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Oceana on Valentine's Day

Note: This is a review at a former location. Click here for a review of the new location and chef.

I am mindful of restaurants’ tendency to over-charge and under-perform on special occasions. (Picholine on New Year’s Eve was my latest experience of that kind.) At the venerable seafood palace Oceana on Valentine’s Day I am happy to say that we were not disappointed, although I suspect it is possible to have a better meal there than we had.

For Valentine’s Day, Oceana pared its cuisine down to a six-course tasting menu priced at $125:

Smoked Cod Chowder
Virginia Ham, New Potatoes, Pepperjack Cheese

Crisp Iceberg Lettuce
Marinated Vegetables and Bacon-Buttermilk Dressing

Duck and Pistachio Terrine
Frisee, Cornichon, Mustard and an Apple-Onion Marmalade

Steamed Halibut
Spaghetti Squash, Edamame, Lotus Nuts, Kaffir Fish Tea

Loup de Mer in an Almond Tea Crust
Baby Bok Choy and a Jura Wine Emulsion
Short Rib of Beef Braised in Red Wine
Winter Vegetables, Fingerling Potatoes Garlic-Herb Beef Jus

Valentine’s Day Dessert Sampler
Sarsaparilla Ice Cream Soda, Banana Strudel,
Warm Chocolate Tart, Blood Orange Sorbet

You’ll note that the only decision for the diner was Loup de Mer or Short Ribs for the fifth course. (Anyone who’d come to Oceana and order short ribs needs to have his head examined.) I do realize the need for restaurants to simplify on such a busy night, but I think a professional kitchen could offer more variety than that.

The smoked cod chowder, the duck & pistachio terrine, and the loup de mer—a house specialty—were all superb. I especially would have liked more of the cod chowder and the loup de mer. That’s always the drawback of a tasting menu: no matter how good a dish may be, it’s gone in a few bites.

My friend wasn’t fond of the iceberg lettuce salad, although I thought it was just fine, if unmemorable. For me, the low point was the steamed halibut, which was dry and had left all of its taste in the poaching pan.

The desserts were first-rate. I could have done without the sarsaparilla ice cream soda (basically melted ice cream that you sipped with a straw), but I can’t complain about one dud when they give you a four-item sampler.

Paired wines would have been another $100 a person. Here my rip-off alert went into high gear. For well under that figure, one can select a superb white from Oceana’s long wine list, and come home with cash to spare. Oceana also has a fine selection of half-bottles, and you could even sample a few of those without spending as much as the house wine pairing. As it was a work night for both of us, we settled for cocktails followed by a half-bottle of chardonnay ($38), with which we were delighted.

Including beverages, tax, and tip, the meal came to $398. Nobody would call that inexpensive, but for a three-star restaurant on Valentine’s Day, it was one of the better special-occasion meals I’ve had.

Oceana (55 E. 54th Street between Madison & Park Avenues, East Midtown)

Food: ***
Service: ***
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***

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