400 J Street (619) 858-2277
Dining alone is a situation that makes many people uncomfortable. Sitting alone at a table can make you feel like you are the lone survivor on a deserted island. Many restaurants offer full service dining at the bar as a more relaxed alternative to formal dining room seating. This offers several advantages to the lone diner. The bar area is usually livelier, and often offers interaction with other like minded patrons. Restaurants featuring oyster bars take this concept to the next level. The Oceanaire Seafood Room's oyster bar is a prime example.
Here you will find yourself seated in front of a vast bed of ice containing fresh shellfish, wines, and beers.
A chalkboard lists the oysters that have been flown in fresh that day.
Soon after being seated, I was served a complimentary relish tray with fresh sourdough bread and butter.
The highlight of the relish tray was the house cured herring. It was slightly sweet, and had a wonderfully delicate texture.
Regular bars are manned by bartenders, but Oceanaire's oyster bar is tended by seafood specialist Eugene Tanaka. If you become a regular, he will remember your preferences, and custom tailor that days offerings to suit your palate. Eugene knows that I love raw oysters, so his only question on this visit was how many I wanted. I decided eighteen would do the trick. Eugene then set about creating a sampler platter with five different varieties of oysters on the half shell.
I sampled the Malpaque first ($2.25 each).
This oyster variety is from Malpaque Bay on Prince Edward Island in Canada. They fist hit you with a jolt of saltiness, followed by a fresh, clean taste, then finishing with a slight bitterness. I liked the Malpaques a lot.
Next I tried the Kumamotos ($2.25 each).
These oysters originated in the southernmost island of Japan, and are now harvested in the Pacific Northwest. The are a small, slow growing oyster, with a deep cup which holds a large amount of nectar. The meat is firm and crisp, with a fruity, slightly briny flavor. I love the taste of Kumamotos, but for me, they are just too small.
The third variety I had were the Bahia Falsa ($1.95 each).
Farmed in Bahia Falsa bay in Ensenada Mexico, they are the same species (crassostrea gigas) as the Kumamotos. I had a slight preference for the Pacific Northwest version.
Next I dove into the Blue Points ($1.95).
These oysters are from Great South Bay Long Island, New York. They had a mild flavor, with the taste and smell of the sea.
The fifth oyster variety I sampled were the Summer Ice ($1.95). These oysters are tray grown, suspended from long lines in the Jervis inlet on British Columbia's west coast. They are available from May through September. By suspending the oysters at sixty feet they are prevented from spawning by the cold, deep water. In the summer months, warm water causes oysters to spawn. Spawning oysters have mushy, milky flesh that I find just awful. This is where the rule "only eat oysters in months with R's in them" comes from. Summer Ice provides winter like oyster flesh throughout the summer months. As billed, the flesh was firm and the taste was clean and slightly salty.
Last I tried the Fanny Bays ($1.95 each).
These oysters are from Naniamo bay in western British Columbia. They are good sized with a salty, sweet flavor and a slightly metalic finish. Fanny Bays are one of my favorites because of their large size and interesting flavor.
Now that I had worked up a good appetite, it was time for my entree, the grilled Baquetta ($28.95).
Banquetta is a member of the tropical grouper family, and is found off the southern coast of the Baja peninsula. It is an excellent eating fish. The Baquetta arrived cooked to a perfect medium rare. The flavor was rich yet mild with flesh that was tender and juicy.
To accompany my entree I ordered a house special potato dish called the Oceanaire ($5.45).
What arrived was a giant pie of freshly grated potatoes. The pie had a crispy brown crust that gave way to a tender interior.
The potatoes featured smoky bacon chunks, and a vinegar based hot sauce giving this dish some heat. If you like hash brown potatoes you won't want to miss this version at Oceanaire.
Another side dish I enjoy at Oceanaire is the potatoes au gratin. On this visit I could not resist taking some to go.
This is a truly indulgent potato dish, with a blend of cheeses, cream, and fresh herbs. These potatoes made one hell of a midnight snack.
The Oceanaire Seafood Room is an elegant restaurant, reminiscent of a dining salon on a luxury cruise ship from a bygone era. It is a chain restaurant, but if all chains maintained this level of quality, the associated negative stigma would vanish. Executive chef Brian Malarkey oversees a top notch kitchen. The oyster bar is one of the nicest I have visited, and Eugene Tanaka runs it with skill and panache. It is the perfect destination for someone dining alone. On this visit I sat near another solo diner named Anthony, who turned out to be a really fun guy to chat with. More often than not, I make new friends dining alone at bars. Next time you find yourself heading out to dine alone, give Oceanaire's oyster bar a try. I believe you will be glad that you did.