"Think of us as a power steak house with a seafood center." This is how the top brass at Oceanaire want you to think of their restaurant. They're referring to the beefy, two-fisted portions that in some cases--in true oxymoronic fashion--contain shrimp. Chilled shellfish is delivered in two portable ice mountain versions ($35 and $65) embedded with all manner of water crawlers, including lobster, crab and shrimp as well as shelled critters that do nothing but suck and make expensive jewelry--the freshest, richest stuff we've tasted in a city. Jumbo lumpmeat crab cakes are bumpy, ugly barnacle-like nodes of sweet brackish crabmeat chunks laced with just a puff of bread crumbs glued in place with a mayonnaise dressing and packed into balls before they're baked with a little bay butter. This allows the delicious crab flavor to easily pierce the thin starch draperies--a welcome maneuver in a town where chefs seem determined to smother crab flavor in a blizzard of sticky bread crumbs. Whole fried fish is delicate, moist and greaseless, while Chilean sea bass, resting on a mattress of bacon-studded wilted spinach basking in a beet purée, is brilliantly buttery--a flawless twist on a fish that has become a cod-like staple for high-end fishmongers. Great Key lime pie, too.
Soul food is the quintessential home-style cuisine: black-eyed peas, corn bread, macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, okra. At South Dallas Café, greens such as cabbage and okra skirt mushy textures and rise to supple sensations. Meat loaf is thick and hearty, smothered pork chops are tender and rich, and the fried chicken is crunch-crisp, spicy and moist. To really reach into your soul, South Dallas Café runs a two-meat special with your choice of two meats, three vegetables and corn bread for $9.95, a fine spot to drop a 10-spot.
River Spice has a fairly typical Thai menu with clever atypical touches. Pad Thai is often an effective barometer of Thai kitchen brilliance--or haplessness. It's far too often cloyingly sweet or a sticky knot of noodles or a soupy mess or some frightening combination of all three. Here, it is superb. At the far end of the plate is a curved cup of sheer rice paper that reaches a few inches above the plate and embraces--like a concert shell--a river of gently twisting noodles and crisp bean sprouts, egg, crushed peanuts and scallions in a culinary freeze-frame on the plate. Panang pork delivers a similar thrust with strips of tender juicy pork, bell pepper, gently bending green beans and tears of basil leaf deposited into a rich, fragrant curry sauce. Whole fried fish is compelling, as are most of the fried foods--spring rolls and curry dumplings, for example. A transparent glass water wall tinkles in the entrance to animate the river part of the moniker. (A River Spice extension recently opened in the structure off Lower Greenville that was once home to Liberty Noodles.)
There are more high-dollar Cajun restaurants in town, but high-priced food ain't what Cajun is all about. What we're looking for is the best taste of NOLA, the combination of better-than-good bar food, ice-cold beer and gluttonous/libidinous spirit that exemplifies all things bayou. You find that at HG: great bar food (fries and oysters are faves), all-you-can-eat crawfish on Wednesdays when in season and cold brews, brought to you by a helpful (read: borderline flirtatious) waitstaff. Good lunch menu, great street-side patio and a decent jukebox round out this underappreciated Greenville Avenue spot.
A friend asked us to make a Sunday lunchtime trek to this far north outpost. We weren't excited, as the word "Plano" and the phrase "sushi buffet" make us queasy. Of course, we were blown away by the quality of the food and the family atmosphere. The buffet at Osaka Sushi is huge, composed of not only cool, comforting sushi but a wide array of meats, fish, sauces, soups and vegetables. They'll even grill you up a bowl of goodies Mongolian style. When you leave, stuffed and wobbling, don't be surprised if you feel a little drunk on food--perhaps even yelling "shabu shabu!" at random customers as you giggle between belches. Sounds yummy, no?

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