Fish for the One Percent
For seafood lovers, there are two anchors of the spectrum: There’s Red Lobster, and there’s Oceanaire. I make a habit of neither, preferring to find my fish as the catch-of-the-day special at any number of the trusted, mid-range kitchens where I can (just) afford to eat.
But if it’s a special occasion, as it was last week, a visit to Oceanaire keeps its promise—which is, in a word, perfection: pristine fillets and shellfish, handled with the TLC they require.
And, what’s this about credit-card guilt in January? The place (and it’s a big one, having moved a year ago from the Hyatt Hotel to new digs on the other end of the Nicollet Mall) was packed.
A little backstory. Oceanaire Seafood Room is the fish-eaters’ version of an up-market steakhouse, New York-style: a gregarious atmosphere of closely-packed tables patrolled by waiters in white coats who deliver primo, but not hushed-and-obsequious, service. A room where either jeans or a tiara is welcome.
We began our night with a cocktail at the raw bar, ogling the centerfold-worthy display of flesh—icy beds of oysters, lobsters and more. Once at our table, an old-time relish tray appeared, compliments of the kitchen, to appease hunger pangs with carrot sticks, celery, olives and what-have-you, along with giant slices (everything here is giant, by the way) of ideally moist and tangy sourdough bread.
What next? Well, I’m a lover of crab cakes, and Oceanaire does them up right: two to an order ($35), buxom with lots of sweet, sweet crabmeat with just enough filler to plump them into those fat patties, then given a gentle sauté and sped our direction, attended by a nicely biting mustard mayo—the perfect got-your-attention foil for the sweet meat.
Or order a single cake as a mighty app. Other appetizers include calamari, clams, escargots, mussels, oysters and other old-time, supper club classics ($10 up). Entrées are divided into two columns, one of which details the evening’s fresh fish—usually six or eight options, from the familiar salmon, grouper and walleye to the maybe-not-so familiar barramundi from Australia ($23 up). These come grilled or broiled, naked save for a swish of lemon butter.
Instead, we chose from the “embellished” section of the entrée list ($23 for fish and chips, then upward), opting for the addition of creative saucing and a bit of garnish for pizazz. And choosing isn’t easy, let me tell you: grouper with grilled pineapple salsa and cilantro pesto; marlin “black and blue” with caramelized onions and blue cheese butter; scallops with chorizo and white bean ragout in saffron beurre blanc; and our choice, Costa Rican mahi mahi, joined by jumbo lump crabmeat in a light, caper-infused butter. Intelligently, the fish was positioned to take the spotlight—thick and pearly, perfectly timed—simply brushed with a bit of that infused butter to awaken its own, mild-mannered flavor.
From the list of a la carte side dishes, each generous enough for a foursome, we shared a ramekin of au gratin potatoes, cheesy as promised, and embellished with bits of bacon to cut through the weighty cream. We also summoned a ramekin of creamed spinach, maybe the only disappointment of the evening—not as creamy as I’d remembered, anyway (maybe a death wish here?). Or choose Oceanaire’s signature hashed browns; or potatoes French-fry style, as poutine (in lobster sauce enriched, as if it needed it, with Cheddar); or balsamic-glazed beets under crumbles of blue cheese; or wild rice pilaf studded with pecans and raisins (all under $10). Doggie-bag wannabes, for sure.
With our dinner we sipped a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, fresh and fruity. And skipped dessert (Are you kidding? Not with portions clearly suited to Sumo wrestlers.)
I’ll be back, for sure—in another year or so. In the meantime, it’s back to my favorite fish tacos at Global Market. Lobster from Smack Shack, where the price approached charity. And salmon from the supermarket.