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December 4, 2009

RoCK weighs in on Oceanaire

oceanairenotRoCK.jpgOne thing I like about Robert of Cross Key's guest posts is that he usually has a socko boffo ending, something I can rarely come up with. The second thing is that wow, that boy can eat. Here's Robert with the latest of his dining adventures. EL

Recently I went with the wife to the Oceanaire Seafood Room, where I was treated to one of my Henry the VIII dining experiences.  It was a lot of food, and it was oh so good.

Normally, when I go to the Oceanaire, I eat off of the bar menu.  I’ll get things like the calamari, the sliders and the fish and chips. They are very good, and the prices are actually cheaper than what you spend on nachos or wings at any bar in the city or the suburbs.  ...

This meal, however, would be different. It would showcase some the finest selections on their menu, and it would be very special.

I started off with the relish tray that features pickled herring.  I don’t care for the taste of herring under normal circumstances, but when paired with my glass of sauvignon blanc it was beyond not good. Nevertheless, I like the fact that something as old school and strong-flavored as pickled herring is served to everyone.  

Appetizers followed, and I sampled stone crab claws and Nantucket Bay scallops.  

The crab claws were very fresh, chilled and paired with a mustard mayonnaise. What I like about stone crab claws is they are probably the most sustainable seafood out there because stone crab claws are harvested one claw at a time.  Eventually the claw grows back and will one day end up on someone else’s plate.   What I don’t like about them is there is more difficulty in eating them than it would appear at first.  The claws are cracked in the kitchen, but I always seem to have trouble working through the heavy shells.  Inevitably, a few of the shells end up in my mouth.

The Nantucket Bay scallops served in a white wine and garlic sauce were simply one of the best things I’ve tasted in a long time.  Usually, bay scallops taste of low tide with the texture of pencil erasers.  The bay scallops from Nantucket, however, were sweet and tender, and the sauce was very simple so as not to overshadow the mollusk.  

Salad was next, and I went with a mesculin mix with fresh citrus and pomegranate vinaigrette. What was interesting was the citrus mix, in addition to orange and grapefruit, also had chunks of fresh lime.   Lime juice is very common, but lime flesh is not normally something you eat unless you’ve reached the bottom of a gin and tonic and you can’t get a refill.  It actually worked very well in this salad, and wasn’t as tart as I would have expected.  

For entrees, I was able to try both a surf and turf consisting of filet mignon and a whole, cold water lobster along with a few pounds of king crab legs. Yes, I told you this was a Henry VIII dinner, only without the marital and papal difficulties.

Surf and turf is not something I usually get because the turf is normally filet mignon.  I tend to go for prime rib and rib eyes with their marbling.  This filet, however, was pretty good.  It was seasoned with a nice dose of pepper, and it was cooked perfectly to medium rare.  What I noticed was the filet didn’t have that grey ring beyond the outer char that is indicative of overcooking or broilers that are not hot enough. It was deep red throughout.

As for the surf, the lobster was excellent. Fresh from the tank and weighing a little over a pound, it was a nice size with plenty of sweet meat.  Like my problem with most scallops, I find a lot of lobster to be chewy.  And like the scallops I had as an appetizer, this lobster was not. It was very tender and succulent.

The king crab legs were fantastic. Two huge legs weighing around two pounds were simply served on a platter with a side of melted butter.  There was nothing more needed.  The meat was sweet, supple and abundant.  

The king crab is flown in fresh from Alaska, and it comes from the Wizard as seen on Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel.  Now, I normally root for Captain Sig and the Northwestern, but I have to say that Captain Keith hauls in a pretty tasty crab.  

I was talking to the chef about the king crab legs, and he told me the crab was running strong this season. I guess that is a spoiler for the upcoming season of Deadliest Catch.

Speaking of the chef, he’s from Cleveland.  A place not normally associated with great seafood -- although there is something to be said for fried perch and walleye.  When I heard about his origins, I had my provincial doubts about a Midwesterner cooking seafood in Baltimore.  Like some, perhaps many, of my sweeping generalizations, this opinion was misplaced.  

What I like about his cooking style is that he procures quality ingredients and lets them stand on their own.  I’m not saying that it’s all about ingredients because I know highlighting good ingredients requires good technique.  (In my own kitchen I’ve destroyed prime steaks, wrecked fresh rockfish and mangled many other gourmet products)   But in the end his crab is about fresh crab, not some herb and spice combination. His scallops are about fresh scallops, not bacon or cheese or some other flavoring.

