It’s been swimming under the media radar — but a great seafood-brasserie wave is swamping NYC.
Opened late last year, Oceans, a beautiful, David Rockwell-designed restaurant at 233 Park Ave. S. at 19th St., is one of the toughest reservations in town right now. It’s also the latest in the school of jumbo, something-for-everyone piscene palaces that are multiplying like guppies.
Long-time favorites Oceana and Docks now share the Manhattan waters with Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s marvelous Fulton at Pier 17, big chain Ocean Prime, Meatpacking “scene” spot Catch and the Moxy Hotel’s unfortunately named but quite good Legasea.
Then there are the proliferating restaurants that identify as Greek, but where most people go for a catch from many different waters: Avra, Estiatorio Milos, Limani and Thalassa.
For all their oceanic orientation, most share the landlubber spirit of steakhouses, which they resemble for their volume (both in size and sound), giant portions, dining room layouts, multi-category menus and celebratory air.
In this era of Impossible Burger mania, when health-aware diners are supposedly avoiding red meat, could they one day replace real steakhouses?
“They’re all similar concepts . . . ocean this, ocean that, Poseidon Adventure,” scoffs Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors president Mark Pastore. “[They’re following] the steakhouse blueprint.” He claims that LaFrieda sold more beef last year than ever before.
Still, Oceans president Michael Doyle thinks New Yorkers’ craving for “lighter, cleaner” cuisine is driving the fancy, fishy fad. Executive chef Andy Kitko delivers with a globe-girdling menu of small plates, composed dishes, sushi and whole fish simply grilled and filleted. His perfectly executed Alaskan black cod and Chilean sea bass were among the best I’ve ever tasted.
Well-behaved party animals are also drawn to the festivity of places like Oceans — a see-and-be-seen 220-seater with herringbone wood-ribbed ceiling, blue leather booths and floor-to-ceiling windows.
“I’m an omnivore,” says Suzanne Grinberg, 44, vice president of importer Wine for the World. “But if my husband and I are going to a steakhouse, I have to plan my week around the steakhouse. If we’re going on Friday, I start eating super-clean on Monday. I watch my macros and my caloric intake.” At Oceans, she says, she doesn’t worry so much: The food already feels “clean” enough.
Feelings aren’t always facts. Manhattan nutritionist Lorraine Kearney, a weight-loss and healthy-eating expert who heads the New York City Nutrition clinic, hasn’t been to Oceans. But she has mixed feelings about NYC’s seafood explosion.
“Seafood typically has the healthier fats found in fish such as wild salmon, tuna and mackerel,” she says. “But once [restaurants] add wine sauce and other things, the calories quickly add up.”
Some of Kitko’s best dishes aren’t exactly spa cuisine. The shrimp in his luscious, sauteed scampi may be “sourced from Vietnam, Best Aquaculture Practices certified, third-party verified, chemical free, raised without hormones or antibiotics,” as their publicist reports, but they’re still sauteed and served with lemon garlic butter and grilled bread.
And does your clean entree really count if you end your meal with a slice of 16-layer lemon cake, or a chocolate molten cake?
“I ate so healthily before them!” says Grinberg, laughing, to justify her post-dinner indulgence.
But don’t go to Oceans because it’s a steakhouse substitute. Go because the seafood’s sensational — and their Niman Ranch rib-eye is, too, for that matter.