Gaslamp: Oceanaire on the cheap

Happy hour opens the gates to another swank eatery

Above: Bartenders James and Ron rock this place

So the search for Chinese at Red Pearl Kitchen (see blog below) didn’t work out so well.

But what it did was open another door, The Oceanaire Seafood Room (400 J Street, downtown, 619-858-2277), this famous fish place which happened to be right next door.

Thing I noticed in the window was just dozens of awards. Which means they must be good, but also ready to charge the bucks. Not that you'd notice anything grand from the front door...

Whatever, I take a chance and leap up the stairs to this über-cool eatery with low lights, large oyster and lobster showbar...

...that you sit up to with the things piled in ice right in front of you, with blue lighting, different game fish on the walls...

...a Maitre d’, the whole ball of wax. Feels like a classy speak-easy, being upstairs and all.

So I set down at a stool, surrounded by businessmen talking deals, worried, as usual. I have one question:

“Happy hour?”

“Yes, but you’ve got five minutes,” says Ron, the barman. “Ends at six. If you can order everything now I can get you the good price.”

Man. Just as well. This place is out of my league. I see on the menu things like “10-ounce center-cut filet mignon, $43.95.”

And HH only lasts an hour, from five to six (also after 9:00 p.m. most days).

But when Ron hands me a big happy hour menu, I stop sweating.

“Oysters of the day, $1; matchstick fries, $2, New England Clam Chowder, $3, Caesar salad, $4, red chili calamari, $5, steamed mussels marinière, $6…”

It goes on up, fish and chips, $7, shrimp and grits, $8, oysters Rockefeller $9, and on up to $12.

No time to dally, so I ask for three oysters, the clam chowder, and what the heck: the mussels. And one of their happy hour white wines, a Campanile Pinot Grigio ($5). Ron stabs the orders into the computer that links to the kitchen with one minute to go.

The oysters look beautiful, a Fanny Bay, a Malaspina, and a Totten Bay. From Vancouver and Washington, says James, the other bar guy here. Can’t believe the whole silver platter, the two sauces and lemon are just three bucks.

The clam chowder’s also great for $3.

Smaller cup than I got at Spike Africa’s happy hour the other day, but really good-tasting with potatoes, celery, bacon, and clams of course.

Wine’s nice tart little number that’s kinda good at cutting through the thickness of the chowder.

And the mussels? Whopping plateful in a winey sauce with two garlic bread slices on top.

This is great, dipping the bread and slurping spoonsful with the giant spoon they give you, and forking out the little devils, then clanking the shells into a stainless bowl.

And when I ask for more bread, James brings me four hot toasted slices, no questions asked. Whew. Filling and fulfilling.

Ron says this place is part of a chain. Twelve around the country. Guess this is how the rich dine.

Of course, happy hour or no, I’ve just spent way more than I meant to: $19.44. Plus tip. But just totally worth it. Because outside this little island of happy hour, I’d never see this kind of eats in a month of Sundays.

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