An elegant seafood dinner evokes memories of sharing champagne at sunset, writing your name in the sand, and impressing your date by playing a shark like a trumpet. Make maritime harmony with today's Groupon: for $40, you get the chef's five-course tasting menu for one at Oceanique in Evanston (an $80 value).
Helmed by Chef Mark Grosz since 1989, Oceanique has drawn ovations from Zagat and Wine Spectator for its menu of imaginative French–American seafood plates. Like a race starter firing confetti from his pistol, the chef begins the meal with a surprise before diners delve into a choice of starters, including day-boat scallops paddling in a lazy river of cabbage, kimchi, and lobster-soy broth and venison pâte spooning with parsley and blood-orange salad and ready to be swept away by Poilâne toast. After a seasonal sorbet cleanses the palate, select an entree such as the wild Hawaiian big-eye tuna served rare beside bacon, turnip, and chanterelles or slow-roasted Icelandic arctic char with brussels sprouts and butternut squash. A chef-chosen pastry selection keeps sweet teeth from feeling left out.
Red walls, ceilings hung with swaths of white fabric, and art-deco posters betray Oceanique's direct teleportation link to the Left Bank. Dietary restrictions can be accommodated, so please notify the restaurant at the time of reservation.
Oceanique's culinary history sparkles with the brilliance of a reef. The restaurant, after all, celebrated 25 years of fine dining history in February 2014 after gifting itself an interior renovation in July 2013. Now the space boasts cream walls, rectangular tables, and modern light fixtures to juxtapose the classic French cuisine that gave the restaurant its swagger. While the ambiance may have changed, Chef Mark Grosz still peppers his menu with the evidence of a culinary education acquired in France and under Jean Banchet at Le Francais. The eclectic dishes, which change daily, might pair butternut squash with salmon or drizzle rhubarb-mango chutney on foie gras. Beyond the signature seasonal fish dishes, they can devote full plate space to organic, ultrafresh produce, such as butternut squash and fiddleheads.
Even with its complex array of ingredients and tastes, the menu strives to remain approachable. Time Out Chicago writes that "while the multi-ingredient preparations border on overwhelming, Grosz somehow manages to balance flavors while completely flipping off subtlety." What results is a laid-back dining atmosphere lubricated by a choice of more than 800 wines and several vintage seawaters.