When Cameron Mitchell’s steak-and-seafood emporium Ocean Prime debuted in Philadelphia in September, local gossip/