Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Oceanaire Seafood Room

Another Delco Guy uses Center City Restaurant Week to visit places that are generally a bit pricey for him, or occasionally to go out on a culinary limb for a night.

The Philly outpost of The Oceanaire Seafood Room chain is in the first category.  First off, its a BIG room.  The main dining area is 75 feet by 40 feet, with 30 foot ceilings.  It's generally unimpressive, lots of ceiling tile and rounded-edged, bland faux-deco design elements.  There's a sweeping staircase up to private dining areas above.  The staircase sets off the main room for the bar and lounge area and the raw bar.  There was a bit of a stale, fishy odor as you walked out of the reception area into the dining room that made me worry for a moment that the place wasn't as high end as the menu indicated.

The bar was a cool spot to get in from the biting cold and learn a bit about the place.  Michael was behind the bar with two other friendly barmaids.  He made a darn good rye Old Fashioned and we enjoyed his discussion of various places he recommended in the City in addition to his home turf.  The ri 1 whiskey was new at the bar and I got a nice pour on the rocks at the bar for $7, but the price for the Old-Fashioned at the table was a steep $14.  Michael reports that they have a fair share of Washington Square regulars for Happy Hour and he's always looking for new folks to talk to.

Before we get to the dinner description, let me put in a few words about the service.  Restaurant Week service is generally nothing special and can often be downright terrible.  We sat down at 6, a bit early, and the great service we got from the host and at the bar carried over to the dining room.  Darius was affable and knowledgeable as he worked our table.  He's one of the best waiters we've had in some time.  He was assisted by John who did a great job keeping us stocked up with bread, pickled herring and water.

The $35, three course menu was a bit light, offering choices of Caesar salad, New England Clam Chowder, and spicy fried calamari to start, followed by crab cakes, planked salmon or Barnegat Bay scallops.  Desserts were Key Lime Pie, banana bread pudding and the ubiquitous chocolate mousse.  Searching for a bit of oomph, I added 6 oysters to my Caesar salad and my dear (girl) friend had both the chowder and the calamari to open up.

The calamari were crisply fried and covered with a pair of sauces, one creamy and the other scorching hot.  The hot one was too much for me and I retreated to my Old Salts and Blue Points, each one a perfectly fresh reminder that I stand at the top of the food chain.  The salad was not nearly as good as the one I had a few weeks back at Kitchen 233.  It lacked any zest and was only a fair approximation of a true Caesar dressing.

My crab cake was sold well by Darius, who proclaimed it '90%' Maryland crab meat with just a bit of bread to hold it together.  While his math was a bit off, it was one of the best crab cakes I've had outside the Chesapeake, with clean crab flavor blended well with spices and a bit of pepper.  The scallops were served over a ragout of kitchen-cured bacon, which tasted very similar to sweet pulled pork.  Both were very good on their own, but the strong flavors clashed and the dish was ultimately not a satisfying combination.

The room had filled up a bit by the time dessert arrived, but Darius and John still had plenty of time to chat.  Darius gave us a card and seemed to genuinely mean it when he said that he had enjoyed talking to us though the night.  My chocolate mousse was the normal piped dollop of whipped chocolaty sweetness, neither interesting or particularly well-presented.  My compatriot's bread pudding was far better and had a caramel sauce that I would have loved to have been on the mousse plate.

Ultimately the night ended up a success in large part because of The Oceanaire staff.  On a night where we were just another of 200 or more guests they would see, Michael, Daruis, John and everyone else made sure we felt special.  While the service was great, on a normally-priced night, I might have left unhappy given the food was just a bit better than average.

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