Ocean Prime — a well-respected steakhouse chain based in Columbus, Ohio — comes to town with a reputation for high-quality food and “VIP” service. It delivers the former and belly-flops on the latter. Who doesn’t like great steaks and creative seafood dishes from a kitchen that reveres butter, cream, and truffles? But are the calories and expense-account prices worth it if you have to chase down your AWOL waiter to order dessert?
With 12 restaurants nationwide, Ocean Prime offers a menu that transcends location. Excepting the occasional regional specialty, dinner at OP Dallas is indistinguishable from dinner at OP Detroit or Denver. While individual restaurants use local purveyors, those ingredients go into company recipes. Indeed, inside the dimly lighted Boston dining room, with its shuttered windows, wine display, leather furnishings, and stained glass wall, conceivably only the New England clam chowder would help a lost Ocean Prime regular pinpoint exactly where he or she was.
It’s decent chowder — bacon-smoky, and speckled with carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, and lots of chopped clams — but it’s a really a sop (ahem, soup) for the conventioneers and business types this place attracts. Boston executive chef Mitchell Brumels does a very good job duplicating the corporate menu. There’s something celebratorily over the top about the shellfish “Cobb” salad of tomatoes, lettuce, corn, avocado, blue cheese, hard-boiled egg, shrimp, and lobster, tossed in mustardy vinaigrette. Savory Sonoma goat cheese ravioli, in a sauce of slivered shiitake, sundried tomato, and lemon butter, are sublime.
Ahi tuna tartare, perched on a cylinder of avocado and fried wonton strips in a pool of ginger ponzu, is torpedoed by too much salty soy. But shrimp in piquant Tabasco cream sauce with grilled cheese toasts is luxuriously rich, and the Caesar salad is satisfying with its tart dressing and garnish of crunchy Parmesan crisps. Point Judith calamari turns out to be a General Tso, kung pao-inspired stir-fry of fried squid, bell pepper, bean sprouts, dried chiles, and candied cashews in sugary glaze. It’s unexpectedly awesome. Most starters are large enough for two — or more — to share.
At Ocean Prime, seafood, chicken, chops, and steaks receive star treatment. A juicy fillet of Chilean sea bass is superb bathed in champagne truffle butter sauce, with a mound of velvety whipped potatoes to soak up the luxe sauce. Promised inch-thick swordfish steak is half that size and disappointingly ordinary in a bowl of nondescript roasted tomato-pancetta-chile broth with a handful of littlenecks.
Sea scallops are golden brown on both sides, with warm, soft interiors. Unfortunately, English pea risotto is gummy. Jumbo lump crab cakes are almost entirely lump crab, delicately combined into patties so that the crab maintains its shape and texture. They’re delicious dipped into sweet corn “cream” with a corn and bell pepper succotash.
Roast chicken is too dry. But wait until your first marvelous bite of accompanying ratatouille of eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, and red bell pepper, stewed together with fresh basil and thyme. It’s one of those dishes that’s easy to make but difficult to make well. (You can order the ratatouille a la carte — I asked.) Two double-bone Colorado lamb chops are perfectly pink and excellent with arugula pesto and flash-seared snap peas. Sprightly sweet mint vinaigrette could force mint jelly into permanent retirement.
Steaks are USDA prime, dusted with spices, and broiled to order at 1,200 degrees. For a few dollars more, you can have them “accessorized” au poivre or with Béarnaise sauce, black truffle butter, garlic shrimp scampi, or Maytag blue cheese crust. All the steaks are wet-aged (vacuum sealed in plastic) except for the 16-ounce bone-in Kansas City strip, which is dry-aged (air hung) prior to cooking. Try the 8-ounce filet mignon and the Kansas City together to see how different steak can taste. Both are precisely medium-rare, but the filet is more tender and buttery, while the strip has distinct, hearty beefiness. Carnivores will be pleased with either.
Many side dishes imaginatively reinterpret steakhouse standards. There’s a distinct chile kick to jalapeno potatoes au gratin, and black truffles become a delectable addition to same old cheddar mac & cheese. Minimalist creamed spinach eschews excessive seasonings to accentuate the spinach’s freshness. Coral-colored lobster mashed potatoes are a decadent upgrade for the lowly spud; chophouse corn is sweet and oniony.
Attention, budget-conscious meat enthusiasts: Sunday nights, Ocean Prime offers a $55 surf and turf special that features an 8-ounce filet mignon with your choice of shrimp scampi, crab cake, or sea scallops, plus soup or salad and one side. Given that the filet by itself costs $41 bucks, it’s a fine way to enjoy the menu for a fraction of the usual cost.
Ocean Prime boasts a (pricey) wine list deep enough to dive into with an extensive by-the-glass program should you not wish to splurge on a bottle. The busy lounge hosts live music Wednesday through Saturday nights and appears to be a popular dating destination.
Desserts are made on premises — including gravity-defying 10-layer carrot cake and a truly memorable chocolate peanut butter pie of peanut butter mousse, chocolate cookie crumbs, and bittersweet chocolate ganache, molded and melted. Baked Alaska — pound cake topped with chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice creams under a coating of torched meringue — is gussied up with fresh raspberries and both raspberry and chocolate syrups. It’s a metaphor for the joie de vivre and more-is-more philosophy Ocean Prime embraces.
Which is why it’s lamentable my experience there was forever ruined by one waiter. His demeanor was brusque. He never smiled. He cleared our appetizers away before we were finished and did not replace used silverware. There were long gaps when he went missing. I had to hunt him down in the dining room for a dessert menu. In response, he noisily plopped the plates onto the (crumb covered) table in a childish pique.
If I hadn’t been reviewing, I would have spoken to the manager. Instead, I can only write about it.
140 Seaport Boulevard, Boston, 617-670-1345, www.ocean-prime.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers $10-$33. Entrees $27-$59. Desserts $8-$13.
Hours Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat 5-11 p.m., Sun 5-9 p.m. Lounge opens daily at 4 p.m.
Noise level Loud
What to order Point Judith calamari, filet mignon, Chilean sea bass, chocolate peanut butter pie.
Mat Schaffer can be reached at email@example.com.