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Oceanique in Evanston?

Oceanique in Evanston?
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  • Post #91 - August 14th, 2012, 8:25 am
    Post #91 - August 14th, 2012, 8:25 am Post #91 - August 14th, 2012, 8:25 am
    With a Groupon allowing us a five-course tasting menu for only $40 per person, it didn’t take long to decide that this was something we wanted to do. It had been far too long since we had been, especially in light of the fact that our first visit (the first post in this thread) was so wonderful.

    We were on the early side—6 pm—so there was plenty of light in the room, making it a less “cozy” place than I noted in my first review. That said, it was still quite comfy and relaxed and, judging from conversations around us, the Groupon was bringing in a lot of business. (The recent rating of seafood restaurants in Chicago by Zagat that resulted in Oceanique being rated number 1 in Chicago won’t hurt their business either, regardless of your opinion of the Zagat survey.)

    The food and service were really very good but when all was said and done, we were disappointed. The food was fine but no better. The service was good but no better (although the staff was warm and friendly, plates were pretty much dropped off without a word, certainly without any explanations, the sole exception being the one "course" not on the menu, the raviolo). Two five-course tastings would normally run $160; thanks to Groupon we paid $80 for both. I chose the “Premier Cru”—mid-level—selection of wine pairings for another $99. The restaurant tacks on an 18% tip (there were two of us). Plus tax (which came to $15 plus change on the food and another $15 plus change on the alcohol). So the grand total, with the Groupon, was $265. Without the Groupon, it would have been $345. To our disappointment, the meal and the experience as a whole just weren't good enough at $265 to justify returning any time soon. And if we had paid full shot, we would have been even more unhappy.

    Herewith, brief reactions to each course:

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    Chef’s Surprise
    Tuna tartare encircled by a leek and dressed with a cilantro/ginger “essence.” Nicely done but, in a reaction that pretty much mirrored our reaction to most things, we’d had it better elsewhere. In this case, several times at Kevin.

    For the second course, you choose between lobster, corn soup, soft-shell crab tempura, scallops, or country pate. The Lovely Dining Companion chose the lobster; I went with the pate.

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    Wild Maine Lobster
    It’s a bit difficult to gauge from the picture, but the serving was generous in size (though not perhaps quite so generous with the lobster itself). Included in the plate were some bufala mozzarella, white asparagus, caviar, and avocado. I had only a tiny bite and my reaction was that, while very nice, a touch more acid would have been welcome. Nevertheless, this was LDC’s dish and she was quite happy with it (though, as the parenthetical noted, a little more lobster would have been nice).

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    Country Pate
    I enjoyed my pate without being overwhelmed. The plate included a generous slice of pate accompanied by a small parsley/fig salad, two mustards, a couple hazelnuts and blueberry gelee. Best of all was the “side” of Poilane toast. It was thick, well-toasted, but its thickness kept it from drying it too much. Precisely for that reason, I enjoyed it much more than the completely (or nearly) dry toasts that usually accompany pates. While I missed the gherkins, I can sympathize with the kitchen’s desire to do something different. (In fact, I noted one or two tiny slices of mini-gherkin in the salad.) So too with the blueberry gelee. The pate was relatively coarse, a bit soft, but without any assertive flavors. While that may be a plus for some, I would have welcomed a bit more depth of flavor. As my first sentence suggests, though, even though this was a very pleasant rendition, I’ve had better at too many other places.

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    Squash raviolo
    At this point we were treated to a course not on the menu: a butternut squash raviolo. This comes from the restaurant’s regular six-course tasting menu and is accompanied by prosciutto, walnuts, and crispy sage. Without sounding like a broken record, this was enjoyable without being in any way notable.

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    Four-berry sorbet
    A fizzle. The flavors were not identified. Hell, the server just brought the course and started to leave without even telling us what she’d just brought! We had to stop her to ask even the most basic information and even then, she only volunteered that it was “four berries” without telling us what they were. Gee…sorry to bother you. Worse yet, there was nothing at all special about the sorbet—the flavors melded into an indistinct generic berry-like taste. Worse, the flavor was neither clear, nor sparkling, nor particularly fresh tasting. No intensity of flavor at all. Not enough acid. Not enough…. Just not enough.

    Fourth course also allowed a choice: bluefin tuna, black sea bass, or Dover sole.

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    Wild Maryland Black Sea Bass
    White asparagus, pea tips, purple potatoes, and Porto. Beautiful presentation, beautifully cooked, otherwise nothing special. Hmmm. Ultimately, disappointing for that reason. Everything “worked” but nothing sang.

