First of all, this article is longer than usual, but I wanted to be as descriptive as possible. I didn’t want to miss anything. Though, I’m sure I have. I hope you will make it to the end – there’s a nice message there.
We dine out often, as you know. We’re not jaded or food snobs by any stretch of the imagination, though. We’ll eat anything and anywhere. We’re comfortable eating from a hot dog cart or at any high-end restaurant. We like an upscale, fine dining experience from time to time.
It was with great pleasure that we accepted an opportunity to try a relative newcomer to the Philadelphia restaurant scene, Ocean Prime, located at 15th & Sansom smack dab in the heart of Center City. This Cameron Mitchell Restaurants (CMR) owned concept has restaurants in 12 cities, with a 13th coming to Washington D.C. this Fall. The company also owns and operates 12 other concepts, as well as a catering company.
Ocean Prime Philadelphia opened two-and-a-half years ago, replacing Roy’s Restaurant, a high-end Hawaiian themed chain, which had operated in that very spot for 11 years. While it was sad to see Roy’s go, land and sea-focused Ocean Prime was a welcome replacement.
This was our first time trying Ocean Prime and we’re happy to share our experience with you…
From the very moment we first walked into the restaurant, we knew we were going to have a truly exquisite experience. Our arrival was received by a warm & genuinely friendly greeting by General Manager Frank A. Hess who was waiting for us at the reception station with two lovely young women. He and one of the hostesses walked us over to a leather upholstered banquette along the wall near the center of the dining room. I believe this is one of the better tables on the first floor, as we were able to view the exquisite lower-level bar to the right and most of the sleek first floor dining area and kitchen to the left. Looking up, we could also see the second floor dining area which is complete with separate wine and cocktail bars.
The decor is rich and warm, with sophisticated vibrant Earth tones prevalent throughout; the interior exudes the type of polished elegance you would expect at a high-end restaurant. There’s an appropriate level of swank and style but not in a stuffy way.
After getting situated in our booth and having some Pellegrino sparkling water delivered and poured, our server Dae Sandridge approached, introduced himself, and welcomed us to Ocean Prime. First impressions are everything in a place like this; servers can make and break an experience from the beginning. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves here, but we are happy to say that our first impression was, well… impressive. Let’s just say from the get-go, Dae delivered. But more about that as we go.
Dae allowed us to further get comfortable and peruse the wine menu. Before he walked away, he was sure to tell us that their wine program is “award-winning.” At the time, we failed to ask what these awards were, but it’s obvious they take wine offerings seriously as there are quite a few wine storage racks throughout the dining room. According to the website, they offer a “Wine Spectator-honored wine list.” So expect an extensive wine list. There are many wines available by the glass, but some wines are only available by the bottle.
While we absolutely love our wine, we weren’t didn’t order any wine bottles. They offer wine for all tastes and budgets. I marveled over some of the prices on the higher-end — there’s a $340 bottle of Robert Mondavi Winery “Reserve” 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and a $330 bottle of Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut Champagne, for example.
If good wine is your preference at dinner, there is really good news for you at Ocean Prime. As previously reported, they offer half-price wine bottles on Monday night. This is for wine bottles priced under $99, though. Still a very good deal if you ask me and should be taken advantage of.
As we were looking over the cocktail menu, General Manager Frank returned to our booth and brought Executive Chef Jason Shelley with him. We love meeting chefs when possible because we feel we can learn so much about how kitchens are run. No two kitchens are created equal or run the same, that’s for sure. We know that chefs work hard; kitchen work is physically and mentally grueling. It means a lot to us to have an opportunity to express our gratitude to the Chef and all staff members involved in preparing and delivering our meals.
Jason was kind enough to step away from a very busy kitchen for a few minutes to introduce himself and tell us more about the culinary philosophy at Ocean Prime and his history with the company. He’s been with CMR for 12 years; quite an impressive tenure. Frank added that he’d been with the company for 17 years! Certainly these are testimonials that CMR is a great company to work for in the hospitality business. They have both lived and worked in multiple cities as a result.
