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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

Chris

February 3rd, 2012
10:12 pm

Some research has revealed the Reynolds Group is this restaurant’s PR company. I’m pretty sure I recognize FoodieATL as a frequent commenter here which really makes me wonder…

Dev.thereynoldsgroupinc.com/the_clients/clients-restaurants-hospitality.asocials

Chris

February 3rd, 2012
10:15 pm

good ole boy

February 3rd, 2012
10:30 pm

There’s a new Sheriff in town…and his name is J. Kessler.

HotlantaHobo

February 3rd, 2012
10:37 pm

And this reminds us the “Best of Atlanta” selections are probably gamed by PR firms and friends. Also reminds us how sites like Yelp can have very little credibility. And it’s really nice to know there was actually some observant moderation going on.

I suspect that this place will continue to have the usual Atlanta problems based on a very limited labor pool of skilled line cooks as well as a lack of trucks making deliveries of fresh seafood from Savannah, Brunswick or Apalachicola. .

Gordon Ramsay

February 3rd, 2012
10:39 pm

There is nothing wrong with being a ‘jerk’ if a restaurant wants to commit highway robbery by charging $27 for a piece of fish that came from a farmed tank full of algae and cost them $1 to produce. Tilapia doesn’t deserve any better reputation than catfish. Window dressing and salesmanship piss me off. Deliver the goods if you’re going to charge that kind of money. $27 is not an unreasonable price for a 2 pound lobster.

M.Johnson

February 3rd, 2012
10:56 pm

Hilarious. Great review! Love the trio of smoking $16 shrimp, the muddy tilapia, the “seasonal” raspberries (a la white jeans after Labor Day), and the $44 steak that died a 1,200-degree death.

To be honest, I wouldn’t mind sipping that smoking champagne cocktail at the bar, as long as the restaurant’s PR shill isn’t around griping over these comments.

Taster's Choice

February 3rd, 2012
10:57 pm

@sophisticated 1. you flatter yourself 2. I don’t live anywhere near Paulding County 3. any reasonable person will tell you that Buckhead is a traffic and parking pain in the butt, worth it if I’m headed to Aria or any number of other fine places, but not for Ocean Prime… which was my point, but you were so busy being an a-hole, you probably overlooked it.

Taster's Choice

February 3rd, 2012
10:59 pm

and nice work Kessler “outing” the pr guy… Now if we can just fix it so that Yelpers are electrocuted when they hit the “submit” button….

RK

February 3rd, 2012
11:11 pm

Perhaps we need an education on what these PR firms do — quite a list of restaurants that Reynolds promotes. Eventually, crappy concepts fail, though.

John, I think Reynolds would love to know which one of their PR slugs is too dumb to use a different name.

Aussie transplant

February 3rd, 2012
11:53 pm

Way to call out a crook, John Kessler!!! You are officially awesome in my books, now!

TD

February 4th, 2012
12:39 am

Well it also seems you have to have a big money PR firm to get a review in the AJC. Kinda like the pot calling the kettle black here. The small locally owned restaurant, I work at, built on sweat and blood capital doesn’t get a second look from the AJC, and we offer good honest fresh food at affordable prices.

Cump Sherman

February 4th, 2012
1:23 am

Worth reading all this just to see the flack exposed as the dishonest pimp he is.

foodphotog

February 4th, 2012
1:47 am

@TD- It may seem as if big money PR firms get all the reviews but I know for a fact it is not true. I am Johns photographer also Jenny Turknett’s, Jon Watson’s, and first Look writer – Bob Townsend’s. I have been doing the food shoots since M. Ford was the critic so I feel confident in saying that you do NOT need a PR firm to be reviewed in the AJC. Looking at the current 6 reviews online… 4 are locally owned and only 2 are pr firms…Ocean Prime and Seed.
Offering good ‘honest’ (?) fresh food at affordable prices is a GREAT way to get people in your restaurant. Hang in there and maybe we shall meet. With 50 reviews a year from Kessler and another 52 from the team of Jenny, Jon W & Gene Lee… plus an additional 52 First Looks from Bob Townsend, I believe you’re bound to be discovered someday.

jim

February 4th, 2012
6:29 am

Please tell me why a high end rest. would serve a mud tasting Tilapia fish.

Tom B

February 4th, 2012
6:47 am

Every time I read about one of these high priced, style over substance places, I am thankful that I can cook well, and don’t have to fork out $27 for a dish made with ingredients that cost 1/10th of that amount!

CP

February 4th, 2012
6:53 am

Don’t know what’s more embarrassing, getting caught shilling for your job when you’re pretending you’re not ~ or using the idiotic term “Foodie” in your moniker.

elmer

February 4th, 2012
7:39 am

I doubt that – good, bad or indifferent – I would have visited the restaurant. It’s in a price range my wife and I reserve for once every decade visits. But it was such a pleasure to read the review – it’s always entertaining to watch a real professional at work. If I was writing a textbook on the difference between the sort of reviews you’d find on amateur sites and from professional restaurant critics I’d use this as an example of what a gifted professional can do. I got the same kind of enjoyment from this as I do when I read a travel story about a place I’ll never be able to visit. John took me there – well done.

