Monday, January 15, 2007

The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Houston

In my August 30, 2006 post, I discussed the Dallas location of the Oceanaire Seafood Room. Last weekend, I tried its new location in the Houston Galleria.

This national chain flies in fresh seafood, gives it a retro upscale preparation, and charges a lot of money. In Houston, the interior decoration is fabulously classic -- like the interior of a 1920s luxury liner dining room. Located in part of the space formerly occupied by Lord & Taylor, it has a beautiful glass wall that looks right out on Westheimer.

The atmosphere is fun, the service is flawless, and the food is uniformly high quality - even if lacking in innovation. This is what I tried:

-My daughter had shrimp cocktail. The shrimp were huge and tasted far fresher than in most restaurants. The accompanying cocktail sauce was heavy on the horseradish.

-My wife had Massachusetts Bay diver scallops in a creamy casserole with salsify, asiago cheese, and bread crumbs. The scallops were huge and high quality. The preparation was heavy comfort food that recalls high end American cooking from the 1950s.

-I had acrtic char with bernaise sauce and asparagus. Char is a good salmon-like fish. Of course, you can't get much more retro than asparagus and bernaise -- a classic Hollandaise-like sauce with lots of taragon.

-Desert was creme brulee. Not creme brulee seasoned with cardamon, flavored with orange liquor, or served in little spoons. Just a big dish of classic creme brulee with real vanilla bean.

This is not "new food." No progressive chef with any integrity would ever serve these types of preparations in 2007 with a straight face. But this kind of nod-and-wink nostalgia can be fun.

With this expensive, retro food, and the glitzy setting, you would expect an elegant crowd. And in Dallas, the crowd was very dressy. But Houston is different. I saw more jeans than sports coats. And the patrons were diverse. Near us was a table of 6 Asian-American kids in jeans who could not have been over 20. They ordered an outlandishly-sized dish involving crab claws on ice plus a stack of onion rings that was at least 10 inches high. Another table was a large Indian family in modern Indian clothes. There were a few white guys in suits, but they were outnumbered by a lot of diversity, including kids. The restaurant does not offer a kid's menu,nor does it try to cater to children, but at least 6 other tables had children under 10.

My 8 year old loved it. With a big smile as we left, she announced that the Oceanaire was "the fanciest restaurant I've ever been to."

Who am I to correct her?

UPDATE. Food goddess Alison Cook reviewed the Oceanire 3 days after this post. She loved the raw oyster bar. I didn't try it because I frequently get the same Canadian and New England oysters at McCormick & Schmick's for a slightly lower price. But Alison complained that her fish (arctic char) was cooked a little too much. Interestingly, on my visit, the waiter did something very unusual: he asked how I wanted my fish cooked, and I said medium rare. I am not sure whether Alison's waiter gave her the same choice, but it is an easy solution to the problem.

Nonetheless, if you are interested in the Oceanaire, read Alison's excellent review. It is far more detailed and knowledgeable than mine:

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