Beyond the Sea
Luxury Dining Experience Worth Every Penny At Posh New Harbor East Destination
Located on the street level of a new Inner Harbor East condo-apartment complex, the swanky, stylish, and expensive Oceanaire Seafood Room (801 Aliceanna St.,  872-0000) is the latest cornerstone of the new Baltimore—the Baltimore where lots of people have tons of money, but who the hell are they and how?
I didn’t get, until our waiter explained it, that Oceanaire explicitly means to evoke the bygone era of luxurious transatlantic ocean travel. It works, though. The stainless-steel bar and surrounding oyster bar and lounge are flamingly gorgeous. The spacious, wood-floored main dining room, smartly divided up by low walls and curvy seating groups, feels creamily glamorous, a repository of good taste. (The bathrooms are even better—make sure you go.) Grace notes arrive early at the table—a loaf of crusty bread, an iced relish tray of pickles, pepperoncini, onions, and pickled herring. Cocktails and desserts are midcentury classics: rusty nail, side car, Champagne cocktail, baked Alaska, tin-roof sundae, and apple brown betty.
Oceanaire has apparently been drinking from the same branding and marketing pool as McCormick and Schmick’s and our city’s homegrown Blue Sea Grill. There’s the menu printed with today’s date, the check marks next to the fish we have today, and the tableside patter that begins, “Is this your first time dining here?” It’s a gratuitous but effective gimmick, and it’s especially persuasive here. Our waiter, in his lab technician’s white coat, described how filleting is performed in refrigerated rooms to prevent fish from reaching room temperature. I found myself believing that all of the fish—from Virginia rockfish and Cape May bluefish to Hawaiian monchong and Tasmanian steelhead trout—were high quality, fresh, and expertly handled.
The menu makes some concessions to the unadventurous—a half-dozen choices of fish and shellfish can be ordered grilled or broiled, simply brushed with olive oil and lemon. But the emphasis is on disclosing ideally chosen preparations for the house’s stock. Vancouver king salmon ($29.95) gets the classic “Oscar” treatment—jumbo lump crab, asparagus, and béarnaise sauce. Pacific sablefish ($26.95), aka black cod, is miso-glazed and served with soba noodles and ginger soy broth, a contemporary choice.
Before ordering we sampled from the Oceanaire’s oyster bar, which features a welcome selection of West Coast specimens. We ordered up two shells each of three varieties from British Columbia—Pearl Bay ($1.85 each), summer ice ($2.15), and Malaspina ($1.95)—all unfamiliar to me, all delivering firm texture and striking sea taste. We split three ways, easily, an ice-chilled BLT salad ($8.95), crispy iceberg and romaine lettuces layered with beefy red tomatoes and ladled generously with a creamy buttermilk-bacon dressing. (Not bacon bits, big shards of freshly cooked, slabby bacon.) Flash-fried calamari ($11.95) is a must—big, crispy, and tender, accented by crunchy Asian slaw and plucky Thai chile sauce. Corn and crab soup (cup $5.95/bowl $7.95), topped with chipotle popcorn, pleased us with rich, rounded flavor and plentiful silky crab meat.
The fish choices: pan-seared Japanese sea scallops (the size of mini muffins) ($29.95), served with sautéed oyster mushrooms and white truffle oil; “black and blue” bluefish ($24.95), grilled and served with caramelized onions and blue cheese butter; wild rockfish ($23.95), grilled simply. (Are you watching these prices? Side dishes are ordered separately.)
In-house marketing aside, the fish preparations here are superb. Bluefish, which can be too strong, stays mellow and sweet. Moist-all-over rockfish retains its wild, robust flavor. Those enormous scallops are cooked evenly throughout, playing nicely with the earthy flavors of truffle and mushroom.
Side dishes are intended to be shared. They’re priced low and are served in gigantic portions. (Think Ruth’s Chris.) Eight could share each one. What looked like three pounds of roasted shallot mashed potatoes ($6.95) and creamed spinach ($7.95) filled us up quickly—and no one finished his or her fish. Doggy bags are probably inevitable here.
It’s hard not to spend money here. You’ll do somewhat better with more diners sharing the generous sides and apps. It’s the entrées that will set you back, though, along with cocktails and wine, which are priced high, both by the glass and the bottle. The Oceanaire is a hotel concierge’s dream, a thoroughly shipshape operation that will please, most of all, anyone with an expense account or some mysterious money to burn.