THE OCEANAIRE SEAFOOD ROOM 1700 Seventh, 267-2277 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.; 5-11 p.m. Sat.; 5-9 p.m. Sun. AE, MC, V / full bar
THE OCEANAIRE Seafood Room isn’t just a restaurant—it’s a concept. Vaguely reminiscent of the Lusitania right before it was taken out by the U-boat, the feel is sophisticated, luxurious, and quietly tense. From the baby-cow-soft pleather booths to the glittering oyster bar, this offering from the folks who brought us Buca di Beppo is a welcome throwback in these days of overly fusioned foods vertically stacked on awkward square plates. Homey touches like the Old Bay seasoning cans on the tables are pleasing, but the misguided displays of wine crates lurking overhead combine with the Beppo-esque quotes painted on the wall to hoot “chain!” when everything else is murmuring “class.” The quiet tension derives from what is missing, rather than what is present: the customers. It takes a lot of diners to fill 9,100 square feet, and so far, they seem to be elsewhere. Management shouldn’t worry; with fish this fresh and surroundings this comfortably fancy, it won’t stay empty for long, even if they do leave the dumb wine crates in place.
Before gorging on the gargantuan main dishes, pause for communion at the oyster bar. With as many as 12 different bivalves to choose from, it’s a connoisseur’s dream. Tiny metallic Olympias ($1.85) are the perfect counterpoint to the plump lushness of the Kumamoto ($1.95); they arrive at your table surrounded by ice, fresh lemon and horseradish, and two dipping sauces. The cocktail sauce was bland and overly sweet, but the peppery vinegar of the mignonette sauce nicely complemented the salty brine flavors of our holy host. And what is the ritual eating of oysters on the half shell without the drinking of champagne? While it (and a wide range of other wines) is available by the glass, the bottle prices are so much better that it pays to drink more. Why settle for an overpriced glass ($12) of Gloria Ferrer when you can be enjoying a reasonable $40 bottle of Roederer Brut?
THE MENUS ARE printed up fresh twice each day to highlight an assortment of fresh fish from around the world. At each meal, you can choose from several outstanding cuts served grilled, broiled, or blackened. The lusciously rich Hawaiian opah was available one evening, bringing the word “fresh” to new levels. Lightly brushed with olive oil and salt, the fish was flaky and juicy, with the salt masterfully applied to enhance the mild flavor, no lemon or pepper necessary. At 10 ounces per portion, sharing these slabs is a wise choice, unless you happen to have a spoiled kitty at home who deserves a share of $21.95 fish.
The black and blue marlin ($19.95 lunch, $22.95 dinner) is an ideal order for the steak lover: Served on a bed of perfectly caramelized onions and topped with Roquefort butter, it could just as easily be a chicken breast or New York strip as a thick, herb-crusted chunk of fish. Good stuff, but disappointing if what you’re after is the essence of the ocean.
If you plan to share one of the sizable entr饳, fill in with a side dish or two and you’ll still have a generously portioned meal; any one of the sides easily serves three or four, unless you are exceptionally greedy or a vegetarian (poor soul, there’s nothing else on the menu for you to eat). The creamed corn ($5.95) is blended yellow and white corn, a dash of pepper, and a million gallons of pure butterfat. It is heavenly. The fried sweet onions ($5.95) are tiny, crispy, and drizzled with a pleasant sweet-hot mustard sauce, while the potatoes au gratin ($7.95) are a comforting mix of potato chunks, Worcestershire sauce, and cheese, cheese, cheese. The casserole dish is as large as one at grandma’s, and it’s bubbling hot. Vegetarian, yes. Healthy? Not on your life.
Assorted salads, sandwiches, and specialties are available regardless of the daily fresh sheet. The lobster Cobb salad ($18.95) is pretty as a picture and much tastier; the lobster is sweet and firm and is matched with mounds of crisp bacon, cheese, avocado, and green onion. The lettuce hiding underneath these mounds is lightly drizzled with a mild vinaigrette—just enough to add flavor, not enough to drown your greens. The crab cake club sandwich ($14.95) is a mixed blessing. The cake itself is lovely, formed from solid crab chunks with no cost- cutting filler. Crunchy bacon and lettuce are a nice addition, but the texture of the soft wheat bun overwhelms the crab’s meatiness. Discard the bun and work away with your fork. Not only does it taste better, you won’t end up with half a crab cake in your lap.
Fat chance you’ll have room for dessert, but again, these are sized to share, possibly among an entire sports team. The Key lime pie ($7.95) comes with a scoop of what appears to be ice cream but is revealed to be a lifetime supply of whipped cream—bliss. The warm chocolate chip cookies ($6.95; not microwaved, actually baked in the oven!) and milk should come with a teddy bear and a tuck in—just a few sips and nibbles, and it’s definitely nap time. A standard upscale selection of coffees, ports, sherries, and scotches finish it off. Try not to slide under the table from an overdose of gluttony.
It seems a little odd that superfresh fish has arrived in Seattle via a Minneapolis-based chain, but it’s hard to argue with the results. You will dine well at Oceanaire and leave feeling pampered, tipsy, and very, very full.