What do Frank and Jason think of Philadelphia? Admittedly, they work a lot, have families, and sadly don’t have a lot of time to explore the city or other restaurants outside of Ocean Prime. But I could tell they are both very excited about being in such a burgeoning restaurant town. They are grateful not only to showcase Ocean Prime and CMR, but to also contribute to Philly’s growth as a world class restaurant destination. That was nice to hear.
After the brief chat with Frank and Jason, it was time to order a cocktail! When Dae returned we made our selections. A Cucumber Gimlet ($13) for hubby, and a Whiskey Clover ($12) for me.
Renditions on the classics (the “gimlet” and “whiskey sour”), these cocktails were indelibly refreshing. Sometimes bartenders and “mixologists” go too far with their interpretations on the standards, but these didn’t stray too far and were the perfect aperitif.
We were given a few moments to enjoy our pre-meal liquid refreshment before selecting our first course. That gesture didn’t go unnoticed; sometimes I feel like I am rushed into making a decision as soon as I am seated at a restaurant. There was no hastening here. They move at YOUR pace, whatever that pace is. That’s a sign of an establishment with character and dedication to hospitality. That’s a nice touch.
At some point before our cocktails arrived, we were brought a bread basket. The bread was a warm, soft sourdough-type bread and served with a nice, salty whipped butter. However, we were eager to put our first food order in. After a brief discussion, we chose to kick off our meal with Oysters on the Half Shell ($19) from the Raw Bar menu. Not previously oyster people at all, or shellfish for that matter, but we’ve developed a taste for them in recent times. So, when Dae returned, we told him what we wanted. He immediately described the selections that were being offered that evening; East Coast oysters from Massachusetts and West Coast oysters from Washington state. We were sold…. on both! We got 3 of each.
The verdict: intoxicating! It’s no surprise that oysters are often touted as an aphrodisiac. These oysters lived up to that claim. Each one produced a euphoric feeling after their slippery glide down our throats. Not at all overly briny, gritty, or slimy. We dressed each of ours with some freshly squeezed lemon juice, just a drop of cocktail sauce and a drip of pepper sauce. While we’re absolutely sure the other items on the Raw Bar menu and appetizers are quite good; it seems nothing beats a sensuous oyster as a first course in our world these days.
Both Frank and Dae checked in to see how we enjoyed the oysters. The only response was “outstanding!” That response was received with smiles and a knowing wink. But, of course, they knew how wonderful they were, and we could certainly see how the affirmation from foodies like us excited them. I mean, I’m sure they hear good feedback a lot, or at least they should. In any case, there’s just no other way to describe these world renowned and coveted delicacies, period end.
Enough about the oysters, though, it was time for us to order our next courses. Yes, it was time to get down to serious eating business.
While perusing the menu one final time, we both selected salads as our second course, an Ocean Prime House Salad ($11) for me and a Crisp Wedge of Iceberg Salad ($11) for him ; as well as our Entree courses: Sea Scallops with Parmesan Risotto, English Peas ($36) and Citrus Vinaigrette for me and Maytag Blue Cheese Crusted USDA Prime 12 oz. Bone-In Filet ($47) for him. We also selected two sides: Asparagus with Hollandaise ($10) for me and Twice Baked Loaded Potato ($11) for him.
The salads were spot on; crisp, appropriately portioned, and perfectly dressed. Enough said.
However, words alone do not describe our entree course. As you might expect in a place that prides itself on being a steak and seafood paradise, they executed both dishes flawlessly as far as we were concerned.
Hubby was in utter awe of his filet, and couldn’t get over how perfectly delicious it was. He was tricked into thinking they butcher their meat in-house. Alas, we asked, they cannot due to the liability issues that having a band saw in the kitchen would entail. Understandable, but the meat seemed as fresh as if it were just butchered. Additionally, a bone-in filet is something you don’t see on many steakhouse menus, at least not most of the ones we’ve been to.
