When Oceanique closed this summer for their annual vacation, it was hardly a day at the beach.
The three weeks were spent redoing the restaurant from top to bottom, and the results are dramatic. In visual pop culture terms, it’s less “Nip/Tuck,” and more “Face Off.”
A Whole New Look
To celebrate their 25th Anniversary, a milestone by any account, owners Mark Grosz and Renee Andre decided to give the restaurant a welcome facelift. Gone are the country-French look and billowing draperies; the new look is stylish and contemporary and much lighter than before. The bar area now includes a communal trestle table to accommodate patrons who just want a drink and a small plate or two, providing some new dining options.
Other than adding the new Bar Menu, the high standard of Chef Grosz’ kitchen remains the same. This is still the restaurant that’s been consistently ranked as “Best Seafood in Chicago” by the Zagat Guide and as a Wine Spectator Magazine’s “Best of” Award of Excellence winner since 1994. That’s impressive.
I think the shift is smart. I usually have thought of Oceanique for special occasions, but knowing that they are encouraging diners to stop by for a glass of wine and a bite or two has changed my perception. It feels more welcoming—and more doable on a regular basis.
Belly Up to the Bar
On a recent visit to check out the new digs, we perched happily on the comfy bar seats and ordered an adult cocktail while perusing the menus. The Cucumber Martini ($16), made with Hendrick’s gin, Combier (an orange liqueur), fresh cucumber and sage, was a winner. It was refreshing and distinctly herby. Beverage Director Philippe Andre (Mark and Renee’s son) has put together a beautiful wine and cocktail list that is both comprehensive and expensive, especially by Evanston standards.
While seated in the bar, you can order from either menu, and so we did. In keeping with the idea of small plates, we opted for a few of the appetizers. As a special bonus, when you order something from the main menu, they will bring some of the amuse bouche from the main dining room. The Chicken Liver Mousse ($14) was served in a gorgeous presentation with the full-flavored, buttery mousse topped with a cap of Madeira gelee in the center, the plate strewn artfully with dollops of smooth and grainy mustards, a fried quail egg, pickled vegetables and Poilane toast points.
You might also opt for the Lightly Smoked Salmon ($16), which basically melts in your mouth. I love the contrast of the crunchy Casa Nostra toast, spread with Horseradish Crème Fraiche, draped with the silky salmon and topped with cucumbers and radishes. It’s pretty much the perfect bite.
The Butternut Squash Ravioli ($14) with brown butter sauce is another winner, garnished with fennel, prosciutto, crispy sage and walnuts. It’s a rich dish, but the appetizer size is manageable.
New Bar Menu
Bar dishes on our visit included tiny, open-faced Lobster Sandwiches ($7 each), served on eggy brioche toast with a togarishi-saffron aioli, lovely with a glass of bubbly or maybe a chilled rosé. The Maine Pemaquid Oysters ($3 each, minimum 2 pieces) were served ice cold, briny and sweet, topped with a radish and jalapeno salsa and crispy seaweed. That preparation has since been switched for a classic Rockefeller preparation, baked with Pernod, spinach and Parmesan.
A Market Ceviche ($7), dressed with yuzu juice and pickled asparagus, now stands in for our Poached Shrimp ($3 each, minimum 2 pieces) with arugula and edamame in a garlicky vinaigrette. But really, you can’t go wrong with any seafood preparation here.
For dessert, we ordered the vaunted (and pricy) Valhrona Chocolate Souffle ($17), served with a stunning Lemon Balm ice cream. That ice cream stole the show; the soufflé was on the dry side, surprisingly. Don’t worry, though…you can still order favorites like the Day & Night Cake, Cherry Clafouti Tarte and the Napoleon (all $12).
We wish the Oceanique team a happy 25th anniversary, and hoist a Cucumber Martini in their honor. With their brand new look, they are ready to greet the next 25!
4.5 out of 5 stars (A)
505 Main St.
Photos by Cindy Kurman, Kurman Communications