After an impromptu midweek shopping excursion (or, since nothing was purchased, more like a wandering excursion), Mom and I ended up hungry in Midtown. The wastelands of Midtown, to be exact-- Sixth Avenue, near Rock Center. Is that a tumbleweed I see? Yeah. Fortunately, just when despair was about to hit, I spotted Oceana-- and in we ducked gratefully.
We were there quite early, so we didn't have trouble snagging a table. The hostess tucked us at a huge two-person table in the dining room. As befits a fancy restaurant of Oceana's caliber, the place is incredibly comfortable-- luxuriously expansive tables, cushy couch-like banquettes with mercifully padded backs. While it's a large-scale dining room, it's a comfortable place to be.
Oceana is a fish place (obvi), and I'm a vegetarian, so would this unlikely match work out? Let's start with the bread, a choice of warm honey-whole wheat rolls or a sourdough baguette. I'm not the hugest fan of honey-flavored bread (something about the sweet flavor when I associate bread with savory purposes always turns me off), but the sourdough baguette was aggressively crusty and delicious. Deducting the obligatory points for providing three pieces of bread for two people, Oceana gets extra points for having room-temp, spreadable, salt-sprinkled butter. An enjoyable bread course overall.
A surprise amuse-bouche interrupted the bread course. It was lobster and asparagus soup with olive oil and toasted croutons, so unfortunately I did not get to taste this beauty. But Mom raved about it-- she said it was unusual and tasted really strongly of the lobster. She'd never had anything quite like it.
Mom started off her meal with the salad of local greens with shaved vegetables and sherry vinaigrette. Once again, this was a hit (and I tried a mouthful of greens to confirm). The greens were fresh, and the dressing was notably tangy and salty, lending good flavor to the mixture.
Then on to the main courses. I went with the watercress and date salad, with beets and hazelnuts (I requested no gorgonzola, which usually accompanies the dish in the form of gorgonzola cream decorating the plate). This was, it must be said, a really small portion, but what was there was high quality. The watercress was lively without an overwhelming peppery bite, and the crushed hazelnuts dotting the mixture added both texture and appealing flavor. The beets were beets, and I assume the sweet red smear on the plate was something date-related, because otherwise there were no dates in the salad. The salad verged on the sweet side, but it was enjoyable in its creativity.
Mom chose the tamarind-glazed mahi mahi, which came as a hunk of fish on a plate, rather sloppily unadorned. But once again, it shined in terms of flavor-- Mom pronounced it delicious and impressively moist.
To add vegetable interest to our meals, we ordered a side of wild mushrooms to share. These mushrooms, served in a delightful little pot, were an impressively exotic mixture and mercifully ungreasy. The fresh herbs added spikes of fresh flavor to an otherwise umami-heavy dish. In short, these mushrooms were addictive.
Dinner, despite not being large in quantity, was filling, but that doesn't mean there wasn't room for dessert. In fact, we both had room for the chocolate sticky toffee pudding, which usually comes with stout beer ice cream. We replaced the offending stout with chocolate and vanilla ice cream for Mom and me, respectively. The pretty little cake arrived in the form of a two-layer rectangular log, draped demurely on one side in a thin blanket of caramel. The bottom layer was a molasses-flavor cake, and the top layer was a sticky, date-flavored concoction of glossy goodness. There was a buttery oatmeal tuile piercing the cookie on one side, and the sphere of French vanilla ice cream that sat atop a pile of cookie crumbs was surrounded by bizarre and strongly-flavored cubes of stout gelee. I passed on these cubes. I managed to pack away all of the ice cream and much of the cake before getting too full. Is it weird that I found that tiny square of caramel to be the best part of the dessert?
As a final bit of deliciousness before the check, we were presented with two tiny little ice-pops apiece, one a creamy and tangy tangerine flavor, one a dead ringer for a fudgsicle. What an unexpected delight!
Oceana isn't cheap, but a meal in the comfortable space is undoubtedly a fine-dining experience. With all the well-planned extras, you get quite a bit of food, even if the portions are rather small. And for a pescatarian, there's nothing better in terms of variety and quality. So Oceana earns four Offset Spatulas, even if it wasn't necessarily the best meal I've had in recent history-- I realize I'm not the best judge, and my mom was pleased as punch. If you're into the stuff from the sea, make a stop at Oceana and revel in its bounty.
1221 Avenue of the Americas, at 49th Street