SOMETIMES "CHOICE" can be overwhelmed by an excess of "options." This may be the case as you hit the fourth page of Ocean City Seafood Restaurant's massive menu. In fact, the word "menu" almost seems inadequate when referring to the extensive list of traditional Cantonese dishes. It's more "book" than "menu," but thankfully it's a good read. In the pages you'll find bird's nest, shark fin, chicken, duck, squab, and all manner of fish. These are roasted, fried, steamed, stir fried, or served in large hot pots.
I undertook a serious sampling of the restaurant's offerings. What I can report after my headlong dive into the culinary waters of Ocean City is that everything I ate (served in huge family-size portions) was consistently tasty, very fresh, sometimes odd, and in several cases simply mind-blowing. This restaurant is a welcome addition to the gustatory Shangri-la that has begun to coalesce around Fubonn market on SE 82nd.
Eating at Ocean City can be a dreamlike experience. The ceiling is lined with glittering chandeliers, and the large dining room is suffused with a soft pink glow. Unfortunately, the high-definition flat-screen televisions in three corners of the restaurant disturb what would be an otherwise nearly sedative and transporting atmosphere.
But enhancing the dream are dishes like scallops in XO sauce; buttery, tender scallops are contrasted against crisp and vibrant veggies. The ingredients glisten beneath a layer of wonderful, subtly fishy XO sauce that adds a bit of heat to the dish. XO sauce, a Cantonese seafood sauce, can be useful in navigating the menu. Used with subtlety in several dishes—supporting the ingredients of a delicious XO seafood chow fun with tender, wide rice noodles, for instance—you can almost be sure any dish with XO will be worth your while.
Also, look for the words "salt and pepper," prefacing a few slightly spicy, deep-fried dishes. Consider the salt and pepper squid with its crisp savory coating that gives way to soft flavorful cephalopod. The dish offers fine contrast between textures and is fantastically addictive. Maybe not the best appetizer considering the amount that arrives on the table and how difficult it is to stop eating.
That same problem holds true for the multi-flavored tofu appetizer, which outdoes any other tofu dish I've ever eaten. Small cubes of marinated tofu are breaded and deep-fried, creating texture analogous to the salt and pepper squid. The tofu itself has a wonderful broth-like flavor, and dipping the crisp cubes into a deep red, sweet and sour sauce results in a dynamic salty/sweet combination that may lead to a kind of multi-flavored tofu tunnel vision.
The truly perplexed, lost in the various preparations of fish and fowl, will be happy to note there are anglicized Chinese classics on the menu as well. General Tso's chicken and various Kung Pao options are available. However, while these are standard greasy fare at many Chinese restaurants along SE 82nd, the Ocean City versions are far more fresh and light, and the portions more generous.
Nevertheless, there is ample opportunity here to escape the typical, and the staff is more than happy to offer information and guidance—during one meal no fewer than four different uniform-clad employees asked us if we had any questions.
The problem with Ocean City is that dishes, though large, can be relatively expensive, especially if you're used to less adventurous Chinese fare. You should definitely bring friends (many friends) when dining at Ocean City; not only to eat all of the food, but also to help pay the bill.
You'll need fewer friends at Ocean City's daily dim sum from 11 am to 3 pm. Far more affordable, the morsels revealed in the gleaming steamers are just as tasty. Scallop and shrimp gao in a translucent rice flour wrapper is lovely, as are savory pork dumplings, and barbequed pork buns. Chicken feet flavored with aromatic five-spice are delicious once you've accepted the gelatinous texture. Be sure to try the sticky rice steamed in lotus leaves, flavored with a variety of meats, including small rounds of spicy Chinese sausage. Also, look for barbequed spare ribs over wide rice noodles, the tender pork seasoned aggressively with garlic.
Two people can eat incredibly well during dim sum for 20 bucks. And if your only experience of Ocean City was dim sum, you'd still be happy with the restaurant. Still, the Ocean City dream is so much more effective during dinner service—if much more pricey. It's best not to worry about it. Better to just dive in and start eating.