I don’t want to convey the idea that there are no interesting recipes at Oceanaire.  For dessert -- yes, I had dessert -- there was a delightful chocolate-espresso semifreddo.  Chocolate and coffee is one of my favorite combinations.  I love the taste of bittersweet. That flavor works well in a semifreddo, particularly when it is executed as well as this one was. Too often a semifreddo is either filled with ice crystals or it's pudding.  This one was able to reach that ideal state of both temperature and texture.

It was a great meal, but it probably won’t be recreated in its entirety any time soon.  For several reasons, I doubt my wife likes the idea of being married to Henry VIII.

(Algerina Perna/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 10:39 AM | | Comments (21)


Nice meal, RoCK. I don't think I could eat that much in a week, though.

I adore the Oceanaire relish tray. Old fashioned, and comforting in the way that only something my grandmother produced every Sunday can be.

Your wife doesn't want you to found a religion, RoCK? Maybe she doesn't want to be courted by the Pope.

While I didn't eat QUITE that much, RoCK, my feelings about Oceanaire echo yours: good food, good service, good ambience.

But the only desserts I've had room for are the tres-retro Dixie Cup (including the flat wooden spoon) and the cookies-and-milk. Both were excellent.

For dessert there was a delightful chocolate-espresso semifreddo

Too stuffed for the entire freddo, huh, RoCK?

Oh for the days when i could eat like that. However, i second pickled herring. I must have it in the fridge at all times.. Ultimate comfort food.

Great write up RoCK. Been wanting to go there, now it's definitely on the top of my list. But good god man, you must have the metabolism of a jack rabbitt!

WOW, I really want to visit Oceanaire now.

My waistline expanded just reading this. Nice work, RoCK!

I second the encouragement of chefs that don't try and do too much with great ingredients. Oftentimes, high end restaurants that fail can be blamed for an overly ambitious chef that doesn't know his/her limitations. I'd much rather have a simple piece of grilled fish or a cluster of king crab legs on a plate than something with an overly complicated sauce that doesn't compliment its dish.

How could you leave out the Chesapeake? Before the Prime Rib it was The restaurant in BaltimoreI It too was on North Charles St. but far superior to Danny's.

mom-mom, please explain to us why you're complaining about RoCK's failure to mention the Chesapeake when his above post had nothing to do with long-shuttered restaurants. (He didn't even include one mention of Danny's in his review of Oceanaire.)

RoCK, I hope you enjoyed your salad of mesculin. I've never heard of that, Perhaps you meant a Mesclun Salad. Otherwise your venture sounds delicious

Sorry, MDtopdad, but I do believe that RoCK meant to refer to mesculin, given that Oceanaire uses that precise spelling on its own menu (see the description of the Mixed Greens & Citrus Salad). If you still have a beef with the spelling, take it up with the restaurant's management.

hmpstd, the mesclun/"mesculin" confusion is one of my top restaurant pet peeves! Shame on Oceanaire for perpetuating this.

Dahlink, as I suggested to MDtopdad, please take it up with the restaurant's management. When you do so, I hope you'll also let them know that the term "ocean air" contains two words and no letter e. ;-)

That should be no letter e at the end of air; the word ocean requires the letter, of course.

hmpstd, while the mesclun/mesculin/mescaline conundrum on menus bothers me, I'm willing to let restaurants choose their own proper names with a great deal of latitude.

Well I just dashed off an email to the powers that be at Oceanaire and hopefully they will get it right. After all there is aBIG difference between Mesclun and Mescaline, and Mesculin simply doesn't exist anywhere, except in Baltimore's fractured language. I once was served a "vegetable melody" in a Canton restaurant
(somehow this post ended up under the malbec discussion, It must have been the mescaline!!)

MDtopdad, I think you've hit on a new Top Ten post: mispronounced or misspelled menu items. Whenever I encounter Chicken Tikka Marsala, I always think of that classic combination of Marsala wine, cumin, coriander and yogurt, the Sonia Gandhi of chicken curries.

Speaking of bad spelling and grammar, I just saw a Wine Market ad in the right column for a "Prefixe" menu. Yikes!

It took a few days, but the Wine Market ad has been corrected to say "Prix Fixe" rather than "Prefixe".

And -- mirabile dictu! -- Oceanaire has adopted mesclun as the proper spelling on its menu, presumably as a result of MDtopdad's e-mail. (Does he get comped a salad, at the least, for his troubles?)

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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