After eighteen years in its cozy East 54th St. townhouse, Oceana moved west to Sixth Ave. and 49th St. this past summer, placing it firmly in the midst of the Rockefeller Center and Times Square tourist trade. Thankfully, though, it has not messed with success; owned by the Livanos family, which also runs Abboccato, Molyvos, City Limits, and Burger Deluxe, Oceana fits in its new home very well. The new space spreads across 12,000 square feet, with fourteen-foot-high ceilings, large windows that are great for people watching, and, of course, a Nautilus-inspired design. But the biggest change of all just might be the addition of an excellent raw bar, crafted from veined Paneozetti marble and offering a sumptuous array of sea creatures.
The raw bar menu features a changing variety of oysters, clams, shrimp, lobster, king crab legs, stone crab claws, mussels, and periwinkles (from which executive chef Ben Pollinger actually removes each individual inedible operculum by hand). On a recent visit we enjoyed Bélons from Brittany, Blue Points from Long Island, Kumamotos from Japan, and Wellfleets from Cape Cod, among other varieties, accompanied by a quartet of outstanding homemade sauces: passion fruit mignonette, curry-based vinaigrette, piquolla aioli, and a fine cocktail sauce. Multilevel “plateaus” of seafood include the Rock ($44) and the Oceana ($120). Pollinger also serves oysters marinated with cucumber, apple, and toasted spices – flavors that surprisingly do not overwhelm the tasty mollusk – in addition to a poke trio of hamachi, salmon, and tuna; hiramasa crudo; and tangy snapper ceviche with roasted corn, hearts of palm, and cilantro. The amuse bouche – a shot of lobster bisque – gets everything going.
Wine director Roy Mahan has some five hundred wines for diners to choose from, but it’s beer, ale, and stout that traditionally go best with oysters and other shellfish. Mahan has carefully put together a draft-beer menu that includes Allagash White, Ommegang Hennepin, Sixpoint Righteous Rye, and Keegan Mother’s Milk Stout, as well as sixteen international bottles. Oceana also makes elaborate signature cocktails; for example, the Oceana combines fjallagros-infused vodka with yuzu, Serrano, and shiso, while the Marie Leveau mixes Basil Hayden bourbon, amaro, elderflower, and Persian cardamom.
Pastry chef Jansen Chan, who studied architecture and specially designs each dessert both for taste and appearance, prepares a terrific chocolate custard brownie with roasted cinnamon cream and espresso granite that is a fine conclusion to beer and oysters; another excellent choice is Oceana’s famous platter of doughnuts in five different flavors. And come next summer, Oceana is promising another bonus in its new digs – outdoor seating.