At Oceanic, the wow factor starts before you ever look at the menu. Actually, it starts before you even walk into the building.
The restaurant’s part of the total makeover happening on Pompano Beach. To the east is the ocean and the city’s under-renovation pier; to all other sides sit new, under-construction or remodeled restaurant or hotel buildings. But Oceanic stands out.
Part of the building facing inland curves out in the style of a ship. Behind it, you can from the street catch a glimpse of the massive first-floor outdoor deck overlooking the ocean from underneath a tall roof. On your right as you enter is the Mangrove Room. High-ceilinged with walls painted wavy blues and greens, it’s dominated by a custom-made mobile featuring, suspended from the ceiling, hundreds of multicolored glass fish surrounding a sea life sculpture. More ocean décor awaits in the main dining room and beyond that, the ocean-facing bar. Upstairs sits a private event space that can be carved up into smaller rooms or used as one big party – it’s this space that also includes the huge outdoor deck and bar.
It is, taken altogether, a massive and impressive space. So the pressure was on when it came time to fill it with a restaurant.
Executive chef Brian Cantrell was there creating the menu for the Labor Day opening – and in the restaurant’s first half year, he’s been happy with how things have gone. His menu, as you might expect, focuses heavily on seafood – but not at the expense of a few quality steaks and some vegetarian options. Dishes like Mojo Shrimp, Walnut Rosemary Crusted Salmon and Seared Diver Scallops anchor the seafood offer. A seasonal whole fish is on offer alongside the catch of the day. But there’s fun to be had in other bits of the menu as well. The mac and cheese comes with a selection of cheeses and is made into a kind of fondue. At Sunday brunch, dishes such as Chicken and Waffles and Grand Marnier French Toast get added.
Cantrell’s been working in South Florida kitchens since 1999 and in that time, he’s built up good contacts with seafood suppliers he trusts. That allows him to keep the menu and specials at consistent price points while still bringing in interesting dishes.
It also allows him to make both seasonal and ethical food choices that are what he prefers – and that customers increasingly ask about.
“The diner is so much more educated than they used to be,” he says. “To me, that is refreshing.”
Cantrell also prides himself and his staff on having a menu that caters to diverse dietary needs and preferences; he doesn’t have a lot of time for chefs who are put off by that.
“There’s no reason you can’t work around what people are into,” he says.
So far their broad menu seems a hit – although naturally, seafood has been the biggest draw. Cantrell believes the restaurant has had success with dishes that are familiar, but also done just a bit differently. Take the seared scallops, done here over a beluga lentil tabbouleh with orange, fennel and capers.
“I wanted to do something healthy,” Cantrell says, “but that has a bit of flavor.”
Cantrell and his team often find themselves hustling between the restaurant and various private parties – the restaurant seats 700, about half of which is private event space. It’s a challenge, and equally challenging is coming up with dishes that are interesting within a menu that has a broad appeal. “With a restaurant this size,” he says, “you want to appeal to everybody as much as possible.”
The Dish: Seared Scallops
- 4 scallops U10
- ½ tsp salt and white pepper mix
- ¼ cup Italian parsley, minced
- 1 oz red onion, ¼ in dice
- 2 oz tomato, ¼ in dice
- 2 oz cucumber, ¼ in dice
- 4 oz beluga lentils, cooked
- 1 oz apple cider vinaigrette
- ½ oz lemon vinaigrette
- 2 oz orange segments, 8 each
- 1 oz capers
- ½ oz fennel fronds
- ½ tsp chives
- Beluga lentil tabbouleh
Season scallops on both sides with salt and white pepper. In a very hot pan, add oil and bring to smoke. Add scallops and sear hard 2 minutes; do not move as to build crust. Flip and finish cooking, 1-2 minutes.
To plate, place beluga lentil tabbouleh on the bottom. Place scallops on top of tabbouleh. Toss oranges, capers and fennel with lemon vinaigrette. Top scallops and serve.