One of the enjoyable things about Evanston, IL, is its multitude of small-town-esque shopping areas. Among them, there’s Central Street, Noyes Street, and, that little piece of Davis. But most charming? Main Street. On the East-of-Chicago-Avenue stretch of Main Street commerce, shops that do exemplary jobs at their specialties include Piron (a Belgian chocolatier,) the Brothers K–an independent coffee shop, and Oceanique, the intimate seafood restaurant. Tucked into a small space at 505 Main, Oceanique is celebrating its 25th year in business. Chef/owner Mark Grosz, who first worked for Jean Banchet at Le Francais and then honed his own style in France and Hong Kong, opened Oceanique in 1989 with wife and business partner Renee Andre.
Celebrating the big two-five, a full interior-design refresh has replaced country-French hominess with light, airy and contemporary decor. And augmenting Wine Director Philippe Andre’s wine list (one of Wine Spectator’s 750 Best in the World) Grosz has added small plates in step with guest desires for lighter, brighter eats in the bar area. Grosz’ seasonal/local approach to menus endures as does his penchant for fresh-Asian accents.
“Twenty-five years ago I would have served salmon pan-seared with mango-cilantro salsa. Now? I slow roast it and serve it with a poblano-lemongrass sauce,” says Grosz. “And back then I would have served lobster roasted with coriander. Now, I prepare it with yuzu and saffron.” One more example: Replacing the mignonette he would have served with oysters back in the day? A lemongrass-infused emulsion with shaved beets and tarragon. Try the dish at Oceanique’s bar. And when you’re feeling adventuresome, here’s the recipe to make at home.
Makes four appetizer servings (3 oysters each)
Oysters with Beets, Tarragon & Lemongrass Sauce Ingredients
- 12 Maine oysters, washed and opened on the half shell
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup assorted local beets, washed, peeled & sliced very thin on a mandolin
- 1 tsp fresh shallot, chopped
- 12 fresh tarragon sprigs
- 2 Tbsp lemongrass, chopped fine
- 4 oz dry Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc
- 2 oz. (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Hawaiian red sea salt
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- In a small pan over medium-low heat, reduce wine with lemongrass until only 4 Tbsp remain. Remove from heat. Leave reduction in pan with lemongrass, cover and infuse for 10 minutes. Pour through a fine strainer to separate lemongrass from liquid. Toss out the lemongrass; save the liquid.
- Thinly slice beets into a bowl. Sprinkle with freshly ground Hawaiian red sea salt, and pepper. Stir in chopped shallot. Toss with 2 Tbsp olive oil and the lemon juice. Set aside to marinate. Preheat oven to 400.
- Place a drop of olive oil and a bit of freshly cracked black pepper on each oyster. Warm (“roast”) in 400 degree oven for a scant 2 minutes. Remove from oven and keep warm. Over low heat, whisk butter–one tablespoon at a time–into the lemongrass-infused wine reduction. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Spoon 1/2 tsp lemongrass sauce on to each oyster; arrange beets over each oyster, garnish with tarragon sprigs.