Michelle and I got an invite to take a sneak peek at Oceanaire's menu for their first wine dinner on Friday, September 12th. We got to sit down with Assistant Manager Andrew Cecil and, over a plate of some of their fabulous appetizers featured on the Happy Hour menu and most of the wines featured at the wine dinner.
First, Happy Hour: I love happy hour. Nothing makes me happier than happy hour, particularly ones that feature great food AND great drinks. Andrew, as part of his Assistant Manager duties, runs all of the beverage services-- from wine to liquor and beer-- and truly appreciates both wine and a well-mixed cocktail. He only offers top-shelf brands, and at happy hour, they are quite a value. The drink specials are $7, and run from the uber-traditional sidecar and mai tai, to Andrew's own signature drink, Blueberry Lemonade (which I fully intend to try very soon!). They make all of their juices fresh, on-site and never use sour mix. I adore a well-mixed, well thought out cocktail and the ones I've had there are stellar. You can get an 8 oz pour of wine for $7 (McWilliams Chardonnay or Cabernet) and an assortment of domestic beers are $3.
Their lounge menu is also pretty impressive-- everything from $1.50 oyster shooters, oyster sliders (a trend that amuses me to no end!), to crab cakes and calamari. The appetizers we (okay, I-- Michelle's not a seafood fan) sampled included fried calamari with chipotle-tamarind aioli, "drunken" shrimp with jalapeno dipping sauce and a jumbo crab cake.
The calamari was my favorite: soft, not rubbery, with just the right amount of crispy coating and large pieces, both of the bodies and the arms.
The "drunken" shrimp were spicy and well-flavored (and not alive, like the Chinese version traditionally is!) and the crab cake (voted best in Cincinnati by Cincinnati Magazine!) was mostly crab and absolutely luscious with the mustard-mayonnaise sauce (which needed more mustard!). And these appetizers range from $5-10-- you could easily get one to split and enjoy a drink before a show, or make a light meal out of a couple.
As for the wine dinner, I am really excited about the preparations that Chef Dumcum has prepared for the evening.
1st Course: Tatamougouche shooters, Iced Granny Smith Apple Mignonette
This is found on the lounge menu, and in this capacity serves as the amuse bouche. It is paired with Marques de Galida NV Brut, which I think will pair well with the tart apple-- as Michelle notes, it's very refreshing.
2nd Course: Mixed Field Greens, Pickled Watermelon, Sunflower Seed Brittle, Tarragon Chevre, Mango Vinaigrette
I've had the mixed green salad with chevre (previously with pistachio) and pickled watermelon before and loved it. I have high hopes for this salad as well. It is paired with Basa Blanco Rueda, which was fruity and summery and I'll be interested to see how it complements the dish.
3rd Course: Grilled Hawaiian Sea Bass, Sweet Corn Butter, Charred On-The-Vine tomatoes, Baby Bok Choy, Roasted Peach Beurre Blanc.
This is paired with Vegga Sindoa Chardonnay, which we did not get to taste, but we were told that it was not terribly oaky, and very approachable. I'm more interested in the contrasts in tastes and textures in this dish-- Hawaiian Sea Bass is a fish that is increasing in popularity (particularly with the ecological impact of Chilean Sea Bass-- consumers still like to see the words "sea bass" on the menu, even if the fish aren't related biologically or culinarily), plus you have the rich corn butter, sweet tomatoes, sweet-and-rich beurre blanc, salty bok choy-- this could be a lot of fun.
4th Course: Seared Earl Grey Brined Duck Breast, Butternut Squash Puree, Chocolate-Blackberry Demiglace, Mint Oil
I am so excited about this dish! You all know I love duck, but duck brined in floral Earl Grey could be really interesting. I'm also interested in how the chocolate-blackberry demiglace and mint oil will play out. Will it be too minty, too dessert-like? I can't wait to find out. It is paired with Tres Picos Garnacha, which was a very drinkable grenache which I intend to drink more of.
5th Course: Brie-Pear tart, lavender honey, fig compote
Andrew mentioned that Chef Dumcum really wanted to do a cheese course as well, but they settled on just a dessert course-- he still got his cheese in there. The Jorge Ordonez Especial Muscat was sweet but not syrupy-- I loved it (but I adore dessert wines) and look forward to that sweetness paired with the crispness of pear and creaminess of brie. Mmm.
You can read more about the wines at Michelle's blog-- though I will express my love for the Tres Picos Garnacha and the Jorge Ordoñez Especial Moscatel. You will be able to pick up these wines (though I'm not sure about the Moscatel) at a very reasonable price at the dinner, if you choose to go.
And for those of you who say, "Oh, Oceanaire! It's too expensive!" Seriously? Try it. Hop in for Happy Hour-- which is very reasonably priced-- or even split a couple of appetizers and some wine. The portions are HUGE, and it's a good value for the freshness of their fish and the preparation.
Before you think I'm working for Oceanaire (I'm not), I do have to thank them for letting me preview the wines and really put some advance thought into a meal. It's not often that I get to really think about how wines are paired with food, and how the contrasts of texture and flavor really work in harmony with the wine. It's really quite a learning experience and pretty important to me in my culinary adventures.