What would you say if I told you that a Midwestern-based seafood restaurant wanted to open up in Boston to compete with the likes of old establishments such as Legal Seafoods, Atlantic Fish Company, and Neptune Oyster, what would be your response?
Don't lie. You'd probably laugh right? Midwest? Aren't they landlocked? (I'm from Ohio, and people used to say that about my state all the time)
The Oceanaire Seafood Room, which originally started out in Minnesota, has successfully opened up restaurants in cities such as Baltimore, Boston, Miami, and San Diego. In fact, they have twelve successful restaurants throughout the US. The concept? You're dining on extremely fresh seafood on a 1930's luxury ocean liner.
I recently had an opportunity to dine at the one in Boston. I was so surprised I had never heard of this place before. Isn't it beautiful inside? Look at those high ceilings!
I met Wade Wiestling, the VP of Culinary Development of The Oceanaire, in Napa Valley. He was one of the judges for the San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition. Wade happened to be in Boston this past week, and was kind and generous enough to treat Bryan and me to a fabulous meal at his restaurant. Wade is the brains behind the Oceanaire menu, having created many of the Oceanaire classics that I will describe to you later.
Aside from food (which, of course, I'll discuss in a moment), the space alone is worth the visit. The dining room is beautiful and really unique. It's a converted bank, and you can still see many remnants of the former US Trust bank. For example, the oyster bar is where the teller's windows used to be. Downstairs, all of the vaults are still around. Here, you see the chefs coming out from the safe deposit vaults.
The doors to the vaults are still in the kitchen. Wade gave us a tour of the kitchen. Check out how thick the walls of the vaults are!!!
The kitchen is immaculate inside. We saw people plating food, making desserts (baked Alaska!), and doing all sorts of other prep work. I met Dan Enos (bottom left photo), the executive chef in Boston. Dan graduated from Johnson and Wales and most recently was Executive Chef at The Capital Grille before joining The Oceanaire in 2006.
The Oceanaire has some signature dishes which are the same at all locations. However, local executive chefs have a lot of free rein to design many of the other dishes in the menu. Not only does this makes each Oceanaire unique and interesting, it also attracts top caliber chefs to work at The Oceanaire.
A fresh new menu is printed out every day, and reflects the day's current offerings. The Oceanaire flies in fresh seafood daily from all around the world. Wade took us into their refrigerated areas where we saw some of the day's offerings. Beautiful crab legs and fish!
It was really fun visiting the kitchen and seeing the inner workings at this place. But, let's get to the food!
Amuse bouche: salmon mousse over a cucumber "chip"
This was light, refreshing, and a nice beginning to the meal. The mousse definitely had the smokiness that comes from smoked salmon.
Minnesota Pickled Herring
I'm not sure if I have ever had pickled herring before, so I cannot claim to be an expert. However, I can tell you what I thought of this herring, which is . . . I loved it! Slightly tart, slightly sweet and salty at the same time. It went well with the raw veggies on the side. We finished the whole thing in no time.
“Sashimi Style” Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna, Spicy-Sweet Soy, Wakame Salad, Pacific Farms Wasabi, ($19.95)
This was some quality fish. The waiter kept saying "melts in your mouth" and I have to agree. Oftentimes lesser quality raw fish will be stringy and tough. This fish had absolutely no hint of stringiness or toughness. It was smooth, soft, and had very good flavor. It came with a small side of wasabi (which was nicely pungent!), Sriracha sauce, wakame salad, and carrot salad.
Raw Oysters ($2.65 to $2.95 each)
The raw oysters were extremely fresh and delicious. We tried a variety: Kumamoto from California, Wawenauk from Maine, Island Creek from Massachusetts, and Blue Point from Connecticut. It came with a traditional French red wine vinegar shallot dipping sauce and also the classic American cocktail sauce. The restaurant actually has a fantastic oyster bar, which you can see in the first photo of the post.
New England Clam Chowder ($4.95 (cup), $6.95 (bowl))
This soup was pretty good. It was very thick and chunky, full of lots of chopped up clams and potatoes. I was wishing that the soup had more clam flavor. It was a fine potato soup, but I've had better clam chowders in Boston.
Creamed Corn ($.4.95-$7.95)
Sides are portioned like at steak houses, definitely large enough to share. The creamed corn was quite good. The addition of nutmeg makes this side a bit more interesting than your typical creamed corn.
