There’s a new seafood restaurant in town: The Banks Fish House, located in the former Post 390 space at 406 Stuart St. in Boston’s Back Bay, opened on July 21, sibling restaurant to Grill 23, Bistro du Midi, and Harvest. Owner Chris Himmel and executive chef and partner Robert Sisca are drawing on their fishing adventures around the globe, as well as Sisca’s experiences as a chef throughout the northeast and the seafood purveyor friends he’s made along the way, to fill the two-story space with everything from casual fried seafood dishes to loaded towers of shellfish and caviar.
Sisca’s years in Rhode Island, for example, inspired a Point Judith calamari dish, served with pickled peppers, jalapenos, and a blue claw crab ragu based on a sauce his mother made while he was growing up. From Sisca’s time in Boston, there are fried artichokes, which used to be a fan favorite on the Bistro du Midi menu, served here with an Old Bay aioli.
Here’s an inside look at some of the dishes on the opening menu:
The Banks is a New England fish house; of course there are oysters. The rotating selection will always include Island Creek oysters from Duxbury, Massachusetts; something from Maine, such as Snow Island or Mookie Blue oysters; a couple West Coast options; and more. Watch for one of Sisca’s local favorites, South Bay Blondes from Onset, Massachusetts.
The Banks also has has a dish of Taunton Bay oysters from Maine. “Since Maine plays such a big part in oysters, I wanted to put a composed Maine oyster dish on,” says Sisca. It includes Maine uni as well as a relish made with Sweet Reaper hot sauce from Martha’s Vineyard, which is made by O Ya alum Nathan Gould. (Gould’s smoked bluefish pate also makes an appearance on the menu.)
The Banks’s raw oysters are pictured here with a tin of the restaurant’s own osetra caviar, sourced via Regiis Ova; there’s also Island Creek white sturgeon caviar and Black River imperial osetra from Uruguay. Diners can add caviar to anything or order it on its own with creme fraiche, blini, and hash browns. It’s also in the fanciest of the restaurant’s three seafood towers, accompanying enough shellfish, lobster, and crudo to feed six to eight people.
“The Chowda” Flatbread
Sisca and Himmel intend for the Banks to be the type of place where you can grab a casual cup of chowder and glass of rosé at the bar or come in for a caviar-drenched shellfish feast, or anything in between. In addition to the actual chowder, which is made with pork belly and served with a dinner roll, there’s a chowder flatbread. Sisca is “really excited” about this dish, which is a play on pizza vongole, clam pizza, “kind of a classic pizza in Italian restaurants.” The chowder flatbread has a creme fraiche base, bacon, clams, and potatoes, and it’s topped with oyster crackers “to give it texture and kind of bring the chowder together.”
There’s also a simple margherita flatbread as well as a cioppino (prawns, squid, mussels, Gruyere). For the cioppino, Sisca takes some of the broth for the Banks’s lobster bake and reduces it down with tomato sauce.
The fried whole belly clam dish, pictured above, is one of several fried seafood dishes at the Banks; it’s served with fries and lemon tarragon remoulade. There’s also a fried fishermen’s platter with haddock, shrimp, and scallops, each prepared in a different batter and fried at a different temperature in a different basket “to make it perfect,” says Sisca. The platter comes with a “sea chi” remoulade, made with kelp-based kimchi from Atlantic Sea Farms in Maine.
Bread Crusted Halibut
“It’s a technique I learned years ago,” says Sisca, where sourdough bread is frozen and sliced paper-thin on a meat slicer and the fish bakes in the oven on top of a slice of bread. “It’s almost cooked three different ways: It steams, it roasts, it bakes.” Sisca flips it over after baking, resulting in a crispy breading and moist fish. The halibut is accompanied by Prince Edward Island mussels, a nod to Sisca and Himmel’s bluefin tuna fishing trips there. “As you drive through, you see all the mussel beds everywhere,” says Sisca. Asparagus, fregola sarda, and a yellow tomato broth round out the dish.
Grilled Bluefin Tuna Steak
Another nod to the PEI fishing trips, the grilled bluefin tuna steak — served rare or however you want — comes with grilled artichokes and “almost a ratatouille or caponata” of roasted eggplants, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and green olives.
The tuna steak and halibut join a handful of other seafood entrees on the menu, including a Dover sole meuniere, cuttlefish spaghetti, and — a favorite of Sisca’s kids — crispy fish tacos.
But there are a few options for non-seafood eaters, too, including sibling restaurant Grill 23’s 100-day Brandt rib-eye, a Giannone half chicken, or filet mignon. (Add a steamed lobster tail to any of them.)
The Banks Fish House is currently open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday and lunch Tuesday through Friday, with brunch coming soon. There’s seating on both floors — including several private dining areas — and the large space includes several fireplaces, a raw bar, two bars, an open kitchen, and Back Bay views. Reserve a table online to get a taste of the culmination of Sisca and Himmel’s years as fishermen.
“There are so many friends I’ve made over the years cooking seafood for this long,” says Sisca. “It just really goes from them to me to the plate.”