As its name suggests, Ocean House is a place to savor seafood (among other things).
Watching the sunset by the beach with great food, drinks and company is the ideal thing to do in Hawai‘i, yet most of us are better acquainted with gridlock traffic and the return of our state bird, the construction crane, than oceanside dining experiences. It comes as an even greater surprise that one of the best places to feel at ease within the increasingly fast-paced world of Honolulu is in the depths of Waikiki, an area locals largely associate with crowds of tourists and parking struggles. But in the peaceful confines of Ocean House, casually elegant seafood and steak inside a glistening setting can remind us all of what it means to live in paradise.
To say Ocean House has a great view of Waikiki Beach is an understatement. Situated flush up against the blonde sand with completely open, window-free views of the water—you can just about taste the salted breeze—the restaurant resides in a quiet corner of Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, removed from the main drag of Kalakaua and its throngs of passersby. Appropriately for this setting, the eatery’s bill of fare is rife with seafood offerings, which serves as the centerpiece of the continental-style menu. Ocean House’s name points to its ambiance as well, since the dining space is inspired by an inviting Plantation-era home that evokes the feel of old Hawai‘i and works to turn back the hands of time.
When taking an early-evening reservation at the restaurant, getting back to easy island living begins on the stroll to the table. Hints of Hawaiiana instantly charm, from traditional mele softly coating the room to the nostalgic floral fabric tucked into the seats and booths.
The plantation aesthetic is emphasized with a white beadboard ceiling and warm wood floors that, in combination with the unadulterated view, make patrons feel as though they’re dining on one roomy lanai.
Contented by a sense that time has slowed down, we settle into a meal of fresh fare made with many natural, organic and local ingredients. Seafood Chowder is the best place to start, as the all-American favorite is emblematic of the ocean-inspired menu, combining clams, bay shrimp and fresh fish in a creamy homemade chowder base made all the more comforting with bacon, potatoes and vegetables. Though visitors do love this chowder, it holds a special appeal for O‘ahu residents who don’t come across the starter on menus very often. Any islander will be loyal to poke forever, of course, but it’s fun to switch things up every once in a while with a different kind of seafood pupu.
To ensure we don’t get too full before the main course, Curly Kale Salad—one of many health-conscious options on the menu—lends lightness with fresh papaya, strawberries and avocado in a basil papaya-seed vinaigrette, all sprinkled with toasted almonds. With each bite, tall glasses of chilled white wine on the table start to catch the reflection of the setting sun, as golden hour casts a rich-yellow glow over Waikiki that gracefully fades to a pinky-orange sky. By the time nature’s navy blue canopy is above us, the water’s steady rumble serves as our reminder that we are seated beside the shore.
Diving into the main courses allows guests to go in a few different directions with regards to seafood. The menu boasts many island favorites we’re familiar with–the opakapakas, opahs and other fresh catches prepared in ways we adore, as well as sweeter liliko‘i misoyaki butterfish with a pronounced tartness from the passion-fruit miso glaze, or a quintessential macadamia nut-crusted mahi mahi accompanied by creamy coconut ginger sauce. But manager and food-industry veteran Ben Dowling points out that the restaurant also offers a broader range of seafood stemming from the Pacific Rim region. It’s the main reason our party orders an ocean’s worth in Seafood Clam Bake, filled with the likes of cold-water lobster, Manila clams, scallops, shrimp and Pen Cove mussels, all braised in a garlicky, vegetable-based court bouillon broth enhanced with wakame (seaweed). Drawn garlic butter is perfect for dipping here, while Yukon gold potatoes, Portuguese sausage and Kahuku corn soak up every last ounce of flavor from the broth.
The dish’s cold-water lobster is noteworthy for its origin, hailing from the icy waters of the remote Tristan de Cunha islands in the south Atlantic Ocean, far off the coast of South Africa. The lobster is a little smaller than the live Maines we’re used to, but more gem-like for its slightly sweeter meat, which guests won’t find on other menus. In another dish, Cold Water Lobster Tails, this steamed Tristan treasure is presented in all its glory with drawn butter and lemon, and is paired with Maui onion mashed potatoes.
Seafood may get most of the attention at Ocean House, but the numerous steak selections also are worthy of the spotlight.
In fact, I knew I had to try one of the prime rib options simply because they’re some of the best selling items, even at this haven of seafood. It’s easy to recognize why the juicy meat is popular, too, as the Blackened Prime Rib in particular delights with a seared hiss of Cajun spices and sweet Creole sauce on the side. All of the premium Angus prime rib options are especially tender from the slow roasting process, not to mention well-seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt.
One last thing leaves a lasting impression on me during my recent visit to Ocean House. Unlike the majority of O‘ahu restaurants, Ocean House not only has options for, but caters to, gluten-free diners. Various menu items are gluten free to begin with or can be altered for those who are gluten-sensitive.
This is reflective of the eatery’s overall care toward diners with any type of allergy, as both the kitchen and wait staff take extra precaution when alerted to dietary restrictions. Ocean House bakes its own gluten-free bread (in addition to other freshly baked goods and homemade desserts), and some of the gluten-free standouts are sashimi-style sizzling ‘ahi carpaccio with Japanese togarashi spices and sesame peanut oil, as well as ginger-steamed monchong with accents of Tamari shoyu and shiitake mushrooms.
By the end of dinner, the gentle crash of the shore break in combination with a menu of classics that Hawai‘i’s patrons don’t often indulge in leave us feeling like we’ve played tourist for the night and indulged in a mini vacation in our own backyard.
Ocean House, Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, 923-2277 or oceanhousewaikiki.com