Friday, September 28, 2012

Come On In, The Water is Fine - at Ocean Prime!

Recently Lisa and I attended a media dinner, at Dallas’ Ocean Prime - “A Modern American Supper Club” and were pleasantly surprised by both the food and the service.

Ocean Prime is a national chain, with nine restaurants (a tenth location is opening in Philadelphia in the spring of 2013), that was started in 2006, as a labor of love, by restaurateur Cameron Mitchell. The chain began life as “Mitchell's Ocean Club” in Columbus, Ohio, and as the chain expanded, was renamed Ocean “Prime”, to reflect their high quality steak, seafood, cocktail and wine offerings. The concept strives to be a place to spend an entire evening, not just dinner in the main dining room. You can enjoy live entertainment in the piano bar, and cocktails and dessert after dinner on the spacious patio.

The chain has been an ongoing project and each location gives its executive chef free reign to create regionally inspired dishes, while also offering the tried and true concept menu standards.

Pulling up to the valet at the front of the Rosewood Court building, across Cedar Springs from the Crescent, we walked the “red carpet” to the entrance of Prime. The interior is glamorous without being ostentatious, wrapped in wood and leather, with splashes of blue light and highlights tastefully used. The place has a lighter, more modern feel than most traditional steak and seafood houses, but does have a subtle and comfortable atmosphere. Live music is offered in the bar, beginning at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday. The music is pleasant and at a level that is easy to converse over.

We were warmly greeted by General Manager Walter Hatcher and Executive Chef Sonny Pache. Chef Pache, a former California native, has done time in the kitchens of two award-winning restaurants, The Columbus Fish Market and M, in Columbus, Ohio, prior to heading up the kitchen for Ocean Prime Dallas. California’s culinary style has had a big impact on Chef Sonny's style, as has his Filipino upbringing, and consequently, his favorite style of cooking is Pan Asian. His love of fresh seafood and a stint in Midwest restaurants make him a perfect fit for Ocean Prime.

After being ushered to the private “wine” room, walled on one side by lovely glass-encased racks filled with their top-notch wine selection, and by a long gas-flamed fire pit on the other wall, our complementary, multi-course evening started with some of Ocean Prime’s award-winning hand-crafted house specialty cocktails.

We sampled the Pear Grapefruit Fizz (Asian pear vodka, lime juice, cinnamon simple syrup and grapefruit soda), Pineapple Saffron (vodka, saffron syrup, lemon juice and pineapple juice), Berries & Bubbles (Belvedere citrus vodka, marinated berries, house made sour, and Domaine Chandon Brut… with dry ice chips!), and the Black Orchid (Belvedere black raspberry vodka, St. Germaine Elderflower, lemon juice and white cranberry juice over an orchid encased in a sphere of ice!). All are creative, but the Berries & Bubbles and Black Orchid were by far the favorites. After all, presentation is almost everything!

Two great towers of clean, plump, fresh-tasting Cape Cod Mayflower oysters-on-the-half-shell sat on ice, in the middle of the table. Ocean Prime’s oysters are thoroughly purged in their own oyster tanks and had no hint of sand or grit.

For our salad course we had our choice of either the Wedge Salad or the Caesar; so of course, we sampled both. The Caesar was great, with a light dressing heavy in anchovy flavor and topped with shaved parmesan and brioche croutons (a topping of additional anchovies is an option). The Iceberg Wedge was topped with red onion, blue cheese chunks, grape tomatoes, smoked bacon, and a cabernet buttermilk ranch. I felt that the cabernet gave the dressing an odd flavor, but it seemed to be very much enjoyed by the rest of the table.

The soup course had us trying Ocean Prime’s signature Lobster Bisque with Sweet Corn Fritter and corn pico de gallo. It was rich and creamy with a hint of butter, and spooning at the soft, floating corn fritter made for fun eating. It could have used just a bit more sherry, but was otherwise lovely.

Appetizers included another signature dish; the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with Sweet Corn Cream, which was generously loaded with lump crab and had virtually no detectable binding ingredients. We also tried the “Smoking” Shellfish Tower which consisted of colossal shrimp, chilled jumbo lump crab meat, and oysters on the half shell; all were extremely fresh. The Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli with Golden Oak Mushrooms had a nice texture and came in an amazing broth, and the Point Judith Calamari in Sweet Chili Sauce with Candied Cashews was possibly the best fried squid that I’ve ever had.

