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Restaurant Review | North End’s ‘Oceanaire’ reserved for indulgent seafood lovers

Fresh seafood, classy atmosphere make Oceanaire worth steep price

Published: Friday, January 18, 2013

Updated: Friday, January 18, 2013 08:01

The Boston restaurant scene is globally renowned for its emphasis on fresh catch, and some of the world’s best seafood can be found in local eateries and markets. Neptune Oyster, the perennially packed oyster enclave in the North End, draws businessmen and women who figure extra hours into their work travel schedules in order to pop in for a plate of fresh Maine and Massachusetts raw oysters. But if you’re not one for long lines and no reservations, drive a little further into downtown Boston to The Oceanaire Seafood Room. Situated in the Financial District, this upscale restaurant offers an exhausting menu filled with plates that live up to their descriptions.

After dropping the car with the valet—do not attempt to park in this roundabout part of town as it is filled with one−way streets and areas with no street parking—walk through the unassuming entryway and prepare to be awed. The restaurant sits in a former bank that was artfully converted to a luxurious dining space. Soaring ceilings are supported by marble columns, and the sheer size of the main dining room is a rarity for Boston. Directly in the middle of the restaurant remains a staircase leading downstairs to the vault, a nod to the heritage of the building and neighborhood. Expect to see the bar to the left packed with financial types in slim suits during happy hour, swilling back strong screwdrivers and other specialty cocktails. The bar also shares space with a large oyster bar, giving a chilly albeit sexy addition to the restaurant should one want to pop in for a few oysters and a drink.

Waiters dressed in white tuxedos trill about, making recommendations for seasonal oysters and other seafood fare while pairing them with wines. As mentioned above, the menu reflects an exhaustive list of raw oysters from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, as well as local pickings from Wild Onset and Island Creek. Adventurous diners should try several of the varieties offered—the sampling is addictive and delicious. Hot appetizers include a bit of a southern influence with shrimp and grits (highly recommended if you like this hard−to−find creamy food that has never quite caught on north of the Mason−Dixon line) but also escargots and fried asparagus. The Classic Clams Casino is also to die for as it is loaded with bacon, butter and garlic.

New Year’s resolutions be damned, the entree menu stacks up items like fish and chips— admittedly slightly classier than the typical London street food — baked stuffed shrimp in creamy linguine pasta and stuffed lobster. Though the restaurant’s very name makes it clear that seafood is Oceanaire’s specialty, the menu’s steakhouse options are also up to par.

As this is an upscale spot, the chef separates side dishes and main plates, leaving ample freedom of choice for pairings. This means a constant fight with your taste buds as you will struggle not to order the side of cheesy bacon au gratin potatoes instead of a healthier option like the sauted spinach or steamed asparagus. Oceanaire’s menu options tend toward the highly caloric, or heavenly, depending on point of view, but it is impossible to deny each dish’s perfect decadence. Be warned, however, that small portions of vegetables may garnish an entree, thus an extra side could easily prove to be far too much food to handle at once.

Prices are unfortunately not friendly to the average college budget; a meal at this particular locale might be best saved for a special anniversary or visit from the parents. But you get what you pay for at Oceanaire, as some of the best local ingredients are prepared and served fresh and flavorfully. Your taste buds will thank you—your waistline—not so much.

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