Being located in the heart of the country and all, St. Louis isn't exactly known as a seafood mecca. But there are a handful of quality places around town where creating culinary delights with the ocean's bounty is what they do best. At the top of this list is Oceano Bistro in Clayton.
While there are a few ‘turf’ dishes on the menu, like the Umami Kobe Sliders, the Grilled Beef Tenderloin and the Pan Roasted Half Chicken, seafood of all types definitely reigns at Oceano, from Missouri Rainbow Trout to a cavalcade of shellfish, prepared in a multitude of classic ways. The last time we sat down at Oceano, we plowed through a good cross-section of all of them, starting with the traditional steamy, creamy goodness of the New England Seafood Chowder ($10) and a bowlful of Pan Roasted Freshwater Prawns ($13), which came with a saffron-vegetable relish and was accented with a rich shellfish butter and garlic aioli. Both of these dishes were simple but perfectly executed and supremely flavorful. The Oceano website states the restaurant is interested in exploring classic recipes and techniques as opposed to creating culinary fusions, and these two dishes are prime examples of that ethic.
To follow up, two distinctly different but equally delicious entrees, the Sauteed Warm Water Sea Bass ($26) and the Lobster Risotto ($19). The sea bass was flaky and lightly crusted with herbs, perched atop a risotto flavored with sweet corn and asparagus. The flavor of the risotto, augmented with a touch of lemon for a bit of citrus tang, was a relatively light contrast to the somewhat heavy fish. The lobster, on the other hand, was full-on decadence, a rich concoction of melted leek, roasted garlic and Parmesan cheese, along with the requisite sweet chunks of lobster and tender risotto. The dish was built upon a glorious pool of stunning green herb-infused olive oil that made for an eye-popping plating. While the sea bass and lobster were obviously the focal point of these dishes, it was interesting to see the differences in the risottos used in each. Sometimes when a menu lists the same ingredient in several dishes, the assumption often is that it's being used in the same way. Not so in these two entrees: While basically the same at the core, both risottos were miles apart in flavor, a good example of what a creative kitchen can do with a simple ingredient.
Both entrees were designated as being made without gluten; and in fact, the Oceano menu has a large number of offerings that don't include gluten, and many items designated as ‘heart-healthy.’
We wrapped up with a trio of Serendipity ice cream scoops ($6), one of our favorite ways to cap things off.
In addition to dinner, Oceano also offers daily lunch service, Sunday brunch and a Champagne & Oysters special every Monday from 4 p.m. until close, as well as catering services. Have a hankering for some surf specialties? Look no farther than Oceano.
-- 44 North Brentwood Blvd., 721-9400, oceanobistro.com.
Oceano Bistro’s New England Seafood Chowder
• 2 T vegetable oil
•1.75 C all-purpose flour
•2 C yellow onions, diced
•1 C carrots, diced
•1 C celery, diced
•1 lb. clams
•1.25 lbs. white fish, large chunks
•1 C white wine
•3 C heavy cream
•2 T fresh thyme
•5 C water
•2 C potatoes, diced
•Bloom clams in water and set aside.
•Sauté onions, carrots and celery until tender. Avoid any color. Add flour to form a roux. Cook for three to four minutes to remove flour taste.
•Deglaze the cooking vessel with white wine.
•Add clams, water and cream. Bring to a boil.
•Reduce to simmer, then add fish and potatoes. Cook for 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Don't overcook potatoes.
•Add thyme and adjust flavors with salt and pepper.