“Not all chain restaurants are the same,” my friend told me while biting into a crispy piece of calamari. “Some chains just go for the quick buck with mega-meals. Others want that fast casual meal — you still have waiters — but not so low brow.”
400 J Street, Downtown San Diego
“Ok, I get you,” I said, while making sure to dip my calamari into the sweet spicy dipping sauce. “So what about this place?”
I was referring to the Oceanaire Seafood Room, a restaurant that is part of a nationwide chain but doesn’t feel like one.
“Easy. This is an expense account place. The place where you eat when you have an expense account — or a generous friend.”
We started off with the buttermilk-fried calamari ($19), which was crisp thanks to the golden brown coating.
I wanted to try the Grilled Oysters Rockefeller, which came with spinach and bacon ($15), but I prefer my oysters raw accompanied by the brine.
For a salad, I was tempted by the Salt Roasted Beet Salad ($14), but cooler heads prevailed. My friend said, “It’s hard to say no to a good wedge salad.” I went along with him, but was a little skeptical since iceberg lettuce is the green most preferred by people who hate greens.
The lettuce on the Oceanaire Wedge was crisp and held up to that salty bacon and creamy blue cheese dressing.
Oceanaire may be a chain, but it’s one that doesn’t force chefs into a box.
My friend and I took advantage of this and ordered entrees that were unique to the San Diego Oceanaire. I had the Dynamite Wild Ecuador Sea Bass ($55), which was flavored with firecracker sauce, crab topping, unagi and green onion.
My friend got the Guajillo Alaska Halibut ($49), which was flavored with a New Mexico chile puree and a beurre blanc and served with rice and black beans.
For dessert, he had the bread pudding with vanilla ice cream: A cool take on a great old school dish. I was in the mood for something tangier so I had the blood orange sorbet and strawberry sorbet.