Ocean Grill isn't about a water view, unless you count a few boats at the end of a marina. And while it's nice to eat on the outdoor patio, where a singer and guitarist hold forth, the main attraction is what chef Julio Rivas creates for the plate.
Rivas, born in Guatemala, offers a menu he characterizes as "my food." I learned how much he owns what he cooks after asking a waitress whether I could substitute another dressing for the raspberry vinaigrette in a roasted beet and poached apple salad. No, the answer came back from the kitchen. Instead of the cloying cliche I'd anticipated from a mix that included mesclun, candied walnuts and Gorgonzola, I got a vibrant toss unified by a dressing more tart than sweet.
A special of stir-fried calamari with fresh ginger, garlic and cilantro virtually explodes in the mouth. Crab-intense crab cakes are very good, as are fresh clams on the half shell.
One night, I have perfectly seared wild-caught salmon in a sun-dried tomato butter sauce with spinach and mashed potatoes; so good. A bright stir-fry of chicken and vegetables over brown rice sounds boring, tastes great. So, too, does broiled tilapia with mashed potatoes and perfect green beans sauteed with garlic. I'm happy with a marinated skirt steak, surprised by the delectable roasted potatoes that accompany, along with lovely sauteed spinach. Clearly, this chef respects vegetables. A friend's sesame tuna salad features roseate fish slices artfully plated with avocado, tomatoes and crisp wontons over greens drizzled with miso vinaigrette and sweet soy sauce.
Rivas doesn't get a good sear on the otherwise flavorsome chicken scarpariello; the skin of the bird is beige. A near-hit is a home-style peach cobbler undermined by a soggy bottom crust (should cobbler even have one?). Cheesecake is a bit off-tasting, while Oreo mousse pie is frozen at the center.
Rivas accomplishes much in a tiny kitchen that, like the restroom, lacks air conditioning. There are plans to expand and renovate the restaurant after the summer. This chef deserves a better setting.