Review: Oceanaire

Through the power of social networking, I got an invitation to the soft opening of Oceanaire , at Fifth and Walnut downtown. It’s been on the verge of being open for months– I’ve walked by and seen the bar, for example, looking like all it needed was a bartender and some liquor and it would be ready for business– but it officially opens tomorrow, May 31. My disclaimer is this: the meal, except for the drinks, was at no charge. The drink proceeds went to charity– which was nice!

It is corporate– there are sixteen locations (Thanks, Kevin!), the closest one being Indianapolis, which means a couple of things. One, it’s not my normal, “small chain at the most” fare, and two, they have incredible buying power. I was told by the general manager that my fish was swimming less than 24 hours ago. That’s pretty cool, considering how far inland we are. They also have agreements with tons of fishermen– including the Deadliest Catch’s boat, Time Bandit. You can buy crab legs, about $50 a pound, from crabs caught on TV. Oh, what a world (though I admit that’s kinda cool).

The restaurant itself is pretty– very neo-art deco, and is supposed to feel like a 1930s ocean liner. The walls are pale, the banquettes dark leather, and dark wood abounds. The bathrooms are a trip– I made Terry take a picture in the men’s room.

Brylcreem and Old Spice. How very retro.

Alright, you’re not here to read about the bathroom, you want to know about the food. So here goes.

We started out with drinks– a Patronarita (good, balanced, not too sweet) and an Au Kurant Affair (cherry, currant, sweet and refreshing). They then brought some sourdough bread and a relish tray containing the best pickled herring I’ve ever had. My grandmother would laugh at me– according to her, it was German tradition to eat pickled herring at midnight on New Year’s, to bring good luck. I thought it was gross. This was great– fresh, less pickled-tasting and more ceviche-tasting– and not reminiscent of the stuff my grandma got at the grocery store. Good, good stuff. The rest of the relish tray was crudite– olives, carrots, cucumbers– and was nice and refreshing.

The chef also sent out an amuse bouche– cured salmon and mustard on top of puff pastry. Yum.

For appetizers, we chose the halibut cheeks and softshell crab. The halibut cheeks were great– breaded lightly, very sweet and tender, and the mango vinagrette served with the accompanying slaw was delicious: well balanced tart and sweet and not heavy at all. I could have made a meal out of it.

I have never had softshell crab before, and I’ll be honest– I couldn’t get past the texture, which was just odd to me. Terry, however, assured me that it was downright heavenly. It was served on a bed of watercress and garnished with a tomatillo vinaigrette.

The kitchen, as is the case at a soft opening, was a touch slow, so the waiter brought out a mixed baby green salad with pistachio goat cheese, pickled watermelon, and serrano-lime vinaigrette. This was one of those perfect salad experiences– you get a bite of each component and it just works beautifully together. The salt of the nuts, creaminess of the cheese, spice of the vinaigrette and sweet tang of the pickled watermelon were great.

For our entrees, I chose one of the chef’s specialties. According to the waiter, this is where each location’s chefs get to experiment with ingredients, including a few local ones, like Mt. Carmel beer. This chef seemed to want to play with some spice– there was a lot of blackening and sriracha on the menu. I ended up getting the Black and Bleu Costa Rican Mahi-Mahi. Oceanaire gives you two grilling options: dirty, which is blackened, and angry, which is dirty with some extra spice, citrus, scallions and sriracha. The Mahi-Mahi was served dirty, on a bed of exquisitely sweet caramelized onions, topped with Roquefort butter. It was beautifully presented, moist, and very fresh– as fresh as I’d tasted at good restaurants in Hawaii. The spice and the sweet went together very well, and I would love some more of the Roquefort butter. Mmm.

Terry got the surf and turf– a 1 1/4 pound lobster, served “angry” and a filet, rare. We thought the steak was going to come out “angry” (ordering your steak “rare and angry” sounds sort of funny), but instead, the lobster did. The steak was perfectly cooked (a rarity at a seafood place), and the lobster was sweet and spicy at the same time. This surf and turf was not inexpensive– $59– but worth it.

Every item is a la carte, so we were permitted to pick two sides. First was grilled summer squash, which was nicely seasoned with tarragon and butter. The second was King Crab mac-and-cheese, which sounded really good, but was in reality a bit dry and not nearly as creamy as I thought it might be. Each of these sides could easily feed 2-3 people. Sadly, they had no take-out boxes so we couldn’t take any of it home. The mac-and-cheese might’ve been better the next day– most dishes like that are.

For dessert, we ended up with baked Alaska (or really, bombe Alaska). The meringue on this was flambeed tableside, which was impressive, but the meringue doesn’t brown as evenly as it would if it were actually baked, nor does the meringue become firm. It was novel, but I’d probably try something different. Oh, and the darn thing feeds four. It was huge, and we left half.

In all: you get what you pay for. With drinks, the meal would have topped out at about $200 for both of us. You’re paying for ultra-fresh fish, flown in and butchered on site. You’re also paying for almost overwhelming service– the waiter was attentive and incredibly knowledgeable (they had two weeks of intensive training, and he knew every flavor on the menu), and the bussing staff cleared plates promptly, but not quite unassumingly. If you love seafood, you will definitely like this place.

