Three years ago while watching Top Chef I saw that one of the contestants was the Executive Chef somewhere in San Diego. I really didn't pay it much attention cause I had no clue how far the guy was going. But when Brian Malarke made it to the final 3 that season I thought I should do some research on the restaurant he worked at.
After dabbling in some google search I found out he worked at the downtown seafood restaurant Oceanaire. After browsing through the site I found out it was a chain restaurant. There were numerous locations throughout the United States. Not wanting to spend my "hard earned" bucks at a fancy chain when so many new exciting restaurants were opening in San Diego, I put it on the backlog and didn't think about it again.
Now fast forward 3 years *vroooom* . My friend Joseph Wu was visiting from out of town and asked if I wanted to get dinner. He has a specific restrictions on what he eats, but what he does eat plenty of is shellfish. I racked my brain for food that would meet his specifications.. and my mind just kept jumping to clams, mussels, oysters... where can I get fresh clams, mussels, and oysters? Finally I remembered Oceanaire. Seeing as they had a very large assortment of fresh oysters I called Frank, picked up Joe from his hotel and we found our way to the Gaslamp.
We were seated promptly by the Maitre D in big lush burgundy leather booths... right near the restroom. Show dem young boys where we put them, not in the main dining room with the folks with money *wink*. As promptly as we were seated we were well met by the waitress. Let me tell you, I was impressed by the service. The waitress and the bus boy were attentive to our needs, came by frequently to check on us, and answered the barrage of questions I delivered. It's also only the 2nd time I've brought wine to a restaurant that the waitress/waiter actually opened it and served us the wine throughout the night. The waitress and busboy were always around and casually observed their area like a mother eagle watching their chicks.
During the start of the evening, Monday through Friday 5pm-6pm they have happy hour at the bar.
They have a couple of $1 oysters (any oyster on the main menu that is $1.95), $6 Fish & Chips, $3 Clam Chowder, and some other delicious deals. We came we ate and we conquered a dozen oysters last happy hour.
The dining room menu centers around fresh daily seafood. Their menu changes daily (especially the oyster list) with whatever they get in as a shipment. So an oyster you like one day, might not be there the next. =(. They do have some "common" fish staples that they always keep on the menu, they are routinely labeled as fresh that day, but not always.
So to start off your meal they give you a bit of a palate cleanser. A complimentary Relish tray.
Pickled Herring, radish, celery, carrots, onions, peppers... freshen up your mouth for the ocean assault that would come before us.
The herring had a nice bite with just enough sweet meat to balance out the sourness, I asked for more and the waitress gave me a plate of it. FREE SEAFOOD? GOTCHA SUCKAS.
After owning the free fish we started off with a round of oysters.
Blue Point : These are incredibly popular oysters in NY. They started off in Long Island and apparently it has been all the rage there since they came around. I think these are very good "beginner" oysters. They have a low level of brine, a good amount of meat to fat, and they are mild and medium sized.
Sister Point : Found in Washington @ Hood Canal, these were oddly briny, they had a very exciting meaty consistency that I didn't find in the other oysters but without the aid of vinegar or lemon it was like drinking sea water.
Fanny Bay: Found in British Columbia, this was probably my favorite oyster. It was smallish medium with a hint of crisp dill and salt water with a touch of metallic flavor without the fat of some of the other oysters. Pure decadence, simple.. to the point. Tray grown and very popular and abundant. I'm a cheap date.. what can I say?
Hama Hama:Found in Puget Sound, Washington the oysters are a Medium sized oysters with a fat sack of rich brine that bursts from the oyster. This might be more distracting for a noobie oyster eater due the oyster having more scattered flavors of some bitter green without the meatiness of the blue point.
After popping down those decadent treats we proceeded on to our next course. Frank and Joe ordered a bowl of their Clam Chowder while I patiently waited for my dinner.
