Flavor // Tidings of great joy

I’ve now become an investigative reporter, and the fact I’ve just confirmed is that, indeed, Oceanaire serves the town’s — the world’s? — best crab cakes. (Yes, you know the saying about someone doing the dirty work, and I’m that someone.)

Happily for mankind, the winning recipe didn’t get lost in transition as the upscale seafood restaurant moved from the Hyatt Hotel to the corner of 6th and Nicollet, bringing a new buzz and glow of blue neon to that stretch of downtown.

At an opening reception, I’d surveyed its sea of four-tops and wondered if that weren’t too ambitious a landscape for these economic doldrums. But on a recent weeknight, not only were they all filled, but the waiting list ran longer than the “begats” in the Bible.

Heavenly food will do that.

We started with that iconic crab cake, all moist and meaty, sans the dreaded filler, its sweet-sweet-sweetness tamed with a sassy little slap of mustard mayo. We also demolished most of a platter of ultra-tender calamari, clothed just enough to escape censorship in an ultra-light batter and attended by sprigs of carrots, onions and such with an Asian chili dipping sauce. Yum. And I’m not even a big fan of calamari, usually a pretty dull player.

We also downed a couple of raw oysters, still briny from the sea, then progressed to entrees — first, a fillet of sweet salmon, livened by a film of andouille-corn crusting, then beached on a smooth and sumptuous sweet red pepper beurre blanc, further enriched with avocado. Next up, a slice of Costa Rican mahi. Its mild nature was brightened with a snappy green papaya slaw and a grapefruit emulsion perfumed with vanilla — a perfect partner to our lovely Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, more grapefruit than grape. My only cavil, but a vital one: Both fillets proved dry from overcooking.

The meal had begun with a complimentary relish tray — raw veggies galore, just like in an old-time supper club, alongside tangy sourdough slices. It ended with a pair of satisfying sweets. The kitchen’s signature Death by Chocolate proved appealingly rich, dark and dense, adroitly partnered with a scoop of raspberry-white chocolate ice cream. Make sure your will is up to date. Or order, instead, the almost-as-fatal ice cream sundae with its addictive topping of sea salt-caramel sauce under a flutter of toasted pecans. Don’t share.

We’d visited during the semiannual Restaurant Week, where those three-course meals went for — gulp! — $30. Normally, ungarnished entrees start at $23, with sides meant for sharing at $8–$10.

The setting’s swanky — a word your dad might have employed back in the ’50s, a decade given homage here. And the graceful room comes abetted by some of the town’s top servers in their down-to-business white cotton coats.

The Oceanaire Seafood Room
50 S. 6th St.