Before fishermen discovered the edibility of fish, they used each catch as bait for larger species, hoping in the end to hook the biggest fish of all—friendship. Cast your line with today’s Groupon: for $40, you get the chef's five-course tasting menu at Oceanique in Evanston (an $80 value). Customers may use multiple Groupons per table. As with all its discounted meals, Oceanique charges an 18% gratuity (not included).
Before opening Oceanique in 1989, Chef Mark Grosz embarked on a culinary journey that encompassed excursions to France and Hong Kong and resulted in a melding of French tradition with multiculturally accented seafood. The tasting menu begins with a Chef's Surprise, which may be an amuse bouche, a small hors d'oeuvre, or a house key you thought you had lost. Among a trio of starters, day-boat scallops bathe in a lobster-soy broth, and huckleberries add a sweet, acidic kick to venison paté.
Before a choice of three entrees, a seasonal sorbet helps to clean the palate without having to threaten its owner with grounding. Bacon, turnips, and tarragon join an entree of wild Hawaiian big-eye tuna, and the wild Maine skatefish buddies up with leeks and heirloom carrots. As the meal glides toward its final act, the golden drapery that swells from the ceiling and shimmers in the chandeliers' light seems to hold its woven breath for the menu's denouement, the Chef's pastry selection.
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.