Oceanos in Fair Lawn, NJ: hitting its stride
June 04, 2006
From our first to our most recent visit to Oceanos, we've noticed a continuous refinement in the cooking, and the overall approach. It might be our imagination, but it seems that Oceanos is blossoming into what it wants to, and should, be: a Mediterranean seafood restaurant with overtones of a classic Greek estiatorio. At first I thought the combination could lead to, or was an indication of, a lack of focus. Judging by what has evolved here, I clearly had no reason to worry.
Owner Nicos (Nick) and his father (and executive chef) Peter Panteleakis know seafood. I'm pretty sure Peter is picking the day's selections out himself by hand. That kind of attention to detail and that kind of passion for seafood translate onto your plate: you're getting pristine seafood. When I joked with Peter about the extra time and effort that goes into overseeing every piece of fish, he responded immediately with his gentle smile "I have to." Peter, who has been in the restaurant business in the Fair Lawn area for a few decades, knows no other way. And his customers are all the beneficiaries of that dedication and experience.
There are only a few months a year that soft shell crab is available. But you don't have to remind Oceanos about this: they're on the case. The soft shell crabs we've had at Oceanos have been some of the meatiest and freshest-tasting in memory. And trust me, that's a lot of memory. And, you can have them one of four ways (deep fried, sauteed, lemon/butter, garlic/olive oil). We chose deep fried recently, are were really thrilled from first bite to last. It is one of the dishes that compels you to say "let's come back tomorrow for more." And we just might do that. I would say that if you get an order of soft shells (fried), a side of their excellent twice-cooked (Belgian-style) french fries, and a couple of glasses of champagne, you'll have yourself one helluva meal.
Close-up of soft shell crab, hopefully showing how meaty these things are
Not to be outdone by soft shell crabs, Copper River salmon is another seasonal fish, available for only a few weeks a year, and one you probably don't come across as often as the crab. These salmon are nice and fatty and have a complexity of flavor that I don't find in run-of-the-mill salmon. In fact, I don't even like salmon (unless it's raw). But the Copper River salmon is a unique fish, and is not to be missed. And Oceanos pulls through...
A perfectly cooked piece of fatty salmon topped with a mild ginger and scallion sauce is served with some basmati rice. The skin is crisp and the flesh is tender and luscious.
Also worth trying are the roasted beets with and almond-garlic spread, crab cakes (some of the best we've had), the plump and perfectly-cooked sea scallops, and oysters. The oysters here are handled with the respect and consideration that oysters demand: the liquor remains intact. I'm amazed at how many restaurants screw this up.
We've also noticed that the room with the smallish bar is considerably more lively than it was during earlier visits. The widescreen TV is kept on during dinner service (it's not intrusive), the music is ramped up a bit, and the room just seems more what it should be in my mind: a more casual alternative to the main rooms. However, even with a big Saturday crowd, neither the main rooms nor the bar room get very loud. I'll take lively over loud any day.
The restaurant is very nicely decorated with dark wood tones and white table cloths. All very clean and to-the-point. Servers are dressed sharply and seem professional and proficient.
Get your bad self down to Oceanos. If it's a weekend you should certainly make a reservation. Apparently, the word is getting out.
Oceanos website : 2-27 Saddle River Road (right off of 208 North) : Fair Lawn, NJ : 201.796.0546
More on Oceanos here.