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Ocean Prime restaurant review, Buckhead

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The coolest thing about Ocean Prime? The entrance foyer, which doubles as a time portal.

Shrug off the traffic and hassle of Piedmont Road and find yourself inside a perfect recreation of a mid-century supper club — one that begs for the descriptor “swanky.”

Review by John Kessler

Review by John Kessler

A phalanx of hostesses and managers greets you from behind the kind of grand dais usually reserved for teams of TV news anchors. The burble of a water feature with undulating lights gently combines with the strains of a lounge singer crooning in the bar. There’s even a plush cloakroom.

The least cool thing? Probably the fact that the seasonal flavor of sorbet on the dessert menu is raspberry. I know “seasonal” is one of those fluffy throwaway words menu writers like, but it’s also one that people tend to take seriously these days. And, well, we’re not exactly in Chile.

If only the sorbet flavor was the sole issue with the food at this grandiose steak and seafood palace. Ocean Prime — the newest link in a small chain with outposts in Denver, Dallas and other cities — peddles the old-school luxury we rarely see anymore. It’s a destination place for couples to dress up and for business executives to flaunt their expense accounts with $40 fish entrees and $144 bottles of champagne. But despite the fizzy spirit afoot, the kitchen simply doesn’t deliver the quality to justify the extremely high menu prices.

Only one word to describe this dining room -- swanky! (all photos by Becky Stein)

Only one word to describe this dining room -- swanky! (all photos by Becky Stein)

If you go, someone at your table should start with the signature cocktail called Berries & Bubbles ($12) that arrives trailing more smoke than a DDT truck. This concoction of citrus vodka, blackberries and champagne is shaken over dry ice, enveloping your table in plumes of merriment. I find it pretty tasty, with a sour kick to mitigate the sweetness.

Bubbles & Berries, as fun as it is tasty
Berries & Bubbles, as fun as it is tasty

Follow this with a shrimp cocktail ($16), which brings three giant, nicely cooked shrimp in a footed metal cup resting on — yipes! — more dry ice. You can’t even see the cocktail sauce through the white billows that, by now, have occupied your table. You begin to wonder if David Blaine is hiding underneath it.

You’d have to be a Grinch not to have fun with all this showmanship, though I was a little relieved to see the smoke clear for the bread and butter. A half-dozen oysters ($16) plucked from the shellfish display fronting the exhibition kitchen came on a simple bed of ice — no glacio-technics here — cleanly shucked and well chilled.

Now I’ve come to the difficult point in this review where I shall struggle mightily to sound like a good-tempered, reasonable person but will surely come off like a jerk.

Everything else I try is just kind of eh. It would be eh at half the price, but it’s eh with a head scratch and a “wow, that’s expensive” as served.

The signature crab cake ($16) with a sweet corn cream (and a bit of kernel corn salad tossed in a light dressing made with rancid oil) is not one of those barely bound scoops of jumbo lumps, but one of those seared, overseasoned patties that pulls apart in more strings than lumps. A Caesar salad ($9) comes with those little hard shreds of Parmesan cheese that look like grains of rice.

The waiters do a good job talking up the food, but I’m not sure these ingredients deserve it. After a waiter compliments me on my “economical” decision to order the crab crusted blue tilapia ($27), he assures me it came from clean mountain waters in Peru. With a vision of Andean fish farms dancing in my head, I bite into a piece of fish with the near-muddy flavor and crumble-apart flakes that I know well from $2 fish tacos. Blackened snapper ($32) with wilted spinach and jalapeño corn sauce is the better choice, but both dishes seem to belong to a far cheaper, less flashy restaurant.

Blackened snapper - the best of the expensive fish entrees we try

Blackened snapper - the best of the expensive fish entrees we try

A 12-ounce bone-in filet steak ($44) seems a difficult cut to cook properly, given that lean tenderloin needs a hard sear to achieve the meltingly soft texture we love. Wouldn’t the side bone get in the way? But the menu and the waiter did such a good job talking up the “1,200-degree” oven that we decide to put the kitchen to the test. Our steak, ordered medium rare, arrives barely pink and grainy in texture.

Even Chilean sea bass ($42) comes out stringy, dry and overcooked — unusual for a fish with such a high fat content. It shares a plate with stiff mashed potatoes, crunchily raw carrot coins and a whole lot of truffled butter sauce.

See what I mean? I can’t describe this food without sounding like a jerk.

