Our Ocean

For fresh seafood, all roads lead south… to Southside.

By Jan Walsh

Our favorite seafood restaurant, in the world, is located at 20th Street South. Chef George Reis’ Ocean Restaurant has it all. Fresh fish, shrimp, oysters, scallops, and more from the Gulf of Mexico, lobster from Maine, and an array of sushi. But you don’t have to be a seafood lover. Ocean is also a destination restaurant for carnivores, with the finest cuts of beef grilled to order over hickory wood.

In addition to Ocean’s main dining space, you may sit on the covered patio, host a private party in their private spaces, or simply order delivery. For us, the Bar is where it’s at. Here with the best view of the open kitchen we hang out with Chef, order an array of apps or multiple courses from the dinner menu, and watch some of Birmingham’s best bartenders stir and shake.

Bar Manager Robby Greenwood knows us well. Tonight, as we are seated in “our corner” of the bar, he opens the wine to sparkling wines by the bottle page. Ocean also offers a lovely line up of sparkling wines by the glass. And tonight, we discover a historic Ferrandiere “Blanc de Blancs” Brut NV by the glass. This méthode traditionnelle wine was produced in Limoux, France, which was the first place to produce sparkling wine, before Champagne. Who knew? Chilled to appropriate temps, this 100 percent Chardonnay bubbly boasts a persistent effervescence with notes of apple and lemon, and a creamy, toasty mouthfeel. Highly recommended!

I have 22 years of dining experiences here, which have been published for two decades. Yet if you are new to the city or are young enough to have grown up during this time, you might not have caught Ocean’s classics. Thus, my new Birmingham Restaurants column, “5 Favorites” is a mix of tried-and-true classics and dishes I have not yet tried.

Some like lobster hot. Some like it cold. We love lobster all ways and always… Popular and proven at Ocean are the Grilled Baby Lobster Tails. Those who know, know… to order these (off the menu) scrumptious crustaceans. These babies, grilled with “The Love,” Chef’s secret blend of spices, will bring you back for more. The Chilled Maine Lobster presentation is whimsical and inviting. The tail is as easy to eat as are the babies. Just lift with a fork and pull from its detached tail. I leave the tools to men… Kev cracks the claw and serves me the tender, succulent bites that I dip into drawn butter, as I swoon.

Another classic here is B.D. Shrimp Cocktail. Charmingly served in a copper ramekin and accompanying superb, house made sauces. As a child I would have preferred this vessel. I grew up eating shrimp cocktail in fine dining restaurants and have food memories of looking up from my chair at martini glass encircled with tails on shrimp. I could hardly reach and untangle each one, while being careful not to drip its cocktail sauce on my dress, which was never a matching pink. As in my mind’s eye, Ocean’s shrimp are plump, translucent, pink, and firmly culled around their vessel but not constricted. And to the tooth each shrimp cold, crisp, and moist, an echo from the past.

Soup and salad? New dishes tonight include Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo and Red Pear and Burrata Salad. The file made gumbo has a rich roux, and is chockful of Gulf shrimp, Conecuh sausage, and okra. This bowl of comfort warms the palate and the soul on this icy night. Salads at Ocean are anything but ordinary. Seasonal, seafood, and signature salads always tempt. Tonight’s seasonal salad is a synthesis of juicy shaved red pear, crisp endive, bright and delicate watercress, crunchy crostini, and toasted hazelnuts in a pretty pear ginger syrup. Incredible colors, textures, and flavors intermingle and round each other out in this beautifully balanced bowl.

Looking over the dessert menu, we can’t decide… so I ask for Chef George’s recommendation. He takes away the menu and asks if we like lemon. Like lemon? It is my favorite citrus! Saying he wants us to be the first to try a coming soon dessert, Lemon Lavender “Pop Tart,” he dashes off to the back kitchen. Oh, my! As he rounds the corner, Robby stops shaking martinis and says he has never seen this dessert before. A lemon filled warm, golden tart is sprinkled with candied lavender and is accompanied by cold, ginger lemon kombucha sorbet. The sorbet melds and melts each bite of this toasty, golden crust and into the golden lemon inside. And just like that, this dessert is now on the menu!

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