Nautilus Pier 4 will open in the Seaport tomorrow, April 1, more than a year later than it initially intended. The restaurant owes a lot to its Nantucket sibling, the Nautilus, though it is by no means a carbon copy. Yes, the Seaport iteration will feature some of the same shareable plates and massive full table feasts that are typical of the original in Nantucket, but Nautilus Group partners Stephen Bowler, Liam Mackey, and Clinton Terry are looking at the new venture as a chance to dive even deeper into their restaurant’s cuisine, which globe-trots from New England to Latin America, the Mediterranean, and across Asia. It’s also a chance to continue to shape their restaurant group’s identity.
“We didn’t give too much thought about what it meant, really at all,” says Bowler of the Nautilus moniker. Naming their snug seaside restaurant after marine life seemed like a no-brainer. It was only after the fact that they recalled that the Nautilus is the name of Captain Nemo’s submarine from the classic Jules Verne novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Finally, something clicked.
“The book is about counter-culture,” says Bowler. “It’s about exploration and going to new places. In a backwards way, the name fit with what we were doing. That our food is global and tests a lot of different waters.”
Speaking of different waters, Boston’s shores are new ones for the Nautilus Group, whose two other restaurants are both on Nantucket (they also operate an izakaya on the island called the Gaslight). The new location joins Woods Hill Pier 4 in the mixed-use building at the former site of Anthony’s Pier 4. The Nautilus Group originally eyed a March 2020 opening, but delays pushed that date back to the summer. Then, two weeks into the planned 16-week construction, the pandemic took hold, and Nautilus hit the brakes. Once Boston-based construction firm Cafco was finally able to resume work, the partners decided on a spring 2021 opening. Which brings us to this moment.
The sprawling, nearly 5,000-square-foot restaurant boasts a 1,000-square-foot patio, and sweeping views of the water. In total, the restaurant seats 210, including a 40-seat private dining room, and a 50-seat patio. (COVID-19 guidelines mandate social distancing, and tables spaced at least six feet apart, so the capacity at Nautilus Pier 4 is roughly half its overall capacity at the moment.)
Building out a new space from scratch also gave the Nautilus Group the opportunity to collaborate with a number of designers and artists on an interior that flows more closely along with the food. The partners hired New York City-based design and architecture firm Workshop/APD — lead designer Andrew Kotchen is a longtime patron of the Nantucket restaurant — to design the new space. The trio also tapped Evita Caune of Nantucket-based Riptide Finishes, who helped determine the palette and crafted the epoxied textures of the Nantucket restaurant and also contributed design work to Gaslight.
“The restaurant has several different atmospheric zones that create a micro experience within one larger restaurant,” says Kotchen. “That really speaks to the diversity of the food, and the experiences the owners want their clientele to have.”
The restaurant is carved up and divided into a number of smaller, more intimate zones: the chef’s table, the bar, the main dining room, and the private dining room. The aesthetic shirks seaside clichés — think white beadboard walls and booths stuffed with blue cushions — in favor of something with a decidedly more 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea vibe. Kotchen says the look is “sort of a futuristic take on nautical.” Porthole-like windows, riveted mirrors, epoxied brass archways, and blackened steel millwork (by Norwood-based Mystic Millwork) tie all of the different spaces together.
The entryway is emblazoned with a nautilus graphic — designed by Jude Senese of the Boston-based firm HellHorse, and overlaid with 24-karat gold leaf applied by Boston decorative artist and muralist Mark Grundig — that adds a subtle brightness to the space. The chef’s table manages to bridge the gap between industrial vibes and a Japanese izakaya, with hanging pendant lights illuminating exposed ductwork. Vivid murals of sea scenes by Sam Malpass, whose art you can see at Mariel, Loco, and elsewhere, lend drama to the sun-soaked space.