Think positive. Well, I do like some of the sides we order with our $44 steak. Jumbo asparagus ($10) with peeled stems, cooked to a fine crisp-tender, are lovely. Chophouse corn ($8) in a butter and cream sauce sweetened with sugar isn’t for me, but a twice-baked potato ($9) is the kind of creamy calorie-fest I can’t resist. As for the black truffle mac and cheese ($12), I’m afraid I’m back to Grinch mode. The yellow-orange color says processed cheese and the texture is not unlike the stuff dentists use to make molds.

The restaurant boasts a fairly lengthy wine list, but it’s also one that goes very heavily on the big-distribution wines you can find in many package stores and supermarkets — Penfolds shiraz, Beaulieu Vineyard pinot noir, Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc and all the typical California cabernet sauvignons. Because the wines are so familiar, I balk at the markups, usually between two and three times retail for the bottles and often more than three times retail for the wines by the glass. Do I want to spend $16 for a glass of Saintsbury Carneros pinot noir?

With a glass of wine here and a dessert there, it adds up quickly. You can easily spend $100 a head at Ocean Prime. Your drink will billow with smoke and your very pleasant waiter will talk of Peru, and you will end up with the kind of meal that would have been perfectly fine had you stumbled upon it on a road trip.

OCEAN PRIME
3102 Piedmont Road, Atlanta. 404-846-0505
FAIRstars5Food: Old-school American seafood and steak
Service: Extremely attentive and solicitous
Best dishes: Berries & Bubbles cocktail, raw oysters, jumbo asparagus
Vegetarian selections: A large selection of side dishes
Credit cards: All major cards accepted
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5-9 p.m. Sundays.
Children: I’d probably consider a babysitter.
Parking: Valet
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Full
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes

ratings_key_febUSE

110 comments Add your comment

Married over my head

February 2nd, 2012
7:32 am

ouch! Best dish asparagus! No Christmas card 4 u

george

February 2nd, 2012
8:19 am

another all hat and no cattle dining “experience.” no doubt the glitter will insure its sucess with people trying to impress their guests with their wallet rather than their dining sophistication.

KR

February 2nd, 2012
8:41 am

Went there Monday and the food was not good! Over priced and the silverware was dirty. It also took 2 hours for the main course!!!

fishmonger

February 2nd, 2012
9:35 am

Wow…how in the heck does one get financing to justify opening a restaurant with ridiculously high prices in this economic climate (particularly with a location on Piedmont Rd). If this was opened inside the St Regis or something…maybe, but the business people here must be really great salesmen. I’m so disappointed to hear steaks are $44 and Sea Bass is $42. Ridiculous. I’m in the 1% and I won’t be eating there… I bet they struggle and either prices will come down or the place will close within a year. Too bad…

kmb

February 2nd, 2012
9:48 am

At those prices, what’s wrong with being a jerk.

Grasshopper

February 2nd, 2012
10:26 am

He called your $27 piece of tilapia ‘economical?’

Oh no he didn’t! Haha!

sansho1

February 2nd, 2012
10:58 am

Possible response to a server calling a diner’s choice “economical” — “I know, that’s two dollars less I’ll have to tip you!”

Seriously, even if the food was prepared well, the menu sounds dull as dishwater. I don’t get the point of grafting a boring steak joint menu onto other cuisines.

KIKI

February 2nd, 2012
11:15 am

Glad I don’t work at Ocean Prime. I would be tightnening the belt a little

KIKI

February 2nd, 2012
11:19 am

Glad I don’t work at Ocean Prime. “Economical” thats funny. I suspect he will; be browsing Craigslist in the near future

Taster's Choice

February 2nd, 2012
11:28 am

If a restaurant is going to lure me into the Buckhead nightmare, it had better be worth the hassle. Sounds like this one is too big a gamble. Thanks for the warning.

Blackland

February 2nd, 2012
1:15 pm

Spot on review! Nice atmosphere, exceptional service, bad food was my experience. The wine mark-up is criminal considering the low quality options.

John Kessler

February 2nd, 2012
1:18 pm

For the record, I thought the waiter’s use of the word “economical” was kind of amusing in context (which is why I put it in the review), but he didn’t anger me in the slightest. Our service was very friendly and professional.

Mimosa, formerly from NOLA

February 2nd, 2012
1:20 pm

Love this candid review, John. I really got a good feel of the atmosphere and could smell and taste the dishes from your adept descriptions and the good photos. Basically, the menu seems a gussied up version of the Pappadeaux’s seafood restaurants.

