Oceana continues to please. Hanging on every year to its Michelin star since 2006, the restaurant, owned by the Livanos family, offers a menu that reflects the ebb and flow of the sea—with the best fish that each season brings.
Right now, that means Spanish mackerel, either in a simple grilled preparation ($24), or baked in salt.
Or it could be the yet underrated bluefish from Long Island, grilled and marinated ($23). You could travel the world this way, fish by fish, according to the season, and what a journey for the taste buds that would be.
It all happens in a setting with design elements that recall nature and the sea. The multicolored marble flooring and Brazilian cherry wood emanate warmth and elegance, while fish lithographs adorn the walls.
In addition to the dining room, there are four private rooms for intimate dining or big parties. I could not help but notice one of those rooms, an impressive, glass-enclosed wine room with a seemingly endless collection of labels.
I had to stop for a moment to admire the impressive bar stacked with 48 different brands of gin as I was being escorted to the small and intimate Chef’s Table. It is a glass-walled room, across from the kitchen, where one can watch dishes being prepared by executive chef Ben Pollinger and his team.
The Chef’s Table, where one can observe the chef and kitchen staff in action. (Paul Johnson)
While seated, I watched Pollinger become the center of attention as he turned ingredients into interesting and unique creations. His mission is to present local and seasonal ingredients with a global interpretation.
“I like to cook as naturally as possible while keeping the integrity of the ingredients. I also like to use a variety of influences such as Asian and Indian cooking,” Pollinger told me.
Executive chef Ben Pollinger. (Noah Fecks)
Although the menu features seasonal fish, there are also perennial mainstays.
Among the appetizers, the refreshing and hearty Chilled Melon Soup with grilled New Orleans shrimp, prosciutto, and basil ($17), with a simple combination of ingredients that gave me pause to think and reflect.
The Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes ($19) was an even more surprising creation—more crabmeat than crumbs—with good consistency throughout, accompanied with a delicate wasabi aioli and pickled cucumber.
I still cannot forget the delicate in-house smoked salmon that was part of the Seafood Charcuterie Plate ($19). I could not help but think how deftly this simple ingredient was transformed into an object of satisfaction.
Seafood Charcuterie Plate. (Paul Johnson)
From the main courses, I was attracted to the Taro Wrapped Dorade with baby bok choy, peanuts, and coconut cilantro curry ($36), which seemed to have an interesting blend of Asian and Indian spices. My friends on the other hand insisted on the Rice Flake Crusted Halibut ($36), a homage to Tabla and chef Floyd Cardoz. Prepared with watermelon curry, I wished I had stuck to my first preference because personally I prefer fish without any crust.
Fish is very delicate and easily absorbs the flavors of the accompanying ingredients but the Roast Stuffed Branzino for two ($72) with mushrooms, spinach, and black olives.
Lunch classics are also available, such as the Lobster Sandwich ($23), the Chilled Filet Mignon Cobb Salad ($32), or Alaskan Coho Salmon Burger ($19).
One of Oceana’s newer introductions is the most important meal of the day, the power breakfast. One of the signature dishes is a Maine Lobster Benedict with poached eggs, lobster hash, and sauce Américaine ($24).
Other offerings include a BLT Omelet with heritage bacon, tomato confit, and home fries ($18); House-Smoked Salmon and Bagel with cream cheese, crispy capers, and pickled red onions ($18); and Orange-Scented Brioche French Toast with orange marmalade and maple syrup ($17)
A recent addition to the team is executive pastry chef Colleen Grapes, from The Red Cat.
Wines and Spirits
The myth of “no red wine with fish” does not exist at Oceana. Wine director Pedro Goncalves has acquired a long list of red wines for pairing with fish. “I’ve looked to Spain, Argentina, and other regions that produce wines that go beautifully with all kinds of seafood,” Goncalves said.
The extensive wine list features more than 1,000 curated selections.
Oceana offers more than 1,000 selections of wine spanning over 145 regions in the world, including 30 rotating wines by the glass. (Paul Johnson)
And of course there is the gin. Goncalves has created a gin program with more than 45 gins, and also a handful of bitters and four housemade tonics—bitter, spicy, citrus, and sweet. He also crafts his own ginger ale, which he uses in the Gin & Ginger cocktail.
Oceana, located just west of Rockefeller Center. (Paul Johnson)
120 W. 49th St. (between Sixth and Seventh avenues)
Monday–Friday 7:30 a.m.–10 a.m.
Monday–Friday 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Monday–Saturday 5 p.m.–10 p.m.
(Bar menu available throughout the day)