I’m hooked on Ocean’s catch and George Reis’ cooking.
By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
I love seafood—crab, oysters, scallops, shrimp, grouper, snapper, lobster and more. I like them wood fire grilled, steamed, baked, pan seared, or Southern fried. And Ocean’s offerings and preparations are as vast as the sea—serving only the best quality seafood from every continent—prepared as desired. So what is not to love?
George Reis was born in the Midwest and raised in upstate New York. He also lived in Dallas, the Gulf Coast and Atlanta before opening Ocean in March 2002, and afterwards its partner restaurant 26, next door. Since 2002 Reis has become recognized as one of the city’s top chefs and the restaurant one of the city’s best.
Ocean is located at 1218 20th Street South in the Five Points district of Birmingham’s Southside. A white tablecloth ambience reflects its oceanic theme in shades of aqua marine. Handcrafted cocktails are served at the waterfall accented, main bar—that wraps the right side of the dining room—and on the patio bar. The raw bar offers oysters, shrimp and a Seafood Tower for Two, and extensive sushi and sashimi offerings.
Diners with shellfish or other food allergies are in good hands at Ocean. Reis takes food allergies seriously and understands the difference between food preferences and food allergies. No one prefers to be allergic. Every server knows all of the ingredients that went into making each dish—down to the bases and sauces. The kitchen staff is trained to avoid even the slightest trace of cross contamination of ingredients on cooking utensils, cookware and cooking surfaces. And on every menu it reads, “If there are any allergies or dietary needs that we should be aware of please inform your server so that
we may prepare your meal accordingly.” Reis also cooks an array of dishes that do not contain seafood, including one of the best steaks in town—wood grilled certified Herford Filet Mignon, a tasty pan seared chicken breast and serves several appetizers and salads.
We enjoy cocktails before dinner of Hard Cider Martinis. Copper in color with a foamy top, the cocktails infused with Makers Mark warm the chilly night notes of apple and cinnamon. We start with my longtime, favorite appetizer here—Wood Fired Grilled Lobster Tails. And once again, on the first bite, executive chef and owner, George Reis “has me at appetizer.” The lobster tails are not
mentioned on the menu but are offered as a nightly special that the server describes, as an appetizer or an entrée. If you have never had these babies, not only should you do so “before you die,” you should not let another day go by. The size of the tails makes them manageable as they simply slide out of the shells—whole. Aromas of wood fire and Ocean’s secret spices, “The Love,” which is brushed on every piece of grilled fish at Ocean, rise from these tasty lobster tails. Each bite is succulent, moist and buttery. Another stand out appetizer is the hot Crab Corn Chowder with generous bites of fresh corn and delicate crab—creamy, yet light and not overly filling.
Four different fish make outstanding entrees: red grouper, sea scallops, and Scottish salmon, and flounder. We pair them with a cold bottle of seafood friendly Chateau Graville-Lacoste Bordeaux 2010. The Pan seared Red Grouper with melted leek cream is tender, moist flaky and full of flavor. It is served atop creamy, cheesy grits, with Tasso ham. Three enormous, melt in the mouth, pan seared Sea Scallops are complimented by their roasted shallot Beurre blanc with an oven dried
tomato, sweet corn risotto. Layers of tomato and corn flavors meld into each grain of al dente rice. A lovely pink piece of wood grilled Scottish salmon with lemon infused oil is served with an earthy and colorful late fall roasted beets and split pea potage. And the set up of tonight’s featured pan seared flounder dish is a meal in itself—black beluga lentils, gorgeous sautéed asparagus tips, tiny, tender glazed carrots and crisp, sweet Cipollini onions and a divine house canned tomato crab ragout.
Ocean’s desserts are always a treat. Tonight we select Lemon Molten Cake and Apple Strudel, along with a French Press Coffee service. The inventive lemon cake pleases my palate’s preference for tart over sweet. Think chocolate molten cake made of lemon rather than chocolate. The light vanilla colored cake arrives hot, oozing from the center with hot lemon custard. The hearty strudel’s warm pastry is puffy, flaky and moist and is filled with sweet, cinnamon apples. Accompanying the strudel is a scoop of deep, rich caramel ice cream, which melts another luscious layer of flavor onto this dish.
magazine, March 2012