It wouldn’t be disappointing if Oceana’s newest chef, Ben Pollinger, were a recognizable disciple of his mentor, the driven and passionate Christian Delouvrier. But the energy and élan of Pollinger’s stinging-nettle-and-sorrel soup poured over a delicate yogurt panna cotta, and his ink-dark cuttlefish risotto with fiddlehead ferns and spring onion, indicate he has emerged from stints with Delouvrier, Ducasse, and Floyd Cardoz at Tabla mature and inspired yet still very much his own man. Tonight’s pan-roasted baby octopus with slow-cooked cranberry beans gets a complex kick from a tangle of wild arugula, green olives, and Thai basil. Spring peas and ramps bring market freshness to delicately cooked and voluptuous tamarind-glazed sablefish. Chefs have come and gone here, some brilliant, some hyperactive, some touched by stardom. But no matter who’s at the range, managing partner Paul McLaughlin always seems to be juggling waves of business lunchers ($48 prix fixe) and well-heeled couples on cook’s night out ($78). In the snug little yachtlike keel of Oceana, chatter bounces off the walls, especially as booze-shellacked blondes lose that Connecticut couth. If only the understated bouillabaisse had that uninhibited spirit. And I would have wished for more grace and dignity from our captain. But my mood is lifted by chocolate-custard brownie with espresso granita, tangy rhubarb-semolina tart, and the marvelous surprise when our out-of-town chum insists on taking the check.
55 E. 54th St., nr. Madison Ave.; 212-759-5941