The highs could be higher at Ocean Prime

By Brian Freedman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 26, 2013

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Good taste: Try Ocean Prime’s blackened snapper and cucumber gimlet. (Photo by J.R. Blackwell)

I understand that high prices are the norm at steak- and seafood-houses. Part of the implied quid pro quo there is that, by god, this food is going to be mighty darned satisfying. To invert an old cliché, it’s got to deliver some steak with its sizzle. I knew up front Ocean Prime offered plenty of sizzle: It’s a stunningly gorgeous restaurant filled with stunningly gorgeous people. But would there be steak?

There was steak, of course. Our waiter informed us that all of them were cut from Midwest grain-fed creatures—a technique that, though prevalent at steakhouses around the country, has lost a good bit of its luster in recent years, as a result of greater awareness of how it can impact both the animal itself and the planet in general. As for the result on the plate: An order of Kansas City strip, dry-aged for 28 days by the supplier, was exceptionally tender. I missed, though, the umami-rich undertow I was expecting; in place of much inherent character of its own, the dominant flavor was derived from a swath of herb butter. For $44, I might have hoped for more.

As per common steakhouse m.o., that price didn’t include sides. So for $20, I ordered up creamed spinach and a massive twice-baked potato that reminded me of the sort of tubers I used to cook for my family as a kid: the cheddar oozing atop the starchy Himalaya, nubs of applewood bacon striving to provide crunch and character.

Pleasant if uninspired blackened snapper found its counterpoint in a creamy vin blanc sauce; perhaps a hair sweeter than I’d prefer, but the jalapeño corn spoon bread and jalapeño corn tartar sauce provided a moderately spicy juxtaposition.

The appetizers, though, give me pause even now. An $18 crab cake—again, that’s an appetizer—should blow you away, or perhaps even inspire you to hang a poster of the guys from Deadliest Catch above your bed. This one just sat there with its sweet corn emulsion, slowly being encroached upon by the liquid oozing from the succotash, the juxtaposition of the hot crab and chilly veg perplexing at best. As for the cake itself, it was appropriately meaty and nicely seasoned with Old Bay and cayenne, even if the inside was too wet for me.

Calamari was a hillock of squid brightened with julienned vegetables—a moderately spicy, distractingly cloying preparation that brought to my mind some sort of cephalopod version of General Tso’s chicken, sufficiently soggy that the once-crunchy crusts eventually began slipping from the rings and tentacles. My dining companion suggested it seemed more akin to something he’d expect to find on the menu at P.F. Chang’s.

All of this can be washed down or preceded with specialty cocktails; I enjoyed the cucumber gimlet in particular. If you’re smart, you’ll accompany the drinks with an order of the charming truffle deviled eggs with caviar. As far as the wine list, it’s pretty much par for the course at this kind of restaurant, but with one important difference: General manager Marc Oppen and his team have worked well within the confines of Pennsylvania’s notoriously difficult wine-sourcing system—approximately 30 percent of the list is their doing—to keep a reasonably tiered pricing structure in place. There are options here no matter how much or little you want to spend; they should be commended for it.

Service at Ocean Prime is exceptionally friendly and, despite a few snafus along the way, was a highlight of spending the evening here. Our dessert, though, fell into the trap of quantity-over-subtlety: The sweetness of a tub of creme brulee, and its too-thick cap of torched sugar, was overwhelming after a few bites, while the 10-layer carrot cake simply achieved the level of moderately pleasant. Overall, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the restaurant’s value judgments weren’t the same as my own. I don’t mind spending a car payment on dinner—if it’s a dinner that I’ll remember for the right reasons.

OCEAN PRIME
124 S. 15th St. 215.563.0163. oceanprimephilly.com

Cuisine: Seafood and steakhouse.
Hours: Mon.–Thurs., 5-10pm; Fri.–Sat., 5–11pm; Sun., 4–9pm.
Price range: $8-$46.
Atmosphere: Sweeping and shimmery.
Food: Decent food at well-above-decent prices.
Service: Friendly, accommodating, and happily lacking the high-pressure upselling schtick that mars so many other steakhouse experiences.

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