Secret Diner

February 4th, 2012
7:46 am

If I want overpriced fish and to be surrounded by pretentious foodies – I’ll go to the Whole Foods Ponce like everyone else.

sansho1

February 4th, 2012
7:46 am

I hope at least that FoodieATL is learning from the “friends of Aria” hereabouts how to use a little subtlety….

buckhead benny

February 4th, 2012
8:27 am

John,

You guys should have it to where you can share these articles on facebook, etc- You guys would get a lot of shares. Just curious if AJC plans on updating soon- Good article- I see this a lot with anoymous vents in general- Its funny to actually see someone called out-

Jenny Turknett

February 4th, 2012
8:44 am

Buckhead Benny, follow the AJC Food and More facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/AJC-Food-and-More/163455587217
We share links to most of our posts and reviews there!

Jim R

February 4th, 2012
9:01 am

Wow..Tons of comments and free publicity. It couldn’t be that the lightly disguised moniker was intentional could it? Perhaps my previous post was hasty. Maybe the boss is happy. After all that’s what the ‘P’ in PR stands for. Even bad ‘P’!!!

Paul From Milton

February 4th, 2012
9:02 am

I think one of the advantages to having so many restaurant / chef shows and blogs is that it makes non-gourmet diners like me more discerning in how we view restaurants. I know that I now pay much more attention to how the food is prepared and presented and to things like balance and texture. It has made me more confident in what I order and more willing to send a dish back to the kitchen if it is not prepared properly. That has made for a better dining experience for my wife and I.

By the way, I wonder if PR people write in that ridiculous, perky, over the top manner all the time?

eastcobber

February 4th, 2012
9:11 am

Wow, I must say, my experience was completely different then the one that you describe. The snapper was fabulous, the tuna was some of the best i have ever had. All our sides were wonderful. While I agree the prices were high, Our party of 8 all raved about how good each dish was.

Intown Snob

February 4th, 2012
9:48 am

No reason to try something new in this genre if it doesn’t get excellent reviews.
We already have Oceanaire (all business, dependable food) and Atlanta Fish Market (Pano’s casual side). For family atmosphere, good service and usually good but also spotty food (and stingy pouring bartenders) we have Big Ketch. I like the patio at Big Ketch when the weather is nice, but I prefer a table as far from the live music as possible. It has the feeling of Seaside, Florida. Post-game golfers at the bar hitting on their wives’ friends and families with a sensible number of children.

Charles

February 4th, 2012
9:59 am

I’m surprised that few of the comments so far have acknowledged that “swank” is a very big part of the deal for this type of outing. It seems, though, that somewhere about the middle of the meal the diner at this place has reached the point of wondering if it is all worth it. The feeling that it is worth it should be building as the experience draws to an end, not diminishing. Seems like the restaurant has a bit of tweaking to do. Entertaining review.

thefish

February 4th, 2012
10:09 am

eastcobber must work for The Reynolds Group too!!!!!!

THE Dixie Redcoat Band

February 4th, 2012
10:09 am

And you have to tip at least…at least 20%.

PapaDoc

February 4th, 2012
10:28 am

John Kessler from the perimeter, nothing but net. What a superb review. And busting the PR bs producer it just too funny. You made my day.
Thanks for your work that helps me out in determining where to spend my food dollars.

Casey

February 4th, 2012
10:29 am

Why bother with this place? I’ve been to the Oceanaire several times, and always had a wonderful experience. Food, service, and ambience all exceptional.

Form Letter

February 4th, 2012
10:34 am

Wow, I must say, my experience was completely different then the one that you describe. The (insert fish) was fabulous, the (insert other fish) was some of the best i have ever had. All our sides were wonderful. While I agree the prices were high, Our party of 8 all raved about how good each dish was.

Sandy

February 4th, 2012
10:36 am

I think the PR guy thought the great piano player he enjoyed was Elton John.

Latecomer

February 4th, 2012
11:07 am

Now that this thread has been revised with the “PR Guy Owned” headline, I’ll add my two cents about your two cents.
This is an article about a restaurant. A nice restaurant. Some might even say a “fancy” restaurant.
The writer will remark about the food, service, ambience, etc. He will critique the value of the meal – meaning the price of the food relative to its quality. Pricing food and drinks at such a place requires consideration of the ingredients, preparation and general overhead of the business.
If there is an expensive chandelier and a pianist, expect a mark-up on the entrees. If you know the name of the chef (and it’s not the same as the name of the restaurant), expect additonal mark-ups.
But for the love of Pete, don’t comment on whether you would spend the money to eat here from a principle standpoint. This is John Kessler’s review, Not Suze Orman. No one asked you to decide whether it was appropriate for your budget to spend $150.00 on dinner. No one cares.

juice sourcer

February 4th, 2012
12:24 pm

Just looking at their by the glass wine offering…totally boring and outrageously priced. They are basically are saying…you…my customer are stupid and we are going to rip you off and you will not know the difference…I don’t think so…not with me.

