We can’t think of many places that offer up high-end sushi on the same menu as delectable French fries and clam chowder, especially not with a killer view—but such are the charms of the reimagined Studio Restaurant & Bar in Gloucester’s Rocky Neck, a staple of the neighborhood for nearly 70 years. New management brought together chef Doug Papows, familiar to North Shore diners from Feather & Wedge in Rockport and Foreign Affairs, late of Manchester, to oversee the large menu of elevated New England comfort food, and celebrated sushi chef Desmond Chow, from PABU Boston, to run a sushi program dubbed XoXo Bar.
The resulting menu offers something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a classic lobster roll with a side of fries or an elegant plate of nigiri. We’d advise you to get both—especially since gazing out at the water will likely inspire you in a seafood direction. Start with the baked oysters. Shucked to order and topped with a garlicky bread crumb and pesto mix, they’re a lovely plump snack to enjoy with something from the restaurant’s extensive local beer list.
If you’re feeling indulgent, follow that with the tuna tartare. This dish is very rich—diced yellowfin and perfectly ripe avocado tossed with a house-made charred scallion aioli. Use the crostini, made from semolina bread from Gloucester institution Virgilio’s Bakery, to scoop up the creamy, umami-laden goodness.
If you prefer your tuna unadorned, cast your eye over to the XoXo menu, which offers up four different kinds of tuna nigiri. Compare regular bluefin to fatty bluefin and medium-fatty tuna, perhaps while keeping an eye out for the cast of Wicked Tuna—Captain T.J. Ott docks his boat in the neighborhood. If more nigiri appeals, order the chef’s selection and let the staff choose whatever is freshest and most flavorful from the day’s catch. A recent plate included several kinds of bluefin and other fin fish, as well as beautifully briny and rich uni (sea urchin), all sparklingly fresh.
The Studio is seasonal and will be open through October, so as the days get a bit of a chill, the clam chowder is worth a trip all by itself. It is the perfect balance between thick and thin, with smokiness contributed by New Hampshire’s North Country Smokehouse Bacon. The base, made from rendered bacon fat, flour, and clam juice, with fingerling potatoes and leeks, is heated throughout the night in small batches with heavy cream and whole milk, so it remains exactly the right consistency, with potatoes and clams staying firm and distinct.
Stick with New England classics and follow that up with a lobster roll, a generous portion of fresh meat, lightly dressed with a house-made lemon-tarragon aioli, and served on a brioche roll. Or try something totally different: The XoXo menu has its own lobster roll, an indulgent combo of tail meat, shrimp tempura, crab, and avocado.
Flipping back to New England fare, the menu offers a classic fisherman’s style platter, with scallops, shrimp, calamari, and haddock, or you can lighten up and have local haddock in fish tacos. Three soft flour wraps are stuffed with corn salsa (sourced locally as much as possible) and drizzled with a tasty jalapeno lime aioli. But be sure to get the fries. While we usually ask for salad instead, that would be a mistake at The Studio—those thin strings of crispy goodness take a day to prepare. Cut from Maine Green Thumb potatoes every night and soaked in water until morning, blanched at a low temperature, and then cooled before being fried to order and tossed with sea salt, yields a next-level potato experience.
Tucked amid Rocky Neck’s longstanding galleries and small artist workshops, The Studio retains all its rustic charm—and, of course, lovely views of Smith Cove. Diners can arrive by boat if they’d like, but if you don’t have a boat, a seat on the large deck is the next best thing. Even indoors, every seat is optimized to take advantage of the views. A full schedule of local musicians will keep the vacation vibes going well into the fall, giving you plenty of time to return for both sides of the menu.
Contact 51 Rocky Neck Ave., Gloucester, 351-217-1238, thestudiorestaurant.godaddysites.com