After taking a spoonful of Frank's, I promptly flagged down the waitress and told her how outraged I was that she didn't tell me they were serving Ambrosia today. Or... I flagged her down and asked for a cup of CHOWDA as well.
I do not like thick chunky clam chowder. In fact, I HATE thick chunky clam chowder. I refuse to drink thick chunky clam chowder, and I say *PHATOY* as I spit in the face of chunky clam chowder. This bowl of CHOWDA was not thick chunky clam chowder. Generously loaded with oysters and herbs, it was creamy but with a more brothy texture. You can smell the smokiness from the bacon that was rising from the soup. Toss in a few oyster crackers and you got yourself a treat.
Both Joe and Frank ordered Mussels. Joe had the Steamed Mussels A la Mariniere while Frank had the Prince Edward Mussels Diablo.
Their plates were LOADED with mussels. They each had a small town's worth of mussels on the plate.. at least 25 mussels a piece. The standard Mussel preparation (ala Joe's) was a steamed mussel with a chardonnay broth. The sauce had a citrus, light vanilla, taste mixed in with the saltiness of the mussel. Classically done and excellent. The mussels were plump and tender.
Frank's was cooked in a hot pepper sauce with lemons and onions. Didn't have the richness of Joe's mussels but it worked well in it's own way. The mussels themselves were meatier but not as large as Joe's. The dash of hot pepper in each bite mellowed out the salt and meat that came with the mussel.
For my dish I ordered House Battered Fish and Chips.
The fish is battered in Karl Strauss Red Trolley Ale which resulted in a puffy, soft, with an almost sweet malty flavor. They used Mahi Mahi as the base fish.
The angle of my picture is midly deceitful. There were 6 pieces of 5-6 inch fried fish and probably a pound of fries (I think Kathy wants to go here now). Each time you bit into the fish a mound of steam would bloom from where you bit. The fish was flaky, tender, buttery, and full of flavor. My only complaint about the fish, was that the batter wasn't sturdy enough, as you picked it up (both times I ordered this) the fish pieces would just split in half. I'm thinking the batter was just too thick.
The fries are thin fries sprinkled with what I think is Parmesan and chives. If you grab a handful and put it in your mouth, it tastes like you're eating Lay's Sour Cream and Onion. It was kind of weird. When I go again, I'm asking them to go light on whatever powder they put on the fries. On the other hand, the fries are nice and crisp.
The food was far and away better than what I expected. Frank and I both want to come again to try their fresh fish selections to see if it'll really put the restaurant over the top. The service was great, the restaurant was nicely appointed, and the noise level was enough for us to converse, enjoy some fresh seafood, and drink some lovely wine.
What wines you say?
2002 Jadot Louis Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques: A beautiful nose of a fresh french strawberry picked out of the dirt, sweet but smooth with a touch of violet. A very pure wine with light red fruit, brown sugar, a hint of fresh forest floor.. a little bit fruit forward but VERY enjoyable in a pop and pour. The finish is medium length/acidity. Tannins start to come out as the night wore on showing the stuffing of this wine
Red Label NV Krug: The wine was showing it's age, easily a 15-20+ year old wine at the point. Deep golden color with racey caramel, yeast, with an earthiness you don't find in N.V. Krug anymore. A large amount of acidity matches the citrus and spice. *yum*.
Now to end the post, I want to take you to the restroom.
NOTHING shows high end dining *smirk* than actual cloth towels opposed to paper towels in the restroom. Also in case you need lotion, face wash, toothpaste, shaving cream, and mouth wash it was all available around the sink.
And finally as any fine gentleman needs, a shoe buffer.
We didn't ask to see Brian, he would have known the moment he saw me that I was a Hung man all the way. =P. Hopefully you'll be able to visit Oceanaire and enjoy it as much as I did. If you just want to try the freshly shucked oysters, the Bar is always there. If you don't make it to Happy Hour their oysters are $1.50 at the bar opposed to $1.00 during happy hour.
400 J Street
San Diego, California 92101