Ocean’s wide net of offerings touches all continents and satisfies many appetites.
By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
To say that Ocean is a “seafood restaurant” is an understatement. This upscale, restaurant’s cuisine draws flavors from every continent. On the menu are fish from the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, Pacific and the Mediterranean. And in the kitchen, executive chef /co owner (with his wife Harriet), George Reis uses spices and techniques from the countries that surround these waters.
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 20th Street South.
A waterfall trickles above The Raw Bar where a fresh selection of Oysters is displayed daily. Other temptations from this bar include Spicy Peel and Eat shrimp, and a Seafood Tower for Two, which includes oysters, marinated mussels, clams, Maine lobster, shrimp, cumin remoulade mignonette and cocktail sauce. Other raw dishes are found in the Sushi selection, which boasts a lengthy list of inventive rolls as well as tempting tempuras.
Both the raw bar and the sushi are a part of the regular menu, which also includes appetizers, salads and entrees. For those who are not in the mood for seafood, there is a tempting Kobe Beef Carpaccio appetizer as well as chicken, filet mignon, and veal options on the entrée menu. A smaller menu is also offered—“Pure Fish,” which changes nightly. Any fish from this menu is cooked to one’s preference: wood grilled, steamed oriental, pan seared or fried. There are also specials that our server, Erika Heisler shares with us. I opt for all three of the specials: an appetizer of Baby Lobster Tails, Tomato Crab Bisque and the Red Snapper entrée—along with an Ocean Greek Salad. An appetizer of Manila Clams, Baby Field Greens Salad, and an entrée of Bedford Massachusetts Scallops are also ordered. And from the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence wine list we order a bottle of food friendly French, Domaine Fouassier Sancerre 2006. The wine is also tonight’s recommended pairing for the snapper special.
A delicious mix of hard and soft breads served with olive oil and gourmet butter begin the evening—just before the Tomato Crab Bisque. This piping hot, deep, ruby red bisque is topped with a snow white crab relish and filled with crab and tomato. The tomato plays center stage and is not masked by other flavors and is a tomato lover’s delight.
I have a long held love affair with the nightly appetizer special of Baby Lobster Tails and have never failed to order them. On Monday evenings these baby tails are the special at Reis’ restaurant net door, 26. Aromas of the hickory wood and “The Love” (a special signature seasoning applied to every piece of grilled fish at Ocean) make their way to the table before the dish. They are served with butter, baby greens and half a lemon covered in cheesecloth. The succulent and sweet, grill-marked tails have a tasty touch of acidity, provided by The Love, which was brushed on the meat repeatedly while they cooked in their shells. I just can’t get enough of these babies. I could eat them nightly and never get jaded.
My “Yankee” husband flips over his appetizer of the Steamed Manila Clams, served with white wine garlic butter, and highly recommends them to all clam lovers. “I never thought I would taste steamed clams like I had growing up in the northeast, here in the south,” Kevin says. “It is a taste that I will never forget and am glad to have it back.” Realizing that it was Harriet, a Birmingham area native, who led Reis here, Kevin adds, “Birmingham owes Harriet quite a favor.”
Salads arrive in bowls with a lower rim on the side that faces the diner. The Ocean Salad is the best Greek style salad I have ever tasted. Crisp greens are mixed with fried feta, Roma tomatoes, red onions, and Calamata olives. Reis’ talent for combining flavors into the perfect synthesis is showcased in every bite. I have now found another can’t miss dish at Ocean. And the lovely Baby Field Greens Salad boasts Alabama’s award winning goat cheese, Belle Chevre mixed with spiced pecans and cherry tomatoes in brown butter vinaigrette.
Even before the first bite, the first glance and first cut of a piece of fish tell the tale of its quality. And the Wood Grilled Red Snapper’s story is a beautiful, tender and flaky one that reflects the finest of quality and utmost freshness. The Wood Grilled Red Snapper entrée has a light Parmesan crust and is served over scrumptious fingerling potatoes along with blistered tomatoes with a roasted pistachio vinagrette. The freshness and excellence of quality is found in the pan-seared New Bedford Massachusetts Scallops. The scallops are mammoth in size, cooked to perfection, sweet and tender. Tasty mashed potatoes with a mix of zucchini, mushrooms, grape tomatoes and roasted garlic accompany them.
From the dessert menu Today’s Selection of House Made Ice Cream and Dark Chocolate Molten Cake are selected. A scoop of toffee pecan, cherry vanilla and orange sherbet, served with butter cookies, refresh the palate. And the warm, rich molten cake is complimented by a crème anglaise and French vanilla bean ice cream.
Birmingham is blessed to have its own Ocean. Here we catch a wide net of the freshest and finest of fish—prepared with “The Love” to our preferences.