Kirbie's Cravings

Oceanaire- A memorable night

The Oceanaire
400 J St
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 858-2277

I normally don't like to post on revisits that occur shortly after a post has already been written, but I'm making an exception for my recent dining experience at Oceanaire.  About two weeks ago, Boyfriend and I dined at Oceanaire to celebrate our anniversary and to participate in Restaurant Week.  While we usually leave Oceanaire glowing with satisfaction, that night we experienced sub-par service for the first time ever.  It was a disappointment since we have always found Oceanaire's service to be a step above other restaurants.

After I wrote my post on our experience, I was contacted almost immediately by the general manager at Oceanaire, Philip Shayne.  He apologized for our poor experience, informed me that he was implementing changes to correct the problems I experienced, and invited me and Boyfriend back as his personal guests.  I was quite happy to be contacted by Oceanaire.  Based on the great customer service we had previously had, I was not at all surprised that they would reach out upon reading my review.  However, I was pleasantly surprised that Philip was not only apologizing, but inviting us back as his guests.

I've had bad dining experiences before which I've written about.  Sometimes they are ignored, sometimes I get an apology.  The fact that Oceanaire took it one step beyond and invited us back just further validated my belief that Oceanaire really strives to be a level above others when it comes to customer service. I recently googled "Oceanaire" and "customer service" and came across this article written by John Tschohl, discussing the customer service at Oceanaire.  You can read the article here.  The article discussed the great customer service at Oceanaire.  To quote one excerpt from the article: "Their web site proclaims, 'Where exceptional seafood meets exceptional
service.' And that's not just lip service; they deliver what they
promise. They know the power of customer service in instilling customer
loyalty, boosting word-of-mouth advertising, and adding to the
restaurant's bottom line."

Since Boyfriend and I love Oceanaire, we of course accepted the invitation.  Philip asked me to contact him directly to make the reservations, which I did.  When I spoke with him, it was clear through things he mentioned during our conversation that he had read every word of my review.  He told me he would not be around for the night we would be dining, but would make sure that everything was taken care of.  He contacted me again a few days later to confirm our reservation.

I was quite curious as to what it would be like to dine as Philip's personal guests.  After all, Boyfriend and I had already experienced stellar service at Oceanaire before.  What could they possibly do to top it?  Well, as you can guess from the title of this post, Philip and his Oceanaire staff was able to more than make up for our previous poor dining experience and did so with flying colors.

So what it is like to be the personal guests of the general manager?  Let me take you through our fairytale-like dining experience . . .

If you've never been to Oceanaire, the dining room is actually located upstairs.  At the top of the stairs, there is a manager that greets the guests.  Before I was even able to open my mouth to say who we were and our reservation time, the manager, Miguel Vasquez, immediately shook Boyfriend's hand and mine, and welcomed us back, referring to us by our last names.  Boyfriend and I were quite shocked by this.  How did he know who we were?  This is something we discussed for quite a while during dinner.  In any case, we were impressed.

We were seated in a beautiful booth that was both intimate, and gave us a wonderful view of the whole dining room.  Our server for the night was Josh Bishop, which I immediately knew was no coincidence as I had stated in my previous post that he was our favorite server.  Shortly after we were seated, another manager, Travis Legrand, came out and greeted us.  He let us know Philip was not around tonight, but gave me business cards for the both of them. 

When Josh came over, he commented that it's been a while since he's had us, maybe five months, but he knew we'd been here a couple times since. He asked if we were celebrating an anniversary and we told him we already had a couple of weeks ago, and he informed us that they would do a Baked Alaska for a belated anniversary (Philip had also mentioned that he would have a Baked Alaska for us even though our anniversary had already passed.)

While we've had some great servers at Oceanaire, Josh has managed to stand out among all the excellent servers.  I know we aren't the only ones who feel that way because I've read quite a few reviews of people raving about his service.  There are quite a few things about his service that impresses me, which I'll mention as they come.  For one thing, he has a great ability to engage in easy conversation with even the most quietest of guests.  Boyfriend and I aren't usually ones to have a lot of conversations with our servers, but Josh made it effortless, like talking to a friend.

As we browsed the menu, I noticed the Winter Market Menu was available (it's currently available Sun-Thurs from 5-7 pm).  Boyfriend and I have never tried the Winter Market Menu, but it was tempting.  For $29.95 you get 3 courses.  There are three options for each course, and the famous crabcakes are an appetizer choice. 