Billy

February 4th, 2012
12:38 pm

LOL, just gimme a Slim Jim. Seriously, except for rich people and those that like to act like the above, what normal person eats at a place like this? Applebees and Ruby Tuesdays aren’t perfect, but I bet the food tastes as good or better. As for the rich and their pretender cousins, let them eat cake…

William, not Billy

February 4th, 2012
12:56 pm

1st: John Kessler… hat’s off to you. For a pro foodie to put the same level of thought effort and detail into a review of the Twinkie as you do here for Ocean Prime, now that’s fair and balanced reporting!

2nd: Billy… Applebees and Ruby Tuesdays? Really? How about a Twinkie to go with that Slim Jim? All the important food additive groups there.

BehindEnemyLines

February 4th, 2012
1:40 pm

Credit where it’s due – Kessler’s sharp eye may have turned this into the most amusing food article in AJC history. Well done sir, well done indeed.

reebok

February 4th, 2012
2:08 pm

FoodieATL just insured that I will not give this overpriced place a try. Nice transparency.

Scott

February 4th, 2012
2:19 pm

JOHN great review.

Sophisticated, I can live anywhere I want to. I was born in Atlanta and moved to Cobb and now Cherokee. I entertain and dine customers all over the city. I take my family into Buckhead to eat as well as other parts of the city. So spare me the intown snob act. I choose to live where I do so I dont have to put up with crazy high property taxes, Atlanta school board cheats, city council idiots, criminal water fees and high crime rates.

Is It February Already?!? |

February 4th, 2012
4:43 pm

[...] that came into town.  I won’t call it out since I’ve never been so I’ll let John do it here.  By the way, not only is he an amazing guy he’s one of my all time favorite food writers. [...]

Blackland

February 4th, 2012
6:19 pm

Well, I have dined at OP once. I eat at Chops and NY Prime fairly often, Bones once and Mortons a few times. I agree with John’s review. In this price range OP cannot compete with the food at either NY Prime or Chops. Mortons is gone and I didn’t really like the atmosphere at Bones. So for the money NY Prime and Chops win.

Old Man

February 5th, 2012
11:52 am

The major clue here is “tilapia”. No self respecting chef would serve this. It is a trash fish and one step above soylent green as a protein source. There is a reason is it relegated to $2 fish tacos.

LawDawg

February 5th, 2012
1:17 pm

Old Man – absolutely right about Tilapia. I have to question anyone who orders Tilapia at all, much less paying 5x what is reasonable for a mediocre fish.

Also, I love calling out the PR flak. Everytime I read the Best of the Big A nominations, I can see the fingerprints of restaurant owners and PR people on there. Its amazing when you see that 10 out of 15 comments are talking about how much they love some POS restaurant.

Ben Elstein

February 5th, 2012
2:47 pm

Ben Elstein

February 5th, 2012
4:59 pm

What Kessler omits from his pan is that Ocean Prime only offers fish from certified sustainable beds, meat from a boutique cut-house, shrimp the size of your hands and Peruvian blue tilapia that you ought to Google before you unloose your invective.

Although Kessler clearly caught the kitchen on an off night (probably near its late October opening), it’s a one-visit review; what journalist does that? One of the most uninformed and lazy restaurant pieces I’ve ever seen, and consistent with a city that esteems pretentious shoemakers like Doty and Blaise.

Ben Elstein

February 5th, 2012
5:15 pm

The bottom line is that Kessler does not come off sounding like a jerk at all; his tone is considered and his writing clear. Instead he comes off as someone without any understanding of restaurant economics and business models and someone who selectively withholds detail in order to add acid to his vituperation.

I recently had a phenomenal meal at Harper Station – a hipsterish destination in a post-industrial dump of a neighborhood that no-one will confuse with Buckhead – and blew over $100 on myself. At the shiny new Ocean Prime, I could indeed blow $100 too, and I would leave no less satisfied with the spend.

Ben Elstein

February 5th, 2012
5:43 pm

F0r any reader here interested in legitimate food criticism (i.e. you don’t need to worry that the photograph of an item and the listed ingredients match, as they don’t here), check out the Twin Cities’ Dara Moskowitz-Grumdahl and Amy Thielen, LA’s Jonathan Gold and Patrtick Kuh, or just pick up a copy of the weirdly compelling Lucky Peach journal.

There are plenty of really good, mediocre, and craptastic restaurants in Atlanta. Ocean Prime can be any of those to any reader, and to any reviewer. It’s just a shame to read such a markedly negative review that was published without any apparent application of conventional fact-checking standards. Atlanta has enough horrid food writing – hello Cliff Bostock! – and this sort of slash-and-burn effort only serves to undermine all culinary activity in the city.

John Kessler

February 5th, 2012
5:44 pm

Ben Elstein — I always visit a restaurant at least twice before reviewing it.

Bootsy

February 5th, 2012
6:50 pm

Thank YOU Ben Elstein for YOUR clear writing and tone.

sansho1

February 5th, 2012
10:49 pm

I’ve disagreed with Kessler’s opinion sometimes, but he’s always been up-front with his methods.