The Oceanaire Seafood Room is a rapidly growing, high-end seafood chain that just docked in the Washington Square section of Philadelphia. Oceanaire is a unique dining experience, a tribute to a bygone era. The atmosphere is that of a tasteful 1930s supper club aboard a luxury ocean liner—complete with grand Art Deco curves, cherry wood accents, comfy red leather booths, and big band music drifting through the air.
The service, too, is nothing short of first class. Even if you’re not a judge, or a doctor being wooed by a pharmaceutical rep, the staff at Oceanaire will make you feel just as important.
But as impressive as the décor and service are, they merely act as a backdrop to showcase the two concepts for which Oceanaire is notoriously famous. First, Oceanaire boasts that its fish is “Ultra-Fresh”—what you’re eating today was likely swimming in the ocean yesterday afternoon. The menu changes daily depending on market availability. Executive Chef Anthony Bonett is in his element; he spearheaded the late Opus 251’s market fresh approach.
Given the obsessively high rotation of its inventory, you would be remiss if you didn’t experience Oceanaire’s raw oyster bar, which offers a bevy of bivalves from both coasts. We tried the Effingham, Kumamoto and Netart Bay ($2.10 per oyster). The Effingham were briny and a little sweet, the Kumamoto were rich and buttery, and the Netart Bay were also briny and mild.
Another must-have is the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake ($13.50 as an appetizer, around $26 as an entrée). Each hulking crab cake is pure jumbo lump crab meat. There must be some small amount of filling holding it all together, but it’s virtually impossible to detect. The crab cakes are broiled and come with Oceanaire’s signature Mustard Mayonnaise, which adds an addictively rich, zesty kick.
Oceanaire’s menu is vast, yet navigable. There are two ways to have the daily catches prepared: (1) simply grilled or broiled; or (2) as one of the chef’s daily specialties. My wife chose the Striped Sea Bass simply broiled ($25.95). From the first bite to the last, the uncomplicated preparation of this dish was a constant reminder of how fresh the fish really was.
While the Ultra-Fresh experience may be a lure for many fish lovers, others may see it as an anchor. Oceanaire’s fish dishes, even its specialties, are prepared in a way that highlights—or, at a minimum, does not overshadow or compete with—the freshness of fish. However, fish lovers looking for more celestial or sublime compositions may not always be wowed by this approach.
The Black Cod special, for example, was prepared with a light, delicate orange ginger sauce ($28.95). On another occasion I had the Mahi Mahi special, which was rubbed with Cajun spices and accompanied by a dollop of blue cheese ($23.95). The specialties were tasty and merit repeating. However, it would be interesting to see what the kitchen could do if it sailed into deeper waters.
The second concept Oceanaire is famous for is that everything comes in only one size—titanic. The entrées are essentially double portions. The sides, which come a la carte, are so large that each one easily could feed a table of four. However, some of the sides (such as the roasted potatoes) are a little too simply prepared and could benefit from some creative chefing.
Oceanaire’s bigger-is-better mentality also carries through to the bar, making it a pearl for those hunting for an economical cocktail hour. A glass of 2005 Mark West Pinot Noir at Oceanaire will set you back $12 (only slightly more than other restaurants); however, you’re getting a generous double pour. Similarly, a Chopin martini costs $12.95, but it’s basically a double. It’s also worth noting that Oceanaire’s long, sleek metal bar and its neighboring curved wooden bar are perfect places for those who occasionally dine alone.
Oceanaire is among a small, elite group of Philadelphia restaurants that have earned Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence—which means it has a well-chosen selection of at least 100 wines by quality producers and a thematic match to the menu in both price and style. Oceanaire has dozens of wines by the glass and even more by the bottle. There’s even a small selection of half bottles. Oceanaire also has a separate Captain’s List of wines, which has an impressive selection of hard-to-find bottles that hover in the triple digits.
Oceanaire’s Ultra-Fresh selections and gargantuan portions make it a Disneyland for fish lovers. One bite and you could be hooked.
The Oceanaire Seafood Room
700 Walnut Street
November 20, 2006
November 17, 2006
Every year on the third Thursday of November the new vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau is released to the public. This year that day was yesterday—November 16, 2006.
In France, the timing of Beaujolais Nouveau’s release is governed by law (it cannot be served before 12:01 a.m. on that special Thursday), and its release is celebrated with a certain degree of gimmicky fanfare. The U.S. also celebrates its release, albeit to a lesser degree, due to an international marketing campaign largely credited to Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais Nouveau’s largest producer.
Beaujolais Nouveau is made from the Gamay grape, which is harvested, fermented, and bottled all in about six weeks. The result is a light, fresh, fruity red. Because this young wine is also relatively acidic and lacks the tannins and oakiness characteristic of many red wines, it is often touted as a safe way to introduce reds to those who prefer white wine. For that same reason, though, some wine purists harbor contempt for Beaujolais Nouveau, calling it Kool-Aid and dismissing the faux holiday that spawns from the Duboeufian marketing blitz.
Nevertheless, Beaujolais Nouveau is an inexpensive wine that remains popular, making its way to many Thanksgiving tables every year. It is best served chilled to about 55 degrees. This wine has a short shelf life and, traditionally, it is not consumed after January 1. Although it likely will have a bit of life left in it after the first of the year, by late spring it’s usually too far gone to be enjoyable.
