Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review: Oceanos Oyster Bar & Sea Grill

Oceanos Oyster Bar & Sea Grill
2-27 Saddle River Road, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410
Accepts all credit cards.

This past weekend, Beppo and I headed down to New Jersey for my niece's baptism. The reception was held at Oceanos. I have been to this restaurant a few times and have always been pleased.

The executive chef and owner Peter Panteleakis takes a lot of care with the quality of his food, especially the seafood. His level of involvement extends to his daily baking of the day's bread (from his own starter, no less) after he has gotten back from his trip to the Fulton Fish Market.

By way of full disclosure, my father and his wife are friends of the owners so we always get a great greeting and very personalized service. That said, I was extremely impressed by the exceptional service our party of 30+ got at the reception. It's not easy to take care of a large group and they did a great job. I also watched the servers taking care of other tables and the diners seems happy and cared for.

On Sunday, I met my dad and wife for lunch and we ended up back at Oceanos. We frequently have the same type of meal: salad, fish and dessert, so I can't really describe much else from the menu.

At the reception, we did have the collection of Greek spreads (taramasalata, ktipiti: a feta spread, hummus and melanzanasalata: an eggplant salad) served with grilled pita and they were fantastic. Highly recommended.

The Greek salad is great. Shredded romaine, tomatoes, red peppers, olives and feta are dressed with a nice lemony salad dressing. With the fresh house-made bread, it makes a great starter.

Oceanos prides itself on the the food it serves, especially the seafood. When we arrive, my father always consults with Peter as to what's best (or most interesting or unique) on the menu that day. You can do that too and I recommend you do so. Your fish (depending on what's available, you can get one for the table or your own fish if not everyone wants the same thing) will be grilled in the kitchen and brought to the table butterflied, deboned and sans head (no worries about your dinner looking at you). The sides are pretty standard: vegetables, potato and an oregano and lemon sauce. Fresh fish cooked this way is great: the flesh is sweet, with just a hint of smokiness. The lemon sauce provides a great contrast but isn't actually needed. We had white snapper which was a new fish for me. (By the way, check out those gorgeous olives - that's what olives should look like: plump, glossy and firm.)

We drank a Lazaridis Amethystos Drama 2007 with the meal. A lovely wine from the North of Greece, it's a sauvignon blanc/semillon blend. It was served at the perfect 50 degrees and was a great pairing for the salad and the fish. The Oceanos wine list is reasonably long (very heavy on California wines and with an extensive selection of Greek bottles) and very reasonably priced, with a good number of wines in the $25-40 price range.

Finally, dessert. Oh my lordy. I'm not really a dessert person so I usually take a few bites to be polite. Peter suggested that we finish our meal with rice pudding (risogalo). Rice pudding is not something I normally get excited about it, but I am still thinking about this one. This picture is my little dish of rice pudding; we had been served family-style so we each could take as much as we wanted.

First the rice pudding itself was creamy and sweet, but not overly so. It was topped with toasted kataifi (similar to shredded phyllo) and golden raisins that had been plumped up with a caramel syrup. I made sure each bite contained the contrasting textures of the creamy rice pudding and the crunchy kataifi and the slightly tart punch of the raisins. This dish is what rice pudding should be.

I was already impressed with what a great place Oceanos is (if we lived four hours closer, I think we'd be regulars), but when we complimented the coffee, Peter completely blew my mind (in the best possible way). Restaurant coffee is frequently an afterthought: it's the cup that wakes you up enough to get you home after dinner, but I seldom think "wow, that's good coffee". This coffee was remarkably good and didn't need the cream and sugar I normally have to add to restaurant coffee to make it drinkable. Peter told us that his coffee is a custom-roasted brew from Allann Brothers. He buys whole beans, grinds them as needed and then (this is where he won my heart) he brews into thermal carafes. And then, if it's not all served, the coffee is discarded after 20 minutes of sitting around. This results in a brew with very little bitterness or oxidation. It can't be cheap for him, but it's fabulous for the customers.

This is a guy who cares about quality. A lot. Please give this restaurant a try if you're nearby I know you'll enjoy. His menu of regular dishes (but not specials) is online - take a look, there's something for everyone. I didn't see the check, so I don't know what the total was but the online menus have actual pricing, so you can estimate costs for yourself.

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