Griffin Phelan—reflects the restaurant’s globetrotting vibe, with eclectic bottles ranging from enigmatic skin-contact whites to magnums of Old World pinot noir.
Cocktails are playful and well prepared. / Photo by Jenna Skutnik
Hospitality at Nautilus Pier 4 balanced that same ethos of exploration with the comfort of home. If a few things on the menu were unfamiliar to my dining mates, the staff, from bartenders to servers, seemed genuinely happy to unpack any mysteries. Conversations with the crew felt like exchanges with friends that—who knew!—happen to be experts on food, drink, and porrón pours.
After ending a meal one summer evening, I followed the waterfront path from the restaurant to Fan Pier Park, watching thousands of windows across the skyline turn orange as the sun went down. I remembered how, as a child of Boston seafarers, I’d watch giant tankers mosey across the harbor and wonder how something so big could float so easily.
I think of this again when I think of Nautilus Pier 4. Though the reverberations of COVID-19 are continual and we still face uncharted waters ahead, right now this restaurant in a construction-jammed, saltwater-swept, and stunningly beautiful chunk of the city feels like a balm. A generous spirit saturates every experience—I felt it when I grabbed last-minute bar seats in sweatpants after a long day of travel, as my dining mate picked out a bottle of wine with our server, in a bartender’s patient care while teaching a bar-back how to make a perfect martini. Even following a parade of intoxicatingly good dishes, it was this feeling that sparked a recurring thought: What a time to be alive in the Seaport.
★★★ 1/2
Nautilus Pier 4
200 Pier 4 Blvd., Boston, 857-957-0998

Menu Highlights
Whole roasted Peking duck ($115), Szechuan eggplant ($15), Crispy marinated calamari ($19)
★★★★ Extraordinary | ★★★ Generally Excellent | ★★ Good | ★ Fair |  (No Stars) Poor
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