Hashed Brown a la Oceanaire ($4.95-$7.95) + $1 for "a la Oceanaire"
If you only get one side, you have to get this one! It's an Oceanaire classic and it's available at every one of the restaurants. Oh, and if you order this, definitely get it "a la Oceanaire" which means they add onions, bacon, and Tabasco sauce (really, how can that NOT be good?). Imagine: a huge mass of shredded potatoes and cheese mixed with sautéed onions, bacon, and Tabasco sauce that is fried so the edges are crispy. Let me share another photo with you just in case you are not convinced.
Yum . . . the crispy bits on the edges were the best part! I loved the tart and spicy kick that the Tabasco sauce and bacon added. It was really really good, and the portion is huge, so you can take half of it home and eat it for breakfast the next day with a poached egg on top.
Sauteed Spinach charred lemons, roasted garlic ($4.95-$7.95)
One of Chef Dan's creations, this dish was solid, and the charred lemons added a nice twist to this dish.
Jumbo Lump Crab Appetizer ($15.95)
If you get just one appetizer, you have to get these crab cakes. It is one of the most popular menu items at The Oceanaire, and I can definitely see why. This crab cake is mostly "crab" and very little "cake." It's made more in the traditional Maryland style - not the thick, oily, breaded style that is deep fried. This crab cake is surprisingly light, consisting of just juicy, succulent lumps of crab lightly held together with spices and a little binding. The flavors are fantastic. Definitely get this!
Seared Wild Alaskan Halibut ($39.95)
Crispy Proscuitto, Grape Tomatoes, Leeks, Lemon Beurre Blanc
The wild Alaskan halibut had just arrived very recently and everyone at the restaurant kept saying how "beautiful" the fish was, so I just had to get it. Yes, I confirm they were right: this dish is delicious. The fish is soft, fresh, and flaky. The preparation is wonderfully tasty too, with crispy proscuitto bits adding a nice textural crunch and salty zing to complement the creamy lemon sauce. This is another one of Chef Dan's creations.
Grilled Panamanian Swordfish ($32.95)
"Black and Bleu" Sweet Onion confit and Bleu cheese butter
The black and bleu style is another signature Oceanaire preparation, available at all the restaurants. The "black" stands for black pepper, and the "bleu" stands for blue cheese. I personally liked the halibut better because it's a softer fish (this swordfish was more steak-like in texture), but Bryan thought it was well made and enjoyed the dish a lot.
Boston Cream Pie ($8.95)
Wade had told us that when he first came to Boston, he was surprised that he couldn't really find a Boston Cream Pie that he really liked. This Boston Cream Pie is two years in the making. Dan and Wade have been tweaking this recipe, and, according to Dan, I'm tasting the final perfected version of this cake. I have to agree that the Boston Cream Pie is excellent, and if you order one dessert, this is the one to get. Inside the chocolate coating, there are three layers of cake and two layers of cream. The entire dessert is surprisingly not too sweet (which I really like!). It's definitely big enough to share!
Key Lime Pie ($9.95)
Their pies are ENORMOUS, and one slice will easily feed at least two people. I saw their pie while I was in the kitchen, and I swear it looked like it was 14-16 inches in diameter! Maybe I can't remember the exactly width, but it was really large! I enjoyed the pie, but my favorite is probably the Boston Cream Pie.
Portions are huge here, so you'll definitely be taking home leftovers!
I still can't believe I had no idea this restaurant existed, even though it has been here since 2008! The food is solidly prepared, and they definitely know their seafood. They really work hard to make sure that their ingredients are top quality, and it shows. Also, the space is beautiful, so it's a nice place to sit and relax.
The prices are definitely not cheap (it's supposed to be a luxury ocean liner, after all), although there are choices at all different price points. There's a bar menu where you can try a smaller "black and bleu" steak for only $13.99 or a pile of steamed mussels for $7.99.
We also saw that they have a restaurant week menu available right now. The best part? The crab cakes are on the restaurant week menu! So even if you don't feel like coughing up $40 for a piece of fish, you should definitely try to stop by during Restaurant Week and try a nice three-course dinner ($33.10) which includes those crab cakes. Yum . . . . They also have a seasonal market menu offered all the time, which is $29.95 for a three course meal.
Overall, an excellent seafood restaurant that can definitely compete with the seafood offerings already available in Boston.
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