When Lisa and I travel to coastal regions of the U.S. we are constantly baffled by our inability, or simply our bad luck at being able to find great seafood, and we consistently have to admit that we can get better in poor old landlocked Dallas, so for or our “surf” main course offering, we were happy to try the Chilean Sea Bass with Glazed Carrots in Champagne Truffle Sauce, which certainly did not disappoint! It was light and flaky with just enough tooth, and the subtle truffle sauce didn’t mask the delicate flavor of the bass. Executive chef Pache, has done a phenomenal job building relationships with various mongers and the restaurant flies in fresh seafood daily, enabling them to feature great seasonal fish like halibut and Hawaiian snapper.

We each tried a single cut filet dusted with house made magic steak seasoning and topped with half a bulb of roasted garlic, for our “turf” course. The steak did have a good flavor and was tender, however, on both of my recent visits, I do have to admit that my “medium rare” steaks were a tad overcooked, so next time, I’ll order on the rare side.

Our side dish offerings consisted of Candied Yams with Marshmallow Brulee (traditional but tasty and not overly sweet), Lobster Mashed Potatoes (creamy and well presented, but I felt that the lobster was almost wasted, as the flavor was mostly masked by the taters), Chophouse Corn (a lightly creamed corn), Black Truffle Macaroni and Cheese (a nice earthy truffle flavor comes through), and beautifully prepared Jumbo Asparagus with Hollandaise.

Dessert? Well, that would be Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie (peanut butter mousse with bittersweet chocolate ganache – think of a giant, rich, creamy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup – my personal favorite), Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake (with graham cracker crust and blueberry syrup – filled with ricotta goodness), Baked Alaska (pound cake filled with house made Neapolitan ice cream - vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry – covered in toasted meringue and fresh raspberries – surprisingly unimpressive – stick with the other desserts) and the award winning Ten Layer Carrot Cake (with cream cheese icing and pineapple syrup – a wonderfully indulgent treat).

Ocean Prime is used to saying “yes” to customers and the fact that everything is prepared to order, as ordered, makes it much easier for them to accommodate food requests, whether it's allergy or preferentially related. The fare is consistently fresh and well prepared, with the menu being easily digestible by those with less adventurous palates. The complexity of the dishes is on the simple side with numerous steak-house-familiar dishes and a few interesting regional, seasonal, and standout items for the more advanced diners.

The restaurant has garnered a number of awards including…

Wine Spectator Award of Excellence – 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012

Best Dessert (for their awesome Ten Layer Carrot Cake) D Magazine - 2010

Top 20 Steakhouses (#3!) D Magazine – 2011.

Ocean Prime is located at 2101 Cedar Springs, across from the Crescent Hotel and has four dining rooms that are available for private events, each with its own distinctive look and charm. It is close to some of Dallas’ top rated hotels, the McKinney trolley line, Uptown, and American Airlines Center (Stars and Mavericks games). Reservations are recommended, but walk-ins are welcome and if you don’t need to sit in a booth (there are only seven and they are in high-demand, so you may have to wait for these) you can usually be seated almost immediately. For being fairly intimate, the dining room is quite large. Ocean Prime offers a nice alternative to the run-of-the-mill Dallas steak houses and most anyone should feel comfortable and be able to find something to their liking here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

“Hey, Isn’t that…” Star Sighting in “Big-D” (or Basking in the Warm Glow of Celebrity Mediocrity)

Happy September gang! In my last article I discussed the preferred beverages of our favorite loveable and loathable stars, how to make them (the drinks… not the stars), and where to obtain some of the more “interesting” ingredients. This month I’ll let you in on the skinny… where to actually see some of these stars sucking down their favorite fare here in “Big-D”.

For some people star-sighting is a paparazzi-like obsession, and today’s reality-star-ladened world is an incredibly fickle one. Those stars that are on top of the world today are casually discarded tomorrow like a used Kleenex. Celebrity magazines attract huge readerships that just can't seem to get enough poop on who’s sleeping with whom, whose fallen off the wagon, who’s gaining weight, or who’s recently had a boob job, and the possibility of having a run-in with a celebrity can be irresistible.

Living in a large metropolitan area, such as DFW (which consequently happens to be the reality show production capital of the U.S.) presents plenty of opportunity for star sighting, as many celebs have actually taken up residence here, such as President George Bush Jr., The Jonas Brothers, Chuck Norris, Don Henley, Selena Gomez, Vinnie Paul, Erykah Badu, George Michael, Luke and Owen Wilson, Khloe Kardashian and her NBA star husband Lamar Odom, and more. We also have a cornucopia of “well-knowns” in town at any given time, due to all of the major league sports teams, concert venues, and TV and film production studios in our immediate vicinity.

