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Oceana: Brand New Menu, Same Great Wine List

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Went to dinner the other night at Oceana, that venerable-in-NY-restaurant-terms monument to all things, well, oceanic. I was there primarily to check out the cooking of new chef Ben Pollinger (who most recently worked at Tabla under Floyd Cardoz, and before that with Christian Delouvrier). Cornelius Gallagher, Oceana's previous chef, is a hard act to follow, but Pollinger's cooking was definitely up to the task. A silky, paper-thin square of gin-cured gravlax brought the word "seductive" to mind, not a term you usually associate with gravlax. A quirky little tower of Florida stone crab, fava beans and pureed artichokes, perched on an artichoke-heart base and spiked with smoky bits of pancetta, was the sort of thing that could easily turn out to be glop, but instead was a poised balancing act of flavors. And while the olive-oil poached swordfish was a touch dry (oddly, this was the second piece of olive-oil poached fish I've had in the past week that was too dry. Something is amiss with olive-oil poaching in this town), an entrée of sweet Nova Scotia lobster atop perfectly cooked ribbons of malfatti pasta, the whole thing laced with a blood-orange cream sauce, was exactly as decadent as it ought to have been.

The other pertinent aspect of this meal was Oceana's wine list, which has always been very good. Given that the restaurant ain't exactly cheap—three-course prix fixe at $78—there are a surprising number of good, under $60 bottles on the very extensive list. (There are a lot of good, extremely expensive bottles, too, but that's to be expected.) Examples include Ronco del Gelso's 2005 Tocai Friulano for $48, Château Soucherie's 2003 Cuvee Anaïs Savennières for $50, and Selene's 2005 Hyde Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc for $55; for reds, the choices are more restricted—since the menu is primarily seafood, it's a white-focused list, of course. Still, the Jade Mountain Paras Vineyard Syrah at $57 is well worth its price, and would go great with that lonely lamb entrée down at the bottom of the menu.

Ah, but head slightly north of that mark, and you could drink simply terrific Chablis—the 2002 Jean & Sebastian Dauvissat Premier Cru Vaillons—for $95. Cheap? No. Drinking perfectly, full of lifted aromatics and pure chalky minerality, and just about ideal with everything on Pollinger's menu? Absolutely. I'd suggest rushing right over there and ordering it before they run out.

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

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