This year, the PLCB is offering the same two brands of Beaujolais Nouveau it offered last year: the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and the Leonard de Saint-Aubin Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau. Here’s how they rate:
Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2006 (PLCB No. 5877, $11.99). The color is a deep red. The nose and palate show strawberries, raspberries and cherries. This Beaujolais Nouveau is much heartier than I expected and has a respectable balance between the fruitiness and the acidity. The finish is remarkably smooth.
Leonard de Saint-Aubin Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2006 (PLCB No. 8998, $11.99). Beaujolais-Villages is a separate appellation unto itself. It is known for producing a Nouveau that is firmer and more robust than your standard Nouveau. The Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau typically lasts a little longer, too. Last year, the Saint-Aubin was my favorite of the two because it had a bright, explosive cherry flavor and a charming bite. This year’s Saint-Aubin, though, is less impressive. Compared to the Duboeuf, the color is lighter and the palate is thinner, grittier and more tart. Cherry remains the principal flavor, but it’s not as explosive as it was last year. More importantly, unlike last year the fruitiness of this year's vintage is somewhat masked by its forward acidity.
November 15, 2006
The blog is less than a day old and has only one post under its belt. But it may already be the best food blog on the Internets.
Two icons of the Philly blogosphere, Marisa (Apartment 2024) and Scott (Blankbaby), have teamed up to create Fork You!—Philly's first food vlog (that's right, folks; the "v" is for video). Fork You! is all about "Food with Philadelphia charm." Their first video podcast teaches you how to make sushi. Marisa walks you though the entire process, from selecting fish at Reading Terminal Market to the proper way to roll it all up. In addition to his production skills, Scott provides witty commentary along the way and even tries his hand at building a roll. These two are a natural team. The second episode has already been shot.
Fork You! is must-eat TV. Tune in and see for yourself.
November 14, 2006
Like most people, Daniel Rubin spends his work day in front of a computer scouring the Internets for interesting blogs. However, unlike most people, he actually gets paid to do it—by the Philadelphia Inquirer. He presents his daily findings, along with a healthy dose of spirited wit and wisdom, at Blinq.
Today, in a post called Food for Thought, Daniel explores the growing niche of Philadelphia food blogs. The field was barren a little over a year ago, he notes. Now, there are more opinionated foodies blogging about Philly restaurants than you can shake a Whiz wit at. Daniel has corralled 8 blogs (including yours truly, a site he kindly says is "something to bank on") and 6 service sites for your perusal. Each one serves up Philly’s vibrant restaurant scene in its own unique way; the perspectives they bring to the table are as diverse and dynamic as the Philly restaurant scene itself.
An abbreviated version of Daniel's article also appears here in the Magazine section of the Nov. 15, 2006 Philadelphia Inquirer.
Thanks to Daniel for highlighting this little corner of the Philly blogosphere. I’ve added the new faces he discovered to the bulging PhilaFoodie Resources section on the right.
So, what are you waiting for? Dig in.
November 10, 2006
Well, folks, much like the mid-term elections, “[i]t was a thumping” here at the Palate Ballot.
The American people have voted and their message is clear. The winner is Bar Ferdinand. Here’s the break down:
1. Bistro 7: 5 votes.
2. Pif: 5 votes.
3. Bar Ferdinand: 29 votes.
4. N. 3rd: 0 votes.
Had the Secretary of Defense resigned sooner, N. 3rd may have had a chance. I guess that was one of those unknown unknowns. Then again, you go with the Palate Ballot you have, not the Palate Ballot you don’t have.
Thanks to everyone who voted, especially those who left colorful comments. The Palate Ballot will return soon. Until then, keep an eye out for my upcoming review of Bar Ferdinand.
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing
November 05, 2006
On the nose: Not a powerful nose. Bright red cherries and oak.
On the palate: This Tuscan red is a blend of Sangiovese (85%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (15%). Tart cherry flavors carry the palate. Not overly complex, but some detectable tobacco and chocolate on the finish with a hint of vanilla from the oak. True-to-form for Sangiovese, it has a crisp acidity and soft tannins. A solid performer to be enjoyed now.
On the wallet: The Castellani Toscana Biagio 2001 (PLCB No. 005976) is a comfortable $12.99. It is available at the regular and premium PLCB stores.
On the table: Sangiovese is tailor-made for food. The higher acidity in this wine makes it a perfect match for tomato sauce-based dishes and full-flavored pastas.
N.B.: Keep an eye out for the Castellani Toscana Biagio 2003; Wine Spectator calls it a Best Buy and rates it an 88.
November 03, 2006
If you love Philly’s BYOBs, you’ll love this.
The folks at the Philly Tourism Office put together this really cool interactive BYOB restaurant map. Not only does it identify the locations of about 130 BYOB restaurants in the area, it also identifies all of the nearby PLCB stores. You can sort by neighborhood or cuisine. Click on any of the restaurant or PLCB locations and you’ll see a bubble that lists an address, a phone number and a web site (if any). And with the restaurants, you’ll also get a short description. Soon they’ll be adding “send to cell phone” and “get directions” features.
Check it out: http://www.gophila.com/byobmap