August and September are the start of the Fall TV season, which means that TV stars are in full-blown promotion mode, hitting the radio and talk show circuit, to push their network and film efforts out to the masses, and with the new episodes of “Dallas” shooting here in town, which is drawing some big name co-stars, celeb sightings abound.

“Texas Multi Mamas”, “Most Eligible Dallas”, “Texas Women”, “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team”, “Big Rich Texas”, “The Next”, “American Idol”, “The X Factor”, “The Voice”, “So You Think You Can Dance”, and Bravo’s “Top Chef: Texas” have all recently filmed here in town, and Dallas also gets credit as the production location for some feature motion pictures as well, including “True Stories”, “The Tree of Life”, “RoboCop”, “Office Space”, “Logan’s Run”, “JFK”, “Batman and Robin”, “The Trip to Bountiful”, and “Armageddon” to name but a few.

Needless to say, stars gotta eat, drink, sleep, and shop just like us common folk do. So where can you catch a glimpse or rub shoulders with the rich and famous? I recommend…

Rastaurant and Bar Sightings:

Del Frisco's Grille: Yu Darvish; Chris Tucker; Ashley Olsen recently dined here TWICE on the same day.

Fearing’s and the Rattlesnake Bar at the Ritz-Carlton: Tony Bennett, John Travolta, AC/DC, Bill Cosby, John Elway.

The Loon: Owen Wilson, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitski.

Celebrity Café and Bakery: Angie Harmon, Wayne Gretzky, Jessica Simpson.

Al Biernait's: Gerald Ford, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Jon Bon Jovi, The Black Crowes, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Aniston, Adam Sandler.

Café Pacific: T. Boone Pickens, Condoleezza Rice, Laura and George W. Bush.

The Mercury: Ross Perot, Roger Staubach, Laura and George Bush, Annette and Harold Simmons (the richest Dallasite - worth close to $10 billion!).


The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek: David Bowie (Don't forget to Google the famous Mansion/Bowie ass-biting incident!), Mick Jagger, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Vanessa Williams, LeBron James, Will.I.Am, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Bacon, Phil Jackson, Paula Deen, Bobby Flay - I actually saw a couple of the Kardashians there a few weeks ago, and man, I ran like hell to get away, lest I get caught up in some of their on-screen shenanigans!

Hotel Zaza: Kate Hudson, Kid Rock, Gerard Butler, Ryan Seacrest.

The W: Khloe Cardashian and Lamar Odom live here.

Adolphus: U2, Donald Trump, Babe Ruth (that was a while back), and Queen Elizabeth II.

Four Seasons Las Colinas: Curtis Stone, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Tyler.


Northpark Mall: LL Cool J, Chanel Iman, Babyface, Will Ferrell, Elvis Andrus, Jerry Rice, Dez Bryant, Taylor Swift.

Galleria: Gwen Stefani, Flavor Flav, Renee Zeleweger, Dennis Rodman, Danny Aielo.

Sports Games; Vinnie Paul (Stars season ticket holder); Cuba Gooding Jr. (Stars game); Lil Wayne (Mavs game); Kim Kardashian (Mavs game); Justin Beiber (Mavs game); Eminem (Cowboys game); David Hasselhoff (Mavs game).

DFW Airport (particularly flights from LAX and New York); Snookie, Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Smith, Ben Stein, Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds, Robert Downey Jr. , Denzel Washington, Russell Brand (all in the past 2 months!).

A slimmer looking Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi arrives at an airport in NYC headed to Italy to film Season 4 of

Other random DFW celeb sightings: Oprah Winfery, Soledad O’Brien, Tyler Perry, Chaka Kahn, Jordin Sparks at AA Center for a Gala Honoring Bishop T.D. Jakes' 35 Years Of Ministry; Dita Von Teese at Ku De Ta (behind Three Sheets); Peter Weller at the Texas Theatre; Alicia Witt at the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival; Marvin Hamlish at the Meyerson (then he died); Tyra Banks at the AA Center; Lady Gaga and Jean Paul Gaultier at the Roundup Saloon.

Enjoy all that Dallas has to offer. As you can see, the stars are taking full advantage of our fair city’s hospitality. Check the local call sheets and see who’s in town filming (chances are, they’ll be heading to one of the above locales at some point) and rub shoulders with the “beautiful” people. Just remember to be polite, don’t drool on anyone, and respect their time and space. Who knows, you might be asked to join them or at least be able to snap a photo or get an autograph.