Tilapia, indeed. Why not North Carolina farm-raised mountain trout, butterflied, pecans, lemon and brown butter sauce as a freshwater choice? Flying tilapia from the Andes is as environmentally wasteful as transporting that mucky tasting basia from the dirty ponds of Vietnam.

Restaurateurs who think local, or at least use American ingredients, demonstrate that they value freshness and sustainability.

John, you need to change wander to ‘wonder’ in one setence. ;)

Kimberly

February 2nd, 2012
1:25 pm

I have eaten at the Ocean Prime in Scottdale twice and found the service and food to be top knotch. My husband and I tried out the Buckhead outpost several weeks ago, eargerly awaiting the same experience we had in Scottsdale. Sadly, we did not have the same experience. We sat in the bar and while our server was doing her best, her backup servers didn’t refill our waters or bring our bread. She had to go ask three times for the bread. The food was just OK. We won’t be back unless we start hearing that things change for the better.

RK

February 2nd, 2012
1:38 pm

$16 for 3 precooked shrimp? That’s hilarious.

John Kessler

February 2nd, 2012
1:44 pm

Mimosa: Thanks for the catch!

Scott

February 2nd, 2012
2:08 pm

When I read this, and John mentioned the shrimp cocktail, I automatically thought of the fine dining scene from the Blues Brothers movie. “How much for the women!?”

nsk

February 2nd, 2012
2:15 pm

This is a great review because it’s helpful, candid, articulate, specific, and balanced. More like this, please.

carla roqs

February 2nd, 2012
3:03 pm

M Long

February 2nd, 2012
4:03 pm

Question John: Why would you order Chilean Sea Bass knowing this fish is not sustainable????

james

February 2nd, 2012
4:22 pm

@M Long – Because John knew it would ultimately lead to a net reduction in sea bass consumption – after all, who’s gonna order it at $42 a pop after that review? Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war.

Either that or John just likes Chilean Sea Bass.

Eatoutatlanta

February 2nd, 2012
4:31 pm

Just what I though when spent $200 on dinner for 2. I know 10 restaurants that serve the bottom feeder Tilapia for under $16. It probably cost $1.50 lb. And yet another steak house sucking in Atlanta oy vey. I spend money if the food is worth it but it’s not easy to find a restaurant that has the value and not just ‘fair’ I cook better then fair at home. John have you tried Tantra restaurant yet? If not when you do…. Take your shoes off because its going to blow your socks off.

art

February 2nd, 2012
5:01 pm

Obviously, this is not this company’s first rodeo. Wonder if they cleared this one “safe for solo” too soon? I’ll bet someone at corporate is reading this and taking notes. Maybe we’ll see some changes in the near future. Unfortunately ‘we’re not very forgiving of high-end missteps.

A

February 2nd, 2012
7:19 pm

Why would anyone go here? Sounds overpriced for mediocre food. Thanks John for going there so we don’t have to!

Freehawk

February 2nd, 2012
7:46 pm

John, please change wonder to wander.

SteakLover

February 2nd, 2012
9:02 pm

I have had multiple great experiences at OP and think it is WELL worth another try!!!

Steven

February 2nd, 2012
9:33 pm

John enjoyed the review. Sounds like a see and be seen restaurant. I will take my money elsewhere.

jsf4545

February 3rd, 2012
6:20 am

Please tell me that I can borrow the “economical” line. That is some funny stuff. Trying to figure out how I can incorporate it without getting fired. Any suggestions other than not saying it at all?

ccan1234

February 3rd, 2012
8:14 am

Since the majority of the Tilapia on the market is farm raised, I highly doubt that fish ever sniffed Peruvian waters. OP is just another “wannabe” steakhouse in Atlanta that hasn’t figured out how to do it right. I wonder what restaurant will be in that space at the end of this year. For the best steak, service and ambiance in Atlanta, visit the Palm!

Nit picker

February 3rd, 2012
9:21 am

Since you thanked Mimosa, may I add that a hostess or manager greets you, multiples “greet” you.

PJ

February 3rd, 2012
10:29 am

Very accurate description of my reaction when I dined their last month. They better step it up or they will surely meet the fate of so many other so called “fine dining establishments” that could not met the standards of the Atlanta consumer.

Mo

February 3rd, 2012
1:52 pm

I have eaten there three times and have had great meals and great service and no i am not on an expense account and I am not rich.
It’s not cheap but then again either are any of the Buckhead Life units or Bones.
Most of you commenting here probably have never even been there. Don’t take this idiot’s word go and see for yourself.

