Three years ago, I dined on luscious "French-American modern cuisine" at Oceanique. To this day it remains among the best meals I've eaten in the Midwest, and I'm not alone. Zagat continuously ranks the unpretentious Evanston gem as the number one seafood restaurant in the Chicago Metropolitan Area, and the eatery has earned Wine Spectator's prestigious Award of Excellence yearly since 1994.
With accolades like that, you may find yourself surprised by the restaurant's modest exterior (five white tables situated underneath a gold awning on a quiet Main Street block) or its country decor (earth-toned tile floor and pillowed window seats). But attentive, enthusiastic service and executive chef/owner Mark Grosz's innovative creations make dining seem like a grandiose adventure.
Grosz changes his menu daily, ensuring the freshest produce available. Recent options include Australian barramundi with cranberry beans, red beets and saffron essence; and seared diver sea scallops with choy sum, ginger and lobster-cilantro broth. Cruise through a variety of dishes with the three- or six-course tasting menus, and tack on the chef's wine pairings or select a bottle from the list of more than 450 exotic wines. Budding sommeliers can sample more vino at Oceanique's unstuffy wine dinner events like "Summer Wines, Summer Cuisine," featuring John Hartford of Julienne Wines and the music of Bob Marley.
Though certainly a splurge (considering the exceptional cooking and quality of service), a trip to Oceanique won't put you in debt. Entrees range from $19-$33, the six-course tasting costs $65 per person ($39 for wine pairings) and the wine dinners, booze and Bob Marley included, ring in at $85. Reservations recommended.
Average cost: $31+
Centerstage Reviewer: Carly Schwartz