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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

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110 comments Add your comment

Fayefan

February 6th, 2012
12:00 pm

Everyone’s a critic LOL!! Ben, could you be any more full of yourself? Pretentious much? Ben & Bootsy also work PR for OP? There have been so many PR shills on this topic commenting back and forth, I will never set foot in OP; as others have remarked, there are many excellent alternatives in the same area that are as good, or much better.
Agree with sansho1. Thank you, Jon, for keeping it real!

RK

February 6th, 2012
12:56 pm

Amazing that PR people continue to make things worse…

BTW, John K has been doing this long enough to know that you don’t judge a restaurant by its opening. In fact, he just had a column about someone else doing that…

John Kessler

February 6th, 2012
1:38 pm

Hey, folks -

A quick “thank you all” for the great, thoughtful comments I’m reading here. It really seems to be that a lot of you are sick of the feeling of getting gamed online by anonymous opinion. I certainly don’t doubt that FoodieATL likes the restaurant, but I hope she now knows how important transparency is for any discussion of opinion. I’ve got a call out to the head of the PR firm in question for a response. I’ll let you know when it comes.
I do take my role as a broadcaster of opinion very seriously, and as a former restaurant cook and chef I know both the pleasure of a good review and the sting of a poor one. A critic for the Washington Post many years ago found my pizza crust “a marvel” and my grilled pompano “inedibly salty.”

Hawkman

February 6th, 2012
2:15 pm

Although I don’t always agree with Mr. Kessler’s reviews I think he is spot on with this one. Ocean Prime as a location in Denver that I visited last summer and found the food to be just okay but the pricing, well, let’s just say they were proud of themselves. Found the new one here in Atlanta to be just what I experienced in Denver. Loved the atmosphere and some of the funky drinks but the food isn’t as good as some other seafood restaurants in town. Hope they make it but it will be a struggle.

JK – loved that you busted FoodieATL. Biased opinions are just that and don’t deserve to be allowed here.

AKA

February 6th, 2012
2:54 pm

“I can see your name (visible to administrators.” Does this mean you can see the E-mail address required or the actual address the email was sent from? Just curious.

Sarah

February 6th, 2012
4:13 pm

Quite bold of Mr. Ben Elstein to make such statements considering his role in the Atlanta Restaurant community. (a quick check on his linkedin will show you). But maybe his comments are merely a shrewd move by him to avoid a lackluster review from John Kessler. Can’t you hear him now crying that his restaurants less than stellar review is simply backlash for his comments he made on this review. . . . . .

Toni Moceri

February 6th, 2012
5:37 pm

I like Ocean Prime, I have read some of the comments, personally I never experienced bad service there. The steaks prices are not necessarily over priced they compare to NYP, Bones and Hals pricing.

John Kessler

February 7th, 2012
1:32 pm

Hey, folks —
If you’re interested, here’s a statement from The Reynolds Group about the anonymous post from its employee.

http://blogs.ajc.com/food-and-more/statement-from-the-reynolds-group-on-its-social-media-policy/

Ben Elstein

February 7th, 2012
11:35 pm

Re: Sarah
I commented without an anonymizing username because, just like Kessler, I think it’s important to identify yourself in a public forum – especially if you’re going to stake claim to a strongly worded opinion.

Yep, my resume is right there for public consumption on LinkedIn. My current hospitality venture is effectively outside the scope of what any restaurant critic might take time to evaluate, and my previous endeavours foodwise were, with one or two proud exceptions, largely crap.

Ben Elstein

February 7th, 2012
11:48 pm

Harsh reviews should be written when warranted. My response to the OP review was not proffered in specific defense of that enterprise; rather it was a thoroughly annoyed response to an ineffectively written article. In my book, disappointing restaurants are forgettable (and, sadly, legion), while bad reporting is unforgiveable.