A good friend recently had a “milestone birthday” and we wanted to treat her to a special dinner out. The Oceanaire seafood restaurant in the new Harbor East area proved to be just the right place and full of pleasant surprises.The goal of the Oceanaire chain is to emulate the environment of a luxury cruise ship dining room; the curving layout of booths and tables in dark woods and rich fabric felt very upscale but relaxed. Customers are mostly casually dressed. We were seated right away and presented with large, single sheet menu which are printed up daily. Our menus have been printed up just for us and include a special birthday greeting for our guest by name! (Aha! That’s why they asked for the birthday girl’s name when we made the reservation!) Our waiter then appeared and congratulated our guest on her birthday! What a wonderful way to start our evening! While the waiter got our drinks, a busboy brought a loaf of sour dough bread and a complementary tray with pickles, olives, and pickled herring. Mmmm! We found the menu to a bit challenging offering many types of fish and different preparations (as well as a few non-fish items). For starters, our birthday guest ordered a Caesar salad ($6.95) while Marty and John opted to share “Red Chile Calamari” ($11.95). (Other appetizers range from $5-$19) For the main course, our birthday guest ordered grilled New Zealand Bluenose Snapper ($29.95), Marty ordered Grilled Idaho Rainbow Trout ($24.95) and John opted for Cioppino – an Italian seafood stew ($22.95). Side dishes are “ala carte” and come in small and large sizes. (Other entrees range from $21-$40+) We decide to share a small “loaded” mashed potatoes ($5.95) and a large sautéed spinach ($7.95).
The Caesar salad was large and came with an unexpected big slice of parmesan cheese! The calamari arrived piled high in a large dish (the portion is large is nicely done but what makes a distinctive difference is the pairing of the calamari with Asian slaw and thai chile sauce – the combination provides incredible tastes and texture! The portion is large and easily lends itself to sharing between 2-3 people.
The grilled fish entrees portions were large, cooked as ordered and got high marks. John’s Cioppino won some “Wows!” though for the heaping bowlful of mussels, scallops, white fish, and crab in a zesty tomato base broth. The potatoes are delicious (but the “small” size is more than enough for three to share!). Our birthday guest declares the sautéed spinach – cooked but not wilted – to be the best that she’s ever had (John seconds that!) As good as it is, a “small” size would have been ample for the three of us to share.
Our waiter brought a complementary dessert, “Baked Alaska”, in honor of the birthday which ended our meal in spectacular way! A towering large 6”+ tall mound of white meringue (acting as icing for a mound of special blueberry and white chocolate ice cream) sat on a brownie and was covered in blue flames with a mix of flaming liquors and toasted the meringue a golden brown. Our promise to watch calories and only have a taste or two evaporate as we discover how awesome this dessert tastes. Our Oceanaire birthday dinner may have put a dent in our wallets but exceeded our expectations on every level – we look forward to the next special event that brings us back here!
FACTS: Oceanaire Seafood Room (Harbor East), 801 Aliceanna St, , 443-827-0000, www.theoceanaire.com, (Open 5-10 pm Sun-Thur, 5-11 pm Fri & Sat) Seafood with a few beef options. Reservations recommended. Valet parking available for $10 & considering difficulty of parking in Harbor East, we felt it was worth it! (Published 2008/November)
SUGGESTION? Take time to visit the towering golden National Katyn Memorial for Polish soldiers massacred in WW II across from the entrance or walk around Harbor East.