The Oceanaire Seafood Room (Minneapolis, MN)
The Oceanaire Seafood Room is the best seafood restaurant in the Twin Cities. Its owners spare little expense: flying fresh fish in daily from around the world, building a 33-degree fish cleaning and holding room on premises, hiring chefs who know how to do fish right.
The restaurant is in the downtown Hyatt Hotel, on the second floor. It is a nice room, in that 90s marketing version of Art Deco sort of way. They have a large liquor bar, a raw bar, and a vast expanse of table seating. An inoffensive 90s mix of Big Band music plays on the speaker system. It’s crowded but not too loud, and a nice place to be.
Like the dining room, the kitchen is suave and sophisticated. At least, in everything except the coleslaw. The menu is entirely à la carte-order the tuna and that’s what you get: tuna. You get bread and a relish tray upfront, but the entrées are not accompanied by salad, veggies, potatoes, or anything else.
The menu changes daily, and features whatever fish they can fly in fresh. There are traditional preparations — broiled and grilled fish, shrimp scampi, whole lobsters, crab cakes — and there are more exotic creations by the chef. Our advice is simple: order what you want. It’s all good. The simple preparations are all delicious. As long as the fish is fresh, which it always is, it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong here. On our most recent trip they had Icelandic arctic char, Florida “Lemon Fish,” Hawaiian “Monchong,” Icelandic salmon, Red Sea bream, Maine sea scallops, Maryland soft-shell crabs, George’s Bank haddock, live Maine lobster, ahi tuna, Canadian bluefin tuna, Florida “red mind,” Alaskan halibut, North Atlantic cod, Hawaiian kajiki, American red snapper, Pacific great sole, ivory king salmon, Chilean seabass, Pacific swordfish, and Florida mahi-mahi. Your list will be different. If they have it and you like it, order it.
There are also more complicated dishes. We’ve had some of them, and have uniformly been pleased. The pan-seared Chilean seabass with bacon-wilted spinach and horseradish brown butter was delicious. The grilled yellowfin tuna with a red wine reduction and shiitake and portobello mushrooms was just as good. If you like a variety of fried foods (we don’t), order the Fisherman’s Platter. If you haven’t been to the Chesapeake recently and they have it in stock, order the soft shell crabs. Or the crab cakes (you can order one as an appetizer, too).
The service is uniformly good. The entire staff is efficient, friendly, and very professional. We never got the slightest impression that anyone there was doing us a great favor by serving us, an attitude we encounter too frequently in high-end restaurants. We’ve also shown up with (how should we put it?) difficult parties, in the face of which the staff has shown amazing fortitude. We know what difficult customers can be like, and we applaud.
The Oceanaire is an expensive restaurant. Dinner can easily cost $50 a person by the time you add everything up, more if you order the baked Alaska. But it’s the best seafood in Minneapolis, and worth it as a splurge.