It was prepared exactly to the temperature he requested: on the rarer side of medium-rare. His potato was “redonkulous,” for lack of better English word. Not only was it loaded with cheddar cheese, bacon and chives, but it was one of the biggest potatoes I’ve ever seen. Alas, the photo below doesn’t do it justice; Dae explained to us that the sides are “shareable” so that is why it is so big. This potato could probably be split between three people!
My Sea Scallops were a perfect size and seared to perfection. Tender and toothsome; the knife slid through the buttery scallops with ease. The risotto was a tad salty for me, but not from over-seasoning, simply from using good Parmesan cheese. My only request for this dish would be to have more English peas, but that’s because I love peas.
I wasn’t going to order a side dish because I knew that was probably overdoing it, but I just couldn’t help be enthralled by asparagus with hollandaise as a side — mostly because I simply adore hollandaise sauce. It borders on obsession. I know it’s so bad for me, but I don’t have it that often and I really savor it when I do. The asparagus were plump and delicate; and their color made them especially appetizing as they looked as if they were pulled from a garden. The hollandaise was more on the thick side, which is not my exact preference, but taste did not suffer as a result. It was luscious. As I suspected, though, I couldn’t eat too much of this side, try as hard as I might!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we also had a glass of wine with our entrees. Hubby had two, in fact. Joseph Drouhin Laforet 2012 Pinot Noir and Avalon California 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. I chose the Trimbach 2012 French Riesling. Great wines!
At this point, we were totally ready to throw in the towel. But a dinner of this caliber would not be complete without dessert. I mean why come this far and not go for the gold? Or in this case, chocolate and peanut butter. After studying the dessert options, we both zeroed in on the Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie ($9) because this combination never fails us.
Smooth peanut butter mousse enveloped in decadent bittersweet chocolate ganache on an Oreo cookie crust? Shut the front door! Shut all doors — this is a dream dessert. I couldn’t believe how utterly scrumptious this was. I feared it might be cloyingly sweet, but it really wasn’t at all. It was the perfect level of sweetness. Enough to satiate a sweet-tooth, but not enough to thrust me into Type 2 diabetes. Perfect choice and the best way to end a truly impeccable dining experience from beginning to end.
I don’t like to throw around the word impeccable very often, but we couldn’t have asked for a better dining affair at Ocean Prime. Everything from service to libations to food far exceeded any expectations we might have had. Our server Dae is a true gem of Ocean Prime, he really elevated our total experience with his knowledge of food, preparation, and details of the menu. We were told he has been there since the first day they opened their doors.
We enjoyed a nice chat with Frank at the conclusion of the meal. We exchanged thoughts on fine dining and how it plays into the fabric of our lives. Most people cannot afford the opportunity to dine like this very often (certainly we cannot) but when you do — for whatever reason — it is about making a memory.
We agreed that while we may not live in the biggest houses, drive exotic cars, or have the latest material things — what we do seek to spend recreational income (from $ to $$$$$) on is on the experiences themselves. We feel that dining out should be an experience worth splurging on from time to time.
While the cost of an evening at Ocean Prime isn’t in the casual dining price category, you can rest assured that it is money you’ll feel was very well spent because you are not going to forget the experience. It will be a memory that you’ll certainly savor for a long time to come. And memories are better than “things” aren’t they?
We were truly honored that Ocean Prime Philadelphia hosted us to learn all about the concept and indulge us so we can share it with you. It’s a memory we won’t soon forget. In fact, we wholeheartedly admit it was one of the best restaurant experiences we have had in recent memory. We will definitely return and take friends next time. We highly recommend that you try Ocean Prime when you want to celebrate and indulge at a world class Surf and Turf dining establishment. We don’t think you will regret it. We look forward to hearing about it if you do!
Photos by David Johnson.
The Doyenne of Dining in Philadelphia and South Jersey.