Oceanique, the perennial Evanston favorite French/American seafood dining mainstay, conjures up visions of an oasis with lapping waves only a stone’s throw from the shores of Lake Michigan but miles from any ocean.
The gracious dining establishment recalls the days of Jean Banchet’s legendary Le Francais (once Chicago's finest) where, not surprisingly, Oceanique chef and owner Mark Grosz, began honing his skills while working under Banchet. Yet, the restaurant is comfortable in its own skin--bringing the fine dining experience of the past to the present--making the experience at Oceanique a step above “fine dining” to what can only be described as “very fine dining.”
The powerful imagery of the ocean bodes well for the inviting, yet intimate, space that was recently renovated with a welcoming new bar, new ceilings, new wall treatments, and a softer feel with carpeting on the formerly bare floors, crushed velvet banquets and comfortable armchairs. Seating capacity has been reduced from 90 to 70 giving the space an airy and spacious feel. New LED lighting flows from decorative sconces creating an inviting ambiance.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Oceanique is that owner/chef Grosz is very hands-on and present even after 25 years at the helm. He's on top of everything--keeping things humming from the kitchen burners to the dining room--stopping by tables in his work apron to make sure his guests are satisfied.
In a competitive restaurant arena such as Chicago, you have to be doing a lot right to stay in business for that long. From their 600 plus wines—some of the rarest and best—to their attention to detail and cutting-edge cuisine…Oceanique swims seamlessly with the current.
Guests can choose selections from the à la carte menu, a reasonably priced bar menu, or a seven course tasting menu--with or without wine pairings.
For first timers and even regulars, the tasting menu is a good choice. However, if you have a large appetite, you may want to order à la carte, as tasting portions are smallish.
The bar is a perfect option for those trying to keep the cost at bay. There is a new small plates menu to accompany the fine selection of wines, craft beers and artisan cocktails. Or guests, at the bar, can order from the full à la carte or dégustation dining room menu. Another nice feature, the bar offers a communal table to encourage single dining or groups.
If one has dietary concerns, no worries, the staff is highly sensitive to diners' food issues--allergies, restrictions, vegetarian, gluten-free--you name it.
Wine director and son of Grosz, Philippe André has put together an impressive list of world-class wines including rare Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, and California Cabernets. Every year, since 1994, the restaurant has won Wine Spectator Magazine’s coveted "Best of Award of Excellence." The restaurant is recognized as having one of the 750 best wine lists in the world.
Fresh seafood is the specialty of the house at Oceanique, thus the name, but you can also get prime red meat, pasta, and unique vegetarian and vegan offerings artistically plated with seasonal ingredients and oftentimes, an Asian influence. Expect to be introduced to some exciting combos and colorful ingredients which may include: watermelon radish, yuzu marmalade, scatterings of pomegranate, dragon fruit, fennel, arugula and gourmet reduction sauces.
At a recent media tasting dinner we attended, celebrating Oceanique's 25th Anniversary, the meal began with a "Japanese Breakfast" featuring lightly smoked organic Artic Char paired with N.V. "Brut Origine" (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) from Champagne, France.
Next up was Wild Maine Day Boat Scallops that were beautifully seared, then topped with watermelon-radish ribbons nestled in house-made kimchi with a lobster-soy-sake reduction sauce. This was paired with a very enjoyable 2007 Brooks Winery Riesling – Willamette Valley, Oregon--that even pleased those in the group who were not necessarily Riesling fans.
The scollops were followed by a Pear, Red Watercress, Red Onion Salad with Maytag Blue, pecans and buttermilk paired with a 2012 Dourthe "La Grande Cuvee" Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux, France which drew raves from the white wine aficionados at the table.
Next came a tasty Butternut Squash Ravioli served with fennel, prosciutto, crispy sage and walnuts. It was paired with a 2010 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico from Radda in Chainti, Italy.
Litchi Sorbet...was the perfect palate cleanser--refreshing, fragrant and fat free.
With our palates refreshed, we were all set for the beautifully presented Organic Icelandic Arctic Char and Prime Filet Mignon. The colorful surf and turf combo came with purple potatoes, oyster mushrooms, pea tips and fennel. This was paired with a 2010 RouteStock Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, CA)--one of my favorite pairings of the evening--and very affordable by the glass or bottle. The wine had hints of blue and dark berry fruits overlaid with whispers of brown spice, coffee and chocolate. The taste was rich on the palate with a graceful oak structure and soft tannins.
The Banana Marjolaine provided a grand finale to the evening with an even grander pairing--maybe the best pairing of the night--with a 10yr Mas Amiel Maury Cuvee Speciale. The Dessert Wine, not unlike a tawny port, was smooth with a hint of roasted chestnuts, toasted pralines, dried cherries, and cocoa powder with a refreshing brightness and subtlety of flavor and sweetness.
SMC Rating--excellent!, parfait!
Oceanique, 505 Main St., Evanston, 847-864-3435
Open: Dinner Monday-Thursday (5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.) Friday & Saturday (5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.)
Parking: Valet, Street
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