Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for dinner Monday through Thursday, 5:30 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. AE, BA, V. Reservations.Prices: Main courses at dinner $6.50 to $14, average $8 to $10.
A ninth ocean has been discovered in Silver Spring, and its small touches of the unexpected have accumulated to turn Ocean IX into a full house even in its early months. First, it is away from the Siver Spring bustle, but only a couple of blocks away. On a small side street, a pretty little house with awnings over the windows and a flower garden in front, it is distinguished from its residential neighbors mainly by the large parking area around the two sides. With three rooms and a closed porch converted into dining rooms, it is capacious but still of intimate scale.
Second, finding an extensive seafood menu with special emphasis on grilled fish is welcome. In addition to the menu, which stretches from whole broiled fish to bouillabaisse, a blackboard in front announces daily seafood specials.
Third, the batik tablecloths give the hint that an Oriental influence is at work, which is carried into the garnishes -- intricately carved radishes and lemons.
So much for the pleasant surprises. Ocean IX does some things well, particularly in buying a wide variety of fresh fish whole and in filets, but it still needs to weed out the excess of unpleasant surprises.
The waiters are pleasant, but service is so harassed that you wind up feeling sorry for everybody -- including yourself.The wine list is apparently undergoing a revamping. It badly needs it. The menu, too, is expected to change. I hope that means that the great variety of dishes will be reduced to those the kitchen can do best. One is rightly suspicious of a small restaurant that attempts everything from clams casino to chicken kiev. And, while I sampled dozens of dishes, I could not possibly cover the range and had to ignore meat dishes altogether.
Just as starters, the restaurant offers cold seafoods (the shrimp are a bargain at $3.50), a seafood crepe that may be the best dish in the entire restaurant, a couple of pasta dishes that taste like afterthoughts, and several soups. The seafood soup and clam chowder are nearly identical, both of them too thick and bland inexplicably using what taste like canned clams. Appetizers and soups range from $1.50 to $4.50, and in that category you get what you pay for.
Next on the menu are continental seafoods, from fish and chips ($6.50) to lobster thermidor ($12). Good ingredients are used, and fried fish are delicately batter-fried, but I found nothing exceptional. The wisest choices are among the blackboard specials, perhaps rockfish of stellar character with a buttery thickened anchovy sauce to spoon over it ($9.95), or a broiled whole pompano, again sweetly fresh ($12.50). Lobster, when a special, has been a bargain-priced $14. On my next visit to Ocean IX I would again order whole broiled fish, for it is stuffed with celery and leeks for flavor, served on a sizzling metal platter, its skin crisp and its flesh moist, and flamed with Pernod as it is brought to the table. Some may mind having to bone the fish themselves, but I only minded the excessively salty seasoning spread on top, tasting like a cross between teriyaki sauce and provencal herbs. Like the paprika on the scampi and fish filets, this seasoning is a detraction rather than a complement. One main dish that stood up to its seasoning was red snapper en papillotee ($12), baked in a balloon of foil, a steaming conglomeration of tomato sauce with shrimp, clams, mussels on moist perfectly cooked snapper.
Even when the seafoods are in concord with their seasonings, dinner at Ocean IX is sullied by the indifferent accompaniment of a foil-baked potato that in my experience was always burned. Fresh vegetables such as asparagus or brocoli are cooked nicely, but sometimes left bare, other times sauced with hollandaise. An iceberg lettuce salad is at least topped with an excellent mustard-and-lemon dressing.
Like the main courses, the dessert menu is extensive, promising homemade cakes and fresh fruit salad at bargain prices. But the only desserts the kitchen was ever able to actually produce were creme caramel and fresh strawberries with sabayon that was light and aromatic but lumpy.
I hope Ocean IX will decide to attempt less and do it better. There is a good restaurant at Ocean IX, but it is hidden among a lot of mistakes, and you -- like I -- may not have the patience to find it.