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    Organic Spanish Dover Sole
    Artichoke, heirloom carrots, and lemongrass. Basil mashed potatoes. Of these, the lemongrass was MIA. I detected no evidence of the item in question, either in its presence or in its perfume. That said, it was, again, a generous serving (you’ll note essentially a filet and a half on the dish) and it was cooked à point. I enjoyed it but, as with LDC’s sea bass, it all worked and that was it.

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    Flourless Chocolate Cake
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    Strawberry/Rhubarb Tarte with Strawberry Ice Cream
    Both desserts were fine. We enjoyed them, we finished them, we would eat them again if they were presented to us. I think. Neither was a particularly great example. Neither left us feeling that we would miss never having them again.

    And by now, you can tell that—very sadly—that was pretty much our reaction to dinner as a whole.

    I would be remiss not to mention the wine pairings. I began with a Champagne, non-vintage Mandois Brut. To go with the pate a 2009 Macon Verze, Domaine Leflaive (13%). Then a light red that I absolutely could not abide: Cantina Vignaioli Barbaresco (13.5%). All I tasted was a light wine badly out of balance. I got far too little flavor and my attempts to engage the sommelier (we were served by Philippe Andre, their Wine Director since 2004) were fruitless. As LDC pointed out in our discussion on the ride home, his reaction was not to engage in a substantive discussion but to pleasantly acknowledge everything I said. That’s certainly one way to deal with people. I don’t care for it. I certainly don’t expect to love every glass I’m served but when I don’t care for something (and, frankly, even when I love something), I sometimes enjoy having a real discussion about it. Why I love it or hate it, what I’m tasting or not getting. Mr. Andre would have none of it. He was unfailingly polite, unfailingly pleasant, and absolutely unwilling to have any discussion beyond mindless observations: everyone has different tastes; sorry you don’t care for it; let’s hope you enjoy the next one more. I’m not asking for a ten minute conversation; I’m looking to learn a little something, to discuss my reaction, and to let him get on with his job while I get on with my meal.

    He acknowledged my comments in that ever-so-slightly condescending manner that some sommeliers seem to cultivate: “Yes, I understand what you’re saying but you’re just wrong.” Smooth, yes. Polished, yes. But completely unwilling to engage.

    Next glass, I’m pleased to say, WAS more to my taste: a Vosne Romanee, 2004 Les Beaux Monts (again 13.5%). I tried to talk about the relentless move toward higher alcohols in all varietals but, once again, got nowhere. Polite acknowledgments, no more. Last glass, for dessert, an introduction to a very quaffable fortified red dessert wine from Roussillon: Mas Amiel, cuvee special, aged ten years. 16%. Similar to port but less punch; altogether a lovely choice, particularly if port isn’t your thing. Well-rounded, flavorful, light. A very nice selection for the desserts.

    Here’s our take: at the end of the day, everything we had was very good or better. But nothing was noteworthy. Nothing made us sit up and take note. Nothing made us think: wow, this is terrific and I can’t wait to return and see what they do next time. Nothing about the whole experience stood out. This is not a cutting-edge destination and I’m not complaining that it should be. But for the price, something has to stand out to make it worth the money, worth the time, worth the trip. Worth going there instead of somewhere else. And, quality of the food notwithstanding, neither of us find much interest in returning. It was a very nice meal that cost more than it should have. Service was fine but nothing exceptional or extraordinary.

    At the end of the evening, we were left wondering: how do you deliver a course—any course—and not tell the diners what it is? LDC had a soft drink (she can’t drink alcohol). They brought her drink early on and no one ever bothered to refresh it or even ask her if she wanted more. Did you notice the plate that the amuse was served on? Go back up and look. See all the chips in the gold leaf? That, to me, speaks volumes. Does these things matter? Yes. And no. None of them affects the quality of the meal. But all of them bespeak a restaurant that could—with more attention to detail, more focus, more effort—really shine. But this meal, for us, didn’t. With so many places we’ve been to that we’d like to revisit, so many that we’re curious about and haven’t gotten to, and so many new ones opening, this meal gave us few reasons to return.
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #92 - March 9th, 2016, 8:22 am
    Post #92 - March 9th, 2016, 8:22 am Post #92 - March 9th, 2016, 8:22 am
    Unless there was another thread I missed, it appears the last post about Oceanique was over 8 years ago. My wife and I have a reservation for Saturday night and we are interested in hearing about the experiences of those who have dined here recently.
  • Post #93 - March 9th, 2016, 8:43 am
    Post #93 - March 9th, 2016, 8:43 am Post #93 - March 9th, 2016, 8:43 am
    fieldsm1 wrote:Unless there was another thread I missed, it appears the last post about Oceanique was over 8 years ago. My wife and I have a reservation for Saturday night and we are interested in hearing about the experiences of those who have dined here recently.


