The destination restaurant genre of choice for visitors to Dallas may well be Steakhouse. No problem with that. We do have a lot to choose from. Recently, I was invited to a media event at one of the most popular, the steak and seafood restaurant Ocean Prime. Situated in the heart of the hedge fund ghetto in Uptown, the place had occupancy on a Monday night that would make most restaurants seethe with jealousy.
The setting is plush and comfortable, with enough room between tables for business conversation. The subdued light and soft fabrics lend tranquility to the scene. The expert design comes from experience: Ocean Prime is a brand of Cameron Mitchell, a Columbus, Ohio, company that runs 12 restaurants in locations from New York City to Beverly Hills via Tampa and Denver — with two more to open in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Ocean Prime is a solid choice for business meetings, family reunions, and date nights. Its menu is anchored in USDA prime steak, but the menu offers a seafood section and a sushi section, each as large as the selection of beef. Chicken, pork, and lamb chops broaden the selection even further. For appetizers, there are fan favorites like jumbo lump crab cake ($17), prime steak tartare ($19), and white truffle caviar deviled eggs ($13) in addition to a whole raw bar. On my last visit, the Westport oysters ($19) were superb: plump, briny, and starkly fresh.
The all-important beef is from Niman Ranch and Texas-based Rosewood Ranches (the latter provides wagyu). It is all butchered by the noted Michael’s Finer Meats & Seafood in Columbus, Ohio, and shipped pre-cut to each Ocean Prime kitchen. The 16-ounce Kansas City strip ($46), cooked to a precise medium-rare, displayed the virtues of this cut; it was juicy, chewy (without being tough), and oozing umami-rich smoky flavors. Ocean Prime offers a choice of six à la carte "accessories." In addition to standby béarnaise ($4), there are such things as Maytag blue cheese crust ($5) and an Oscar-style garnish ($10) for devotees of crabmeat.
A side of black truffle mac & cheese ($15) made me realize why steakhouses cannot take this staple off the menu, especially when it's as well-prepared and gussied-up as this interpretation. Creamed spinach ($12) was a winner, too; smooth and creamy with the herbaceousness of the spinach all wrapped up with notes of nutmeg. The one disappointment was steamed broccoli ($10). It was just that. How much better it would have been if such a distinctly flavored vegetable had come with a bagna càuda or lemon butter sauce.
Desserts are traditional steakhouse indulgence and ostentation. The baked Alaska is about the size of Alaska and one of the best desserts in town. For more modest appetites, the homemade sorbet selection is a strong representative of its ilk.
The wine selection is rich and well-chosen. In addition to the de rigueur Napa Valley cabernet blends, there are more studied selections such as California Central Coast syrah and red Sancerre from the Loire. Thoughtfully, some expensive bottles (Brunello di Montalcino from Il Poggione among them) are offered by the glass thanks to the Coravin freshness preservation system. There is also a large selection of after-dinner drinks. Cocktail mavens will feel welcomed, too. The medium-sized list of specials looks well thought out. Praise for Ocean Prime for putting the menu, wine, and cocktail lists online with prices. About 20 made-in-Texas spirits are stocked by the bar, and there is a strong list of local beers.
(Unfortunately, there is not a single Texas wine on the list. Considering the restaurant's commitment to local beef, and with Texas wines winning medals at the country’s toughest competitions in California and New York, they should correct this situation. Managers say that Texas wine has been a tough sell, because there are so few good examples. I plan to help them with the wine question by asking a representative of Texas Fine Wine, a marketing initiative representing five of the state's best producers, to sample the restaurant on some award-winning examples.)
Service displays the kind of consummate professionalism that one has come to expect in steakhouses. Dishes arrived with the right timing and plates were cleared quickly and unobtrusively. All in all, Ocean Prime represents a solid example of a refined steakhouse.