The main dining room treads into more formal waters, with its deep green upholstered banquettes and vintage blue leather schoolhouse chairs. Caune, who also designed the hand-stenciled epoxy floors and various other finishes throughout the restaurant, crafted an accent wall of gray and white plaster that evokes waves. The smoked glass pendants of the spider chandelier droop from the ceiling like a giant octopus.
The bar, meanwhile, imagines a retro-inspired future world where luxury submarines whisk passengers from sea to sea. Hanging brass shelves crown the U-shaped walnut bar, while aqua tiles undulate on the wall. Glass doors lead to the patio, where patrons can luxuriate in the water views — that is, if they’re able to tear their eyes away from another Malpass mural, which depicts divers escaping the grips of a sea monster. The private dining room is awash in jewel tones and art-deco detailing, with antique brass finishes, dark green velvet chairs, and teal martini wallpaper.
The menu of mostly shareable plates highlights favorites from its Nantucket sibling — tempura oyster tacos, roasted Peking duck, and blue crab fried rice, for example — alongside new additions from executive chef and partner Stephen Marcaurelle. Mackey, who also works as the culinary director for the Nautilus Group, first worked with Marcaurelle at the Pearl in Nantucket about 15 years ago. Marcaurelle most recently helmed the kitchen at Tres Gatos in Jamaica Plain.
“Where I found myself passionate about Asian food, [Stephen] was passionate about Spanish cuisine,” says Mackey. “We’re starting off with some of the stuff that we consider our classics, and [Stephen] added 10 to 15 menu items — some that were collaborations between [the two of us], and other ideas that were solely his.”
One might rightfully ask why the Nautilus Group decided to proceed with a menu that focuses so heavily on shareable plates during a pandemic. As COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts continue on an upward trend while vaccination rates remain flat, why not pivot to a menu that allows diners to order their own entrées?
“We’ve chosen to stay the course, I would say,” says Mackey. “Our experience before COVID was that people wanted share-ability. They wanted to have as many different experiences as far as the food is concerned as they could in one sitting. Having said that, it’s really all about the way you order. If you come in and you really don’t want to share and you want your own plate of food, that’s totally an option.”
The menu is split up into three sections: small plates, large plates, and table feasts. New additions from Marcaurelle include small plates like charcoal prawns with roasted chili paste, fried garlic, black lime, and coconut vinaigrette, and large plates like za’atar-marinated Colorado lamb chops with Meyer lemon, artichokes, fava beans, spring pea labneh, and harissa lime mojo. Mackey and Marcaurelle also developed a new table feast of adobo-marinated grilled Korean short ribs with spicy long pepper and scallion salad, Japanese sticky rice, and yakiniku sauce.
Terry developed the cocktail menu, which features playful spins on classic cocktails, fruit-forward beverages, and more. He makes all of the sodas, syrups, juices, and bitters in-house. In the summers, Terry makes juice from fruit he picks himself; he’s currently on the lookout for Boston-area farms from which to source.
A favorite libation is the Ack Nauti (a spin on a Nautilus), which is made with tequila, lime juice, mint, and house-made cranberry juice, which is used in place of grapefruit juice. There’s also a bourbon-forward ode to lost love, and a coconut smoothie topped with espresso. Unlike the Nantucket restaurant, the Pier 4 spot features a more robust coffee menu in collaboration with La Colombe Coffee Roasters.
“We’re doing a variation of a cold brew to use in the cocktails themselves,” says Terry. “And then we have a whole espresso and drip set up for regular service.”
A full wine and sake list curated by Bowler and wine director Griffin Phelan (formerly the service manager and wine director at SRV) rounds out the beverage program.
For its opening weekend (April 1 through 3), Nautilus Pier 4 will be open for walk-ins only starting at 5:30 p.m. Reservations can be made for April 6 onward (guests are limited to 90 minute dining windows, per the state’s COVID-19 guidelines). For the time being, the restaurant will be open for dinner six days a week, from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, and from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The team plans to open for lunch and patio dining later this spring, with a takeout window also in the works.