I’ve passed The Oceanaire Seafood Room hundreds of times in the eight years that the District has been my home. On Wednesday, I finally took the plunge.
My fiancé had just come back from a business trip to New York and was barely off the train when I announced the good news.
Me: “Any interest in an evening of oysters, fresh fish, and good wine?”
It was settled.
It was a full house when we arrived at 7:00 PM, but we were still able to snag one of their massive booths by the window. Our server greeted us right away and took our wine order (we went with a bottle of their Italian rosé).
Quick trivia fact: we were both born and raised in a town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We grew up slurping raw clams, steaming mussels, cracking lobsters, and eating fish for dinner 3+ nights a week. We take our seafood seriously and we do not apologize for it.
Since the Oceanaire is a self-titled “Seafood Room,” we went in with obnoxiously high expectations.
Of course, we had to start off with a dozen oysters. We let Marcus, our server, mix and match our platter with oysters from Virginia, Cape Cod, British Columbia, Washington state and Prince Edward Island. Our favorites were the briny Raspberry Points from P.E.I., but we also enjoyed the creamy bellies of the British Columbia assortment. The Virginia Pungoteagues were so-so. The Oceanaire salts from Cape Cod tasted like home and were obviously a hit.
As we were perusing the entrées, Executive Chef Sean Sanders and General Manager Donna Seal approached our table with two dishes and big smiles.
“Just a little something for you to try!” Donna said excitedly.
They placed in front of us a tasting of one of their brand new dishes: chicken fried lobster served over cheesy grits with truffled honey. In the past, I’ve steadfastly avoided chicken-fried anything, but all it really means is breaded and pan-fried in the style of fried chicken. We each took our first bites and stared at each other wide-eyed – absolutely delicious. The coating was savory and crispy without being oily and the flavor of the lobster was not lost. Fingers crossed this stays in the menu for at least a few weeks!
The Oceanaire is a pricey establishment to be sure, but not without good reason. The level of service is unparalleled. Marcus walked us through their house specialties (they are famous for their crab cakes) and explained that the chef will cook any fish in the house in any style the customer desires. “They’re not on the menu,” Marcus added, “but we do have lobsters in our live tank if you’re interested in a traditional steamed lobster meal.” Talk about accommodating!
After much painful deliberation, both James and I chose from the Chef Selections part of the menu. I went with the Wild Alaska halibut. James was torn between the seared ahi tuna and the scallops, so instead of making him choose, Marcus recommended the tuna and also threw in a few scallops to come as a side dish – man after our own hearts. We also ordered the escargots, which come steeped in burgundy butter with mini puff pastries on top.
This was a 10/10 meal. My halibut fillet was flaky and flavorful, and the saffron aioli was almost like a whipped hollandaise – a very surprising and exquisite complement to the fish. James’s ahi tuna was cooked rare and to perfection, and I’ve never tasted a fresher wasabi. The scallops came out in their own little side dish and were almost the size of my palm. Buttery, tender and oh-so-fresh from the sea.
We almost opted for dessert, until I saw the colossal size of the cakes and pies being served at the table next to us. “We do our desserts big here,” Marcus chuckled. Not wanting to explode from gluttony, we politely declined, but I will need to return to get my hands on their key lime pie.
So here’s the truth, straight from the mouth of a shameless seafood brat: the Oceanaire is a tier above the rest. If you’re looking for the freshest seafood in DC and unsurpassed dining service, look no further.