Desperate for soft shell crabs the other day, and getting shut out right and left, I finally found them at Oceanaire on a night we actually had a babysitter. Now, the last couple of meals I have had at Oceanaire were a little disappointing, but I was willing to take a chance to get some soft shells. As always, I like the interior of Oceanaire, although they tried to seat us upstairs when the bottom floor was nearly empty—this kind of annoyed hubby so we asked for a table downstairs, and were given a nice booth. I recently read an article by Michael Bauer, the San Francisco food critic, who questioned why hosts seat people in bad tables when others are clearly available. There were no clear answers in the article, but the comment that made the most sense to me, is that someone eventually will take it and up until then, they just keep trying to seat people there. Anyway, by the time we left the downstairs was quite full of conventioneers and they were doing a good business.
Knowing full well how large portions are at Oceanaire, and knowing what we wanted for our main dish (soft shells) we decided to split and appetizer and a salad as well as the main dish and one side. We started with the mussels ($14.95). The mussels themselves were quite large (which is already not my favorite kind of mussel) and the “wine and herb” broth had no flavor. It was murky water that tasted pretty much, well, like nothing. I often find that the broth in a mussels dish is under flavored, but this one was just unflavored. It was a little disappointing that a place specializing in seafood couldn’t pull these off better.
We had the seafood chop salad which was chopped lettuce with a few bits of crab and shrimp, some feta, a couple of tomatoes and sliced boiled egg on top as well as a slice of parmesan ($10.95). The whole thing was dressed with a Greek vinaigrette. It was ok, and I appreciated they split it at the table for us (this would be huge without splitting), but it could have used a little more dressing (and I wouldn’t have minded a little more seafood as well). A very splittable salad though and it served its purpose.
Luckily, just when things seemed pretty disappointing all around, we got our entree and it was very good. It was a perfect portion for us to split—two large crabs that were lightly battered and fried and served with a sweet chili oil on top. I was worried that it might be too sweet, but it was lightly done, and had a nice spicy flavor as well as the sweetness. The crabs were served on top of some sliced cabbage that was more for decoration than for eating I think, because it was just plain raw cabbage. I was extremely happy with the crab though and we ate every bite. We also got a side of the cheesy au gratin type potatoes, which we have gotten before, and always enjoyed. Again, a huge portion. They have changed them a bit in that they now include bacon. Don’t get me wrong, I love bacon, but they definitely changed the flavor away from the sharp taste of the cheese to a much more smoky bacon flavor. They were good, but I couldn’t decide if they were better than the way they used to be.
Since we shared everything so far (and honestly didn’t eat a lot of the mussels), we decided to go with a dessert as well. We were really glad we did. We had the sticky toffee pudding which was one of our all time favorite desserts in England. It is a spicy soft cake that is covered with a caramel sauce and was topped with vanilla ice cream. It was perfectly warm, and perfectly executed. The second half of the meal had officially redeemed the first.
It will be interesting to see how Oceanaire does business-wise in Indy. Apparently, it is one of the chain’s more profitable locations, but it seems like maybe a bit of the luster has worn off with locals. There were a lot of out-of-towners in there, but I would be curious to know how many locals are still going. They also have a new chef and the menu has gone a little more toward the Asian side, which is good or bad I guess depending on your personal taste. Anyway, for this meal, Oceanaire served my purpose and delivered the thing that I went for very well. Is it a place that I will frequent a lot? Only when necessary. I would still rather choose a local place when possible to get my fix for whatever cravings I might be having—the circumstances just weren’t right this time.
30 South Meridian Street