I had such a wonderful meal with my family on Saturday night at Oceana! Amidst the holiday pageantry around Rockefeller Center, Oceana glowed like a jewel — all decked out in boughs of holly and towering temples of exquisite seafood. It was my first time at Oceana’s new location — on 49th street, right off 6th avenue, in New York City. Once a three-star dining boutique in a small midtown location, Oceana has transformed itself into a bustling, contemporary restaurant focusing on the chef’s passion for “fish gone global.” I’ve been following Ben Pollinger around for years. He did stints at Louis XV in Monte Carlo, then spent serious time at Tabla, Union Square Cafe, and the revered Lespinasse. As chef at Oceana since 2006, Ben has received some wicked good praise, including a coveted Michelin star and New York Times stars. He’s also one of the most normal chefs I know. In the spirit of full disclosure, Ben was a fraternity brother of my son Jeremy at Boston University. He is now the father of three and admits to only one small tattoo near his shoulder. I meant to ask him if it was the image of a fish, but I was too busy asking him about his food. When we owned and operated the Rainbow Room (from 1987 to 2000), we were among the first to serve towering shellfish extravaganzas, but Ben’s version was definitely more adventurous. Nestled in ice between the briniest oysters imaginable, perfectly poached shrimp, steamed lobster, and a sea urchin scooped from its prickly shell, was the best, and most inventive, ceviche I ever had. Gently spiced with coconut milk, mustard seed, and I don’t know what else, its perfume wafted memories of dining atop the Taj Hotel in Mumbai some some years ago. Perhaps it was Ben’s experience at the esteemed restaurant Tabla that allowed him the courage to partner a tranche of taro-wrapped pompano with a neon green coconut-curry sauce; but it’s his vast experience that made it work.
I could tell you much more about my meal, the nice wine list, and the mouthwatering “Chocolate Custard Brownie”, but I think you should experience it all for yourself.
If you order the grilled sturgeon (with white kimchee, miso and shiitake mushrooms), as I did, make sure not to eat it all. Bring the remainder home and try it cold the next day. It makes leftover filet mignon (another favorite) taste unremarkable.
Wish you could have been there. As an homage to Ben, I offer him a radically simple fish recipe from…Radically Simple. I hope he likes it.
As is the case at Oceana, this dish relies on first-rate, super-fresh fish. Tiradito is the Peruvian equivalent of sashimi — except that tiradito is glossed with a dressing or briefly marinated in assertive pepper purees. My version begins with ultra-thin slices of raw halibut or red snapper that gets bathed in a tart elixir of a whole pureed lemon, olive oil, and garlic.
12 ounces raw halibut or red snapper, sliced paper thin
1 small lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium clove garlic
3 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
Handful of tender mesclun or pea shoots
Arrange the fish in a tight circle without overlapping in the center of 4 large plates. Sprinkle the fish lightly with salt. With a small sharp knife, cut the rind and pith from the lemon; quarter the flesh and remove the seeds. Process the lemon, including the rind, oil, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender until very smooth. Spoon the dressing lightly over the fish to coat completely. Sprinkle with chives and coarsely cracked pepper. Garnish the plates with mesclun or pea shoots. Serves 4