November 20, 2006

The Oceanaire Seafood Room

The Oceanaire Seafood Room

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.

Oceanaire's Art Deco

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.

Oceanaire's Dining Room

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.

Jumbo Lump Crab Cake

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.

Striped Sea Bass

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.

Black Cod with Orange Ginger Sauce

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.

Mahi Mahi with Cajun Seasonings and Blue Cheese

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 Bar

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.

Wine Glass on Steel

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
(215) 625-8862


Alia said...

While I too am a big fan of Oceanaire, I disagree with a few of the comments posted by Philafoodie. First of all, the filler in the crabcake is certainly detectable - but it is so delicate and delicious that it complements the sweet crab meat perfectly. Also, I too gave the black cod in the orange ginger sauce a try, but was not nearly as impressed by it as our esteemed author seems to have been. While the fish itself was fresh in flavor and cooked beautifully, the 'sauce' (the menu was so bold as to call it a 'glaze') that it came with was quite disappointing. It had the consistency of a broth, and very little flavor. A sprinkling of sea salt improved the dish a great deal, but overall it was not impressive at all.
Everything else about my experience was wonderful! As PhilaFoodie said, the service was impeccable, the sides were delicious, the decor was stunning, and the ambience was perfect. It's a great place to celebrate special occasions, and I highly recommend it!

PhilaFoodie said...

Alia: I'm glad people are starting to voice their opinions here in the comments. Keep 'em coming.

On the Black Cod special, I think we may be on the same page. I, too, liked the freshness and the way it was cooked, but I cited it as an example of something that may not meet some diners' expectations. Sorry if that wasn't clear. Having the fish simply broiled or grilled is probably the the best way to go.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

mandamck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was at Oceanaire two weeks ago and the food was good, service so so, and the prices very high. The design is for the Hard Rock Cafe crowd....the whole business of Cruise Ship with big band music is corny and chainlike.

The original vaulted bank ceiling was covered with a drop ceiling that goes on forever. They made no use of a great building...even the windows are covered.

This place will be gone in a year.

Anonymous said...

I stopped in for drinks and a cold seafood appetizer. Well, if they were trying to "Wow" me, they failed. The raw clams were fabulous. The lobster was cooked properly, but had little flavor. the oysters were not up to a high quality standard. My impression was they were a little tired. The sauces, the mignonette was good, the mustard sauce was at best mediocre and the cocktail sauce was average. I did find the service to be adequate. The server did not approach the table or make eye contact within an acceptable 2 minute time frame.
In terms of decor, the space is exceptional, the design is nothing to write home about.

gourmet said...

We had a horrible mother's day. We had to wait 20 minutes with a toddler. Other people who were coming in were being seated, but not us, in spite of making a reservation. When we were seated and ordered, I could not find the oysters we ordered for the appetizer in the shell. They were so tiny. The entrees were 1 hour late and arrived tepid at the time when people who sat down next to us 45 minutes after we arrived had already paid for their meal and were leaving. The tuna ordered rare was not and was chewy. The manager ended up paying for the entrees, but we still sprung for 3 drinks and 3 appetizers to the tune of $120.00! Deninitely not worth it.

Fisherman said...

That restaurant looks very modern and probably has tasty food.