Explore the depths of Ocean's diverse offerings.
By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
Ocean celebrates its fifth anniversary. And patrons continue to discover fresh, new pleasures from its extensive menu. Ocean and 26 (located next door) are locally owned and operated by executive chef, George Reis and his wife Harriet.
“The reason that I originally wanted the restaurant named, ‘Ocean’ is because it touches every continent. We pull flavors from every continent and still remain true to who we are,” Reis explains. “We serve fish from the Gulf of Mexico, the Northeast, Pacific and the Mediterranean.” Reis also employs spices and techniques from the many lands surrounding these waters for a cuisine far beyond what the term “seafood” brings to mind.
Ocean’s ambience is candle lit, white tablecloth with soft aquatic tones dominating. The focal point is the exposed kitchen with flames rising beyond the bar. Gleaming tile beams—of every shade of ultramarine—rise to the ceiling, breaking the dining space visually, while maintaining the open space. Tall windows overlook both 20th Street South and a patio with its own bar.
Dinner begins with a look at the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence wine list, which is divided by varietals. With the wine list arrives an extensive martini menu and a four-page dinner menu—providing so many temptations that narrowing down to a short list of preferences is difficult. But Ocean’s staff is well trained, knowledgeable, and polite. They accommodate questions and can even provide descriptors and flavor comparisons for lesser known fish, making the selection process even more appetizing.
Ordering from page one begins with the raw bar, which includes a fresh selection of Oysters, Spicy Peel and Eat Shrimp, and a Seafood Tower For Two. The tower of oysters, spicy shrimp, marinated mussels, clams, and Maine lobster is topped with a cumin remoulade mignonette cocktail. Raw lovers will also enjoy the long list of sushi offerings. And their list of appetizers ranges from Gulf Coast Crab Cake to Fried Green Tomato with Spicy Shrimp. It is difficult to choose one, so an appetizing platter combining several dishes is ordered—Seared Scallops, Spicy Lobster Rangoons, and Spicy Beef Sushi Roll. The round, white—almost table sized—platter presents the three dishes beautifully, and all pair well with Henriot Souverain Brut Champagne.
The scallops are enormous, of the highest quality and cooked perfectly. Much like a tiny filet mignon, there are taste preferences for doneness. And Reis prefers his scallops medium rare. “There is a natural sweetness and sugar content that is almost a sushi-like quality when underdone. But if a guest wants scallops fully cooked, we will happily cook them to order,” he assures. The Spicy Lobster Rangoons are surrounded by a sweet chili glaze, which contrasts well with the heat of the spice and adds another layer of texture to the crisp rangoons. Five spicy beef rolls are encircled with beef tenderloin with a center of carrots and bok choy with a divine sambal aioli. And the Champagne’s fine mousse, rich fruit and gentle yeast offer a light and fresh compliment to the tray’s array of flavors.
The soup of the day is lobster bisque with cognac cream. It is ordered with a salad of baby field greens, Alabama goat cheese, spicy pecans, cherry tomatoes and brown butter vinaigrette. Both the soup and the salad arrive in bowls that have a lower rim on one side angled toward the diner—eliminating the tendency to lean toward the bowl for fear of drips.
Entrée options can be ordered from the Pure Fish menu, Whole Fish Features, Tonight’s Feature, and the Entrées list. Pure Fish is a listing of the evening’s offerings that can be prepared four ways: wood grilled Greek style, steamed oriental style, pan seared with salt, pepper and white wine sauce, or fried in a cornmeal beer batter. The fish is served with steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes and a salad. Tonight’s Pure Fish offerings include St. George’s Bank Scallops, Ahi Tuna, King Salmon from New Zealand, and Black Grouper, Red Snapper and Shrimp from the Gulf. Whole Fish Features include a two-pound Maine lobster, Pompano from the Florida Keys along with flounder and red snapper from the Gulf.
Entrées list includes more seafood. But there is also a pan seared free-range chicken and two steak options. But the old saying, “Never order a steak in a seafood restaurant,” is bad advice at Ocean. “Some people tell me I have one of the best steaks in town,” Reis says. “If you are going to do seafood you better have a couple of other dishes for those who aren’t into seafood.” The Hickory Grilled Filet Mignon is paired with Wood Fired Lobster Tails. And this by land and by sea combo is out of this world. The eight-ounce filet is fork cut tender and cooked to order, and the wood grilling adds the flavors of the flame to the lobster tails while maintaining their succulence and the desired nutty, popcorn flavors. This surf and turf is accompanied by bacon Maytag blue potato salad and house made Worcestershire. Also ordered is the Pan Seared Sea Bass served with roasted leek, golden raisin risotto, wilted baby greens and a bourbon beurre noisette. The sea bass is white, moist and rich. It is a beautiful piece of fish cooked to perfection, which could also stand alone on a plate without any accompaniment.
The dessert menu includes a variety of pies, puddings, and two chocolate delights—both of which are ordered. The Chocolate Cake and Milk is a moist exquisite, five-layer chocolate hazelnut raspberry torte and a smooth Vanilla Cream Martini. And the Cappuccino Chocolate Chip Cheesecake is a tall slice with a cookie crust and an incredible dark chocolate ganache kahlua anglaise. Whether it is surf, turf—or even chocolate that you crave—dinner at Ocean is sure to satisfy and lure you back for more.