    Somewhat dated but slightly less dated thread here (last post 3-4 years ago).
  • Post #94 - March 9th, 2016, 2:00 pm
    Post #94 - March 9th, 2016, 2:00 pm Post #94 - March 9th, 2016, 2:00 pm
    fieldsm1 wrote:My wife and I have a reservation for Saturday night and we are interested in hearing about the experiences of those who have dined here recently.

    I've been there many times over the years. My most recent dinner there was last April. I don't remember the details - sorry! - but it was as good as ever.
  • Post #95 - July 24th, 2020, 6:04 pm
    Post #95 - July 24th, 2020, 6:04 pm Post #95 - July 24th, 2020, 6:04 pm
    Ever since Mark Grosz opened Oceanique in 1989, it has been one of the very best restaurants in Evanston. It survives now in the era of covid-19. Although they now offer outdoor and (I think) indoor dining on site, tonight we went with their curbside pickup. It was outstanding!

    The ordering and pickup process went very smoothly. I phoned them mid afternoon to place my order, using the menu on their website as a guide. At the designated time, I pulled my car into the two valet parking spaces in front, called them from my cell, and a few minutes later they came out with my order. There were two bags - one for hot items, one for cold items.

    Ten minutes later I arrived home. Even though there were reheating instructions, the hot items were still hot enough to eat, so we didn't bother reheating anything. Everything was delicious. And the portion sizes were generous enough that we felt full partway through the entrees, so we're splitting the dinners into two, saving half for tomorrow night.

    The menu for curbside pickup offers several options for each of three courses for $45, which is an excellent value. There are also side dishes available for $12. Here's what we had:

    Starters

    Corn-Leek Soup Shrimp Local Asparagus Brunoise - a full pint!
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    Beets Warm Goat Cheese Local Asparagus Pecans Belgian Endive
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    Entrée

    Bouillabaisse Oceanique w/Saffron Aioli Salmon Halibut Whitefish Shrimp Scallop Squid - One full pint contained broth, while another contained the seafood, with croutons and aioli on the side
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    Side

    Cremini Mushrooms Fennel Manchego
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    Pastry

    Vanilla Panna Cotta w/Michigan Strawberries
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    This was a wonderful dinner, and we look forward to returning for more.
  • Post #96 - August 16th, 2020, 10:57 am
    Post #96 - August 16th, 2020, 10:57 am Post #96 - August 16th, 2020, 10:57 am
    Based on nsxtasy's excellent recommendation, we tried Oceanique's To-Go Chef's 3-course menu last night. I would echo - it's really excellent.

    I also had the corn-leek soup (the corn was really fresh and sweet, the shrimp cooked just right and not overcooked), and the bouillabaisse (I inquired; per the chef, it just looks creamy but there is no dairy in it). Strong saffron flavor in the bouillabaisse broth, but I note how well prepared the seafood is even upon gentle reheating - I have a fear of overcooked seafood and thus I'm usually reluctant to do take-out seafood and reheat.

    My husband quite enjoyed his beet & goat cheese salad and organic scottish salmon preparation.

    The desserts were lovely - they look to change slightly with the seasonal fruits (my vanilla panna cotta had a light peach sauce on it with mixed fruits including lychees, versus the strawberry sauce that nsxtasy's appeared to have) - and I love that they are only lightly sweet.

    We definitely had enough food for two meals - I thoroughly enjoyed my leftovers for lunch today! It felt like a great value at $45 per person. As I live in the city fairly far from Evanston, I was running errands in the Uptown/Rogers Park area yesterday so I called in my order around 1:30pm and was able to pick up around 4pm for an early dinner by the time I got home around 4:45pm. Great curbside pickup process too!
  • Post #97 - October 17th, 2020, 7:33 pm
    Post #97 - October 17th, 2020, 7:33 pm Post #97 - October 17th, 2020, 7:33 pm
    Fantastic carryout experience tonight from Oceanique! In addition to (or instead of) the $45 three-course prix fixe to-go menu posted on their website, I was informed when calling that anything on their dining-in menu is also available for carryout. Based on this, we added the chicken liver pate and the calamari-shrimp salad to our prix fixe order, and were very pleased with both. It has been difficult to find low-carb, relatively light carryout options, and Oceanique offered wonderful options for this, while still feeling decadent. We loved every bite!

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