Oceanaire on Urbanspoon

  • marlatiara

    I need to do all sorts of artsy things with that picture of the flaming dessert. Yes.

  • Julie

    Yes, and mail them to me. :)

  • liz

    yummy! oceanaire is pretty much out of my price range, but it’s nice to keep in mind in case a sugar daddy or winning lottery ticket shows up in my life. you guys were lucky to get to go for free! everything looks really delicious.

  • Dan

    Great review. So thorough! And the food looks pretty good.

  • Kevin LeMaster

    I attended a media event for the Oceanaire a week and a half ago. Not only were we treated to a tour, but we got free food to boot. It was fantastic…I loved their selection of oysters, and their crab cakes were really good.

    BTW…Oceanaire has 16 locations. The nearest one is in Indianapolis.

  • k

    wow! everything looks amazing. i will have to save my pennies so we can go. my husband will be super impressed the crab comes from the time bandit. :)

  • vudutu

    Yet another great review Julie, you nailed it, expensive but top notch, my honey went with the girrrls to Indy last night and ate there, she said the same thing.

    The only way to do softshells is on a sandwich, preferably a Rudis bun from Trader Joes with home made mayo, I have four on ice right now, I’ll do em up today, come on over! FYI you have to know how to prep them right!

  • Julie

    Hey, Vudutu! Welcome back!

    I would totally take you up on it if I could– I’d love to try them again, particularly in sandwich form (which Terry, too, insists is the only way to eat them).

  • Julie

    K– wouldn’t dinner from the Time Bandit be a cool father’s day gift for a fan?

  • nasty

    My wife and I ate at the Indy Oceanaire a while back and sat at the raw bar. She’s from South Carolina so she grew up eating great seafood and oysters and we both thought the Oceanaire was the best we had had in a long, long time. I cannot wait to get oysters there again. Great review btw.

  • UncleRando

    Great review…hopefully someone treats me for a dinner there sometime, because I’m not sure I’ll be able to afford it for some time (unfortunately).

    *If there are any takers who want to treat me to Oceanaire feel free to contact me. :)

  • Julie

    Wish I could help you there, Uncle Rando.

    If you were going for a “budget” version, I think you could easily make a meal out of their apps, which range in price from 95c (seriously) to about $17. Their appetizer portions are easily dinner-sized!

  • Cin Twin1

    I hope you don’t mind Julie but I posted this review on Urbanohio.com. People were curious about the place and I thought this was a great review with pictures and everything!

  • Julie

    I don’t mind a bit! I love to get new readers. :D

  • Doug Dockery

    Wow, I hate being the first negative comment about a new restaurant. I had, perhaps, the worst service I’ve ever had in a restaurant at Oceanaire. It was so bad I was sending IM’s to Julie to tell on them.

    I had one of my employees schedule a dinner for four of their clients – Macy’s, P&G, Great American Insurance, and Unifund – and we decided to go to Oceanaire because it was new, etc. Dinner, dessert, and getting the check took more than 3 hours.

    Silly things like, six of the seven entrées arrived at the table, and we spent 10 minutes looking at each other and having the waitress tell us the last entrée was coming. Ugh!

    The food tasted fine – so no negative comments about quality – but the steaks were both cooked well vs. the medium rare that was ordered. However, we’d waited so long by that point, we just ate them.

    The true measure of how horrific the service was is that the client from P&G, Macy’s, and Great American finally got tired of waiting for our waitress awake from the dead and actually left the restaurant. Was was supposed to be a great evening entertaining our valued clients turned into us apologizing for the restaurant’s service.

    I will generally try anything twice – but not Oceanaire. Pass on this one and go to Ruby’s down the street instead.

  • Julie

    Ouch, Doug, I’m really sorry to hear that. I’m sure they had their best foot forward for their opening, but service shouldn’t decline this quickly. Anyone else have any negative experiences?

  • rosematter

    “I will generally try anything twice – but not Oceanaire. Pass on this one and go to Ruby’s down the street instead.” – Doug Dockery

    As someone who has opened number of restaurants, I beg you to reconsider this decision. The fact is that every new restaurant over staffs for an opening. There is only so much you can find out about a person in an interview. If someone has a good resume and gives a great first impression, all you can do is train them and hope they execute when put to the test. The mark of a really well run restaurant is not its ability to higher only the best employees, but its ability to realize when it needs to cut the bad ones loose.

    Every new restaurant will have a few hiccups and when Ruby opened his steakhouse downtown am sure he had his fair share of bad reviews. It will typically take a new restaurant about a month or two to work the kinks out of their operations and whittle down the employees that are just not up to par.

    I highly encourage you to give the restaurant about a month and try it again. If there are still major problems with the service at that time, then it is probably do to bad management and not just one bad server.

  • Anonymous

    As an employee, I can assure you that you should give it a second chance. I have worked at many restaurants and they have the best management I have ever seen. Since we’ve opened our service has improved enormously. I’m extremely impressed by the management and because of this I have faith that the restaurant will succeed for many many years.

  • Linda Batterby

    Oceanaire was sued in late 08 by the Discovery Channel for saying they served Deadliest Catch King Crab. I can assure you your fish was swimming last week, not last night.