Friday, September 28, 2012

Come On In, The Water is Fine - at Ocean Prime!

Recently Lisa and I attended a media dinner, at Dallas’ Ocean Prime - “A Modern American Supper Club” and were pleasantly surprised by both the food and the service.

Ocean Prime is a national chain, with nine restaurants (a tenth location is opening in Philadelphia in the spring of 2013), that was started in 2006, as a labor of love, by restaurateur Cameron Mitchell. The chain began life as “Mitchell's Ocean Club” in Columbus, Ohio, and as the chain expanded, was renamed Ocean “Prime”, to reflect their high quality steak, seafood, cocktail and wine offerings. The concept strives to be a place to spend an entire evening, not just dinner in the main dining room. You can enjoy live entertainment in the piano bar, and cocktails and dessert after dinner on the spacious patio.

The chain has been an ongoing project and each location gives its executive chef free reign to create regionally inspired dishes, while also offering the tried and true concept menu standards.

Pulling up to the valet at the front of the Rosewood Court building, across Cedar Springs from the Crescent, we walked the “red carpet” to the entrance of Prime. The interior is glamorous without being ostentatious, wrapped in wood and leather, with splashes of blue light and highlights tastefully used. The place has a lighter, more modern feel than most traditional steak and seafood houses, but does have a subtle and comfortable atmosphere. Live music is offered in the bar, beginning at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday. The music is pleasant and at a level that is easy to converse over.

We were warmly greeted by General Manager Walter Hatcher and Executive Chef Sonny Pache. Chef Pache, a former California native, has done time in the kitchens of two award-winning restaurants, The Columbus Fish Market and M, in Columbus, Ohio, prior to heading up the kitchen for Ocean Prime Dallas. California’s culinary style has had a big impact on Chef Sonny's style, as has his Filipino upbringing, and consequently, his favorite style of cooking is Pan Asian. His love of fresh seafood and a stint in Midwest restaurants make him a perfect fit for Ocean Prime.

After being ushered to the private “wine” room, walled on one side by lovely glass-encased racks filled with their top-notch wine selection, and by a long gas-flamed fire pit on the other wall, our complementary, multi-course evening started with some of Ocean Prime’s award-winning hand-crafted house specialty cocktails.

We sampled the Pear Grapefruit Fizz (Asian pear vodka, lime juice, cinnamon simple syrup and grapefruit soda), Pineapple Saffron (vodka, saffron syrup, lemon juice and pineapple juice), Berries & Bubbles (Belvedere citrus vodka, marinated berries, house made sour, and Domaine Chandon Brut… with dry ice chips!), and the Black Orchid (Belvedere black raspberry vodka, St. Germaine Elderflower, lemon juice and white cranberry juice over an orchid encased in a sphere of ice!). All are creative, but the Berries & Bubbles and Black Orchid were by far the favorites. After all, presentation is almost everything!

Two great towers of clean, plump, fresh-tasting Cape Cod Mayflower oysters-on-the-half-shell sat on ice, in the middle of the table. Ocean Prime’s oysters are thoroughly purged in their own oyster tanks and had no hint of sand or grit.

For our salad course we had our choice of either the Wedge Salad or the Caesar; so of course, we sampled both. The Caesar was great, with a light dressing heavy in anchovy flavor and topped with shaved parmesan and brioche croutons (a topping of additional anchovies is an option). The Iceberg Wedge was topped with red onion, blue cheese chunks, grape tomatoes, smoked bacon, and a cabernet buttermilk ranch. I felt that the cabernet gave the dressing an odd flavor, but it seemed to be very much enjoyed by the rest of the table.

The soup course had us trying Ocean Prime’s signature Lobster Bisque with Sweet Corn Fritter and corn pico de gallo. It was rich and creamy with a hint of butter, and spooning at the soft, floating corn fritter made for fun eating. It could have used just a bit more sherry, but was otherwise lovely.

Appetizers included another signature dish; the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with Sweet Corn Cream, which was generously loaded with lump crab and had virtually no detectable binding ingredients. We also tried the “Smoking” Shellfish Tower which consisted of colossal shrimp, chilled jumbo lump crab meat, and oysters on the half shell; all were extremely fresh. The Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli with Golden Oak Mushrooms had a nice texture and came in an amazing broth, and the Point Judith Calamari in Sweet Chili Sauce with Candied Cashews was possibly the best fried squid that I’ve ever had.

When Lisa and I travel to coastal regions of the U.S. we are constantly baffled by our inability, or simply our bad luck at being able to find great seafood, and we consistently have to admit that we can get better in poor old landlocked Dallas, so for or our “surf” main course offering, we were happy to try the Chilean Sea Bass with Glazed Carrots in Champagne Truffle Sauce, which certainly did not disappoint! It was light and flaky with just enough tooth, and the subtle truffle sauce didn’t mask the delicate flavor of the bass. Executive chef Pache, has done a phenomenal job building relationships with various mongers and the restaurant flies in fresh seafood daily, enabling them to feature great seasonal fish like halibut and Hawaiian snapper.

We each tried a single cut filet dusted with house made magic steak seasoning and topped with half a bulb of roasted garlic, for our “turf” course. The steak did have a good flavor and was tender, however, on both of my recent visits, I do have to admit that my “medium rare” steaks were a tad overcooked, so next time, I’ll order on the rare side.

Our side dish offerings consisted of Candied Yams with Marshmallow Brulee (traditional but tasty and not overly sweet), Lobster Mashed Potatoes (creamy and well presented, but I felt that the lobster was almost wasted, as the flavor was mostly masked by the taters), Chophouse Corn (a lightly creamed corn), Black Truffle Macaroni and Cheese (a nice earthy truffle flavor comes through), and beautifully prepared Jumbo Asparagus with Hollandaise.

Dessert? Well, that would be Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie (peanut butter mousse with bittersweet chocolate ganache – think of a giant, rich, creamy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup – my personal favorite), Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake (with graham cracker crust and blueberry syrup – filled with ricotta goodness), Baked Alaska (pound cake filled with house made Neapolitan ice cream - vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry – covered in toasted meringue and fresh raspberries – surprisingly unimpressive – stick with the other desserts) and the award winning Ten Layer Carrot Cake (with cream cheese icing and pineapple syrup – a wonderfully indulgent treat).

Ocean Prime is used to saying “yes” to customers and the fact that everything is prepared to order, as ordered, makes it much easier for them to accommodate food requests, whether it's allergy or preferentially related. The fare is consistently fresh and well prepared, with the menu being easily digestible by those with less adventurous palates. The complexity of the dishes is on the simple side with numerous steak-house-familiar dishes and a few interesting regional, seasonal, and standout items for the more advanced diners.

The restaurant has garnered a number of awards including…

Wine Spectator Award of Excellence – 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012

Best Dessert (for their awesome Ten Layer Carrot Cake) D Magazine - 2010

Top 20 Steakhouses (#3!) D Magazine – 2011.

Ocean Prime is located at 2101 Cedar Springs, across from the Crescent Hotel and has four dining rooms that are available for private events, each with its own distinctive look and charm. It is close to some of Dallas’ top rated hotels, the McKinney trolley line, Uptown, and American Airlines Center (Stars and Mavericks games). Reservations are recommended, but walk-ins are welcome and if you don’t need to sit in a booth (there are only seven and they are in high-demand, so you may have to wait for these) you can usually be seated almost immediately. For being fairly intimate, the dining room is quite large. Ocean Prime offers a nice alternative to the run-of-the-mill Dallas steak houses and most anyone should feel comfortable and be able to find something to their liking here.


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