Two of the fish dishes on the Winter Market Menu piqued my interest.  However, both my and Boyfriend's favorite dishes of all time were also available on their regular menu.  For Boyfriend, it is the Sashimi Grade Ahi Tuna.  For me, it is the Flash Fried Whole Pink Snapper "Angry".  We discussed the Winter Market Menu with Josh, who raved about what a great deal it was since the portions are the same size.  As he described the preparation of each fish, I was pretty much sold on any of the options.  He has a great knowledge of the dishes and manages to make just about anything sound appetizing.  I imagine he could convince me to try a piece of cardboard.  Then I asked about my Pink Snapper, and listening to the way he described that made me want the Snapper.  

Boyfriend opted for the Winter Market Menu.  Last time he had liked my tombo tuna, and he had liked the black and bleu preparation on his fish.  The Winter Market Menu was offering a tomba tuna with the black and bleu preparation.  I opted to go for my favorites: the Flash Fried Snapper and a crab cake to start.  

We didn't order wine and we didn't order sides.  Both Boyfriend and I are lightweights with alcohol so we don't usually drink when we dine out.  And while we like the side dishes at Oceanaire, the entrees are hearty enough that the sides are usually ignored.  There was no pause from Josh when we refused wine and sides, and this is another reason why Boyfriend and I like him so much.  Sometimes at fine dining restaurants, there is that slight pause, where you can hear the waiter calculating that these people aren't big spenders, which makes me feel insulted and annoyed.  With Josh, we've never had that experience.  When we said no wine, he said he would fill our glasses with water so we wouldn't run out of water (which we never even had to touch because our waters were constantly refilled, as they usually are).  When we didn't order sides, he said that was a great idea since the portions were so big and obviously we had been listening to him.

After he took our orders, we enjoyed the usual bread and vegetable platter. 

As we waited for our food, we were approached by Sous Chef Chad Kilgore.  He introduced himself, gave us his business card (I collected quite a few cards that night), and asked if we had any questions.  We had a pleasant conversation with him about how they only order enough fish for the evening so that there fish is always as fresh as possible.  He told us a bit about the Executive chef and his Japanese influences.  He talked a bit about his specialties and his interests. 

Afterward, Boyfriend commented about how special they were making us feel.  "They've practically rolled out the red carpet for us tonight."

Our crab cakes arrived and they were as perfect as always.  I had debated whether to bring my DSLR camera again.  I still haven't yet.  I chose not to because I knew if I had my nice camera, I'd be obsessed with capturing pretty pictures and not enjoying my food.  But of course, once there, I regretted not having my nice camera to snap better photos.

Shortly after, our entrees arrived. My fish arrived whole, but Josh offered to filet it for me, which I gladly accepted.  When I had this fish before, I didn't know that the flesh of the fish could so easily come off. the bones  This was a much easier way to eat it.  I didn't take a picture of it when it was still whole, but here it is partially fileted:

As if 2 pounds of fish wasn't enough, it was served on a bed of mashed potatoes.  Definitely too much food for just one person.  Luckily, Boyfriend helped me eat it.  The outside skin was crispy and spicy.  The inside was very moist and soft.  Josh even encouraged me to eat the cheeks and eyes. I always like fish cheeks (it's usually the best part of the fish), but I passed on eating the eyes.

Boyfriend's tuna was seared on the outside, but very raw on the inside, which is how he requested it.  While the fish is presented as one large portion, it is actually presliced, like sashimi.  He loved the fish, though wished there was more of it.

Throughout the meal, Boyfriend and I were left to enjoy each others company.  Without interrupting us, Josh was constantly checking on our progress.  And that's another thing we like about him.  He is able to walk the delicate balance of letting us enjoy our meal in peace, but also letting us know that we are constantly being check on and taken care of.  Every once in a while, I'd see him walk by and look over or I'd see him glance over from somewhere else in the room.

Sometime during the night, Travis came to check on us again, and we told him that everything was excellent.

Finally, at the end of the night, we were given our Baked Alaska.  I've noticed that every server does the presentation a bit differently, and Josh has a pretty awesome presentation.  In the past, I've taken pictures of it, but this time I decided to take a video.  I gave Boyfriend the camera, and for some reason he started turning the camera around while shooting the video, so it's not as steady of a video as I would have hoped.

Boyfriend also had an apple raisin crisp that was part of his prix fixe menu, which we were barely able to touch because we were so full.  What we had was good though.  Last time my apple crisp had been too sour for me, but this one was just right.

The Baked Alaska is basically an ice cream cake that is covered in meringue and set on fire with Bacardi 151.  The sparks were caused by him sprinkling cocoa powder.  The ice cream inside the Baked Alaska changes.  Tonight it was strawberry.  It was pretty and delicious as always. 

After serving us our cake, Josh inquired into whether we liked sparkling wine.  We told him that we did, and he brought us two glasses of a sweet bubbling Muscato, which went perfect with our desserts.  He told us it was to perfect the romantic mood.

To top off the night, Josh came back and told us that there was no bill as our meal was completely taken care of.  We were both surprised and touched that Philip's offer generously included taking care of our tab.

As we went to leave that night, I noticed that the front desk manager was engaged in conversation.  But as we neared, he came over and shook our hands again.  I had to ask of course, how he knew who we were.  He said that he remembered Boyfriend's face because they had a brief discussion on our last visit, and he happens to be good with faces. We were impressed both with his ability to remember faces and the fact that Philip had obviously taken the time to find out exactly which of his guests, out of the hundreds that participated in restaurant week, had been the ones to experience the subpar service and write a review about it.

The very next day, Philip called me before I had a chance to contact him, asking about our experience. He also asked whether he had gotten the right Josh, since they have two, confirming my belief that it was no coincidence, and showing once again how many details Philip paid attention to in our dining night, which did not go unnoticed.  It was a wonderful experience, and definitely on my list of most memorable meals.  Philip and his staff more than made up for our one lone bad experience at Oceanaire, and we will definitely be back and be raving about the place to anyone who is willing to listen.

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8 comments on “Oceanaire- A memorable night”

  1. Hi Julia! I love getting comments from people lurking on my site =) I hope your group enjoys Oceanaire as much as I do. Definitely see if you can get Josh Bishop as your server if possible! While almost all the servers are pretty good, I think he is the best and I know of a lot of people who agree. Since you’re only in town for a visit, might as well get the best server to ensure a great experience! Also I believe he works fri-sun for sure every week. I hope my site is helpful for you in choosing your dining spots for your Comic-Con trip!

  2. Hey Kirbie! I’m so glad that they made things right, and they were wise to do so because there are people like me who are far away (in Mobile, AL) that lurk on your site so we can plan where to eat for our annual trip to San Diego for Comic Con! I passed along the link to the rest of our group of travelers and everyone agreed that this is where we’re going to eat for our celebratory night out! (One couple has a wedding anniversary while we’re there!) Thanks so much for your fabulous reviews!

  3. Thanks Kirk! My mom laughed when she read my previous post at the fact that BF and I were celebrating our “anniversary” since we aren’t married. But I feel that once you’ve been dating for quite a number of years, it’s justified. Heh.

  4. Usually I don’t like to write so much, but since they took the time to pay attention to so many details, I wanted to make sure they got credit for all their efforts.
    They read my blog post. The Oceanaire main headquarters has people who scan the internet for blogs, articles, etc mentioning them. And they read them and send them to the local Oceanaires.
    Heehee, you sound like my mom about the whole fish. My mom had the same reaction. She couldn’t believe an American restaurant would serve a fish whole. But yes, it’s the whole fish just like a chinese restaurant. I was surprised the waiter was so adventurous too. He said he’d tried them before and was describing the taste to me.

  5. Hey Kirbie – We’ve always had good service at Oceanaire so I’m not surprised they tried to make things right. Also, a very hearty Happy Anniversayr!

  6. Oh wow – that was seriously a touching post! I’m so glad the manager was able to make things right b/c I know how much you so love that place.
    Which review did they read? On your blog or on yelp? That’s really incredible that they took the time to do that AND contact you! Maybe they know you’re a famous food blogger 🙂
    So the fish that you had – it was served ‘whole’? Like in the chinese restaurants?! That’s so funny. I can’t believe the waiter suggested to eat the eyes – that’s soooo old school chinese! Love it!
    Really glad that you and bf were able to have the well deserved anniversary dinner 🙂

  7. I’m happy too! If all bad experiences led to such wonderful experiences, then I wouldn’t be so upset about bad dining experiences. Heehee. I think they have quite a few managers. A general manager, and a few regular managers.

  8. This is a very delightful review to read! I’m happy for you that your favorite restaurant has redeemed herself! Good post. (And I wonder… they have 3 managers?)

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