Many of us would like Oak Park to have a successful fine dining destination, and Seven Ocean is aiming to be that. The dining room is unlike any other in the village: elegant, well-appointed, understated. The key differentiator, however, between this restaurant and any other in Oak Park would be the prix fix menus ($35 for four courses, $55 for seven courses). There are no items available a la carte, so you don’t just drop into Seven Ocean for a bite: you come to dine.
Prix fix menus are uncommon in Oak Park and the western suburbs. Because of that, it’d be excellent if Seven Ocean could put up a website that explains the two menus, includes some photos of the food and maybe romances the experience a little. A prix fix menu may be slightly outside the comfort zone for some Oak Parkers (simply because it’s an anomaly in this village), so providing a little more background might help avoid surprises and drive traffic.
We were tickled by the whitefish timbale, the first course in the $55 tasting menu (as well as the $35 tasting menu, which is basically an abbreviated version of the bigger menu). Similar to the “fish custard” found on some Thai menus, this creamy mound was tanged up with some curry sauce, a very good opener, soft, subtle, a little surprising.
We decided to have the wine pairing ($30 additional), and enjoyed the range and selection of sips.
The lobster-stuffed gyoza in ponzu and cilantro were exquisite, delicate; the Chamisal 2010 Stainless Chardonnay was perky, full of life, and got us excited about the king crab, edamame cream soup and striped bass.
The king crab was a sliver about the size of my little finger, perhaps smaller (maybe .5 oz), and though the taste was good, I felt I had such a small amount of time to get to know it before it was gone.
Edamame cream soup was a lot like a very delicate split pea, with some fish roe added for texture and dimension. The soup was dotted with truffle oil, and although this fungal essence might currently be the most over-used ingredient in American cuisine, it provided a depth to what was a very laid-back bowl of soup.
Striped bass was a beautiful piece of fish, with slivers of green apple and red onion, a good balance of sweet and sour. We could have eaten more, and I would say that most servings here tended to the small side. At approximately $100 per person, you don’t want guests leaving hungry, and I humbly suggest that Seven Ocean would do well to bump up serving size just a little. I understand restaurant costs are high, but it would seem possible to add another gyoza or another half-cup of soup to the openers without busting the budget. This isn't Golden Corral, and no diner who goes to a place like this will expect to leave "stuffed," but you want guests to walk out satisfied, and the diminutive serving size challenges that goal.
Duck was accompanied by an excellent Argentine cabernet, one of the several wines we found quite exceptional.
This is a difficult time of year for most restaurants, and Seven Ocean was not crowded the night we were there. Whether they can make this concept work remains to be seen, of course, but we wish them luck and although they’re still working out some kinks, one must applaud their ambition for launching this kind of restaurant in Oak Park.
And of course, in Downtown Oak Park, any new restaurant that's not part of a chain is a victory for those of us concerned that we’re losing our unique local character to a rash of franchises.