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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 Food: 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