FoodieATL

February 3rd, 2012
2:30 pm

I have been to Ocean Prime quite a few times and have always had great food and great service. The prices are very similar to most other Buckhead restaurants of this type, and I the experiences I have had are worth the money. It’s also fun to just go sit at the bar and share some sides and appetizers with friends if you don’t want to have a big dinner. The piano players they have a great!

John Kessler

February 3rd, 2012
2:45 pm

FoodieATL – Do you think it would be germane to point out that you work for the public relations firm Ocean Prime has retained locally? I can see from your name (visible to administrators) that you do. Did they know you were part of their PR team when you sat at the bar? Did you pay? Just curious!

FoodieATL

February 3rd, 2012
3:12 pm

While I am a member of Ocean Prime’s PR team, I wanted to share my personal positive experiences at the restaurant with readers. I have dined at Ocean Prime on numerous occasions in both personal and business capacities, and I have spent my own money there on many visits.

John Kessler

February 3rd, 2012
3:23 pm

Okay, so this is the private and anonymous you who just really likes the joint, as opposed to public you who gets paid to promote the place? I, um, get it…

ATLGA

February 3rd, 2012
3:25 pm

noelle

February 3rd, 2012
3:44 pm

way to go John!!!!

Jim R

February 3rd, 2012
3:53 pm

OUCH…Can’t make the boss happy being busted. Say Good-Bye expense account. Although I dislike the concept of ‘Destination restaurants’ and found this place way overpriced, the crab cakes were crunchy,tasty and moist in the middle. Had no problem with the texture. As you can see from my email address I won’t be reviewing any food served at the many ‘G-Mail’ owned restaurants.

ATL PR Girl

February 3rd, 2012
4:03 pm

Thank you John Kessler for making my day! I am also a food publicist, so this kind of thing cracks me up.

Hey, you should go to my restaurant and write a review and say how good it is because I’m going to send you a press release on how good the food is. Please?

Over Rated

February 3rd, 2012
5:18 pm

Two things funny and one thing sad:

Funny:
1. People who think that critic reviews and PR releases actually impact the long term success or failure of a restaurant. Good fun wins the day and you cant fake quality – nor can good / bad PR save bad quality.

2. High priced Tilapia

Sad:

1. High priced Tilapia

coopcat

February 3rd, 2012
7:17 pm

Wonderful, another lackluster and overpriced Atlanta restaurant. On the positive side, keeps me cooking healthy meals at home. This is supposed to be a top “eating out” city. I’ve never been able to find a place I really enjoy eating except Aria.

mj

February 3rd, 2012
7:57 pm

Wow, had reservation there on the 11th for early Valentine dinner. Maybe the great ole reliable “Hals” is where we need to be. Also, Morton’s in Buckhead closed down and what a meal they provided. Will miss them, just a funky location.

Mcocroft

February 3rd, 2012
8:07 pm

Agreed, coopcat. Why eat this garbage when Aria and Gerry Klaskala are just up the street? And no, I’m not a PR guy for Aria. :-)

Sophisticated

February 3rd, 2012
8:22 pm

@Taster’s Choice…I find this restaurant not worth the price too, but please stay out of Buckhead. We have many great restaurants here. Please stay out in Paulding County!

td

February 3rd, 2012
8:24 pm

Most entertaining restaurant review (and associated comments) I’ve read in a long time, plus a devastating exposure of a PR shill that had me laughing out loud. I don’t mind paying top dollar for a memorable dining experience, but this appears to be memorable in a completely different way. I’ll pass.

patrick

February 3rd, 2012
8:48 pm

Funny: The irony of dismissing the efficacy of reviews and PR when actively responding to a review thread and reading all the way through 50 posts in order to give said response. I guess that means you’re completely informed, not at all influenced, but unquestionably opinionated?

Bob from Accounttemps

February 3rd, 2012
9:45 pm

Concerning @FoodieATL, thanks for keeping ‘em honest John!!

Tom

February 3rd, 2012
10:00 pm

Restaurants like this are the reason I prefer to throw a steak on my own grill and fix my own cocktail. Absolutely…just can’t find the right words!!!

matt

February 3rd, 2012
10:01 pm

Regulating!

“John Kessler
February 3rd, 2012
2:45 pm

FoodieATL – Do you think it would be germane to point out that you work for the public relations firm Ocean Prime has retained locally? I can see from your name (visible to administrators) that you do. Did they know you were part of their PR team when you sat at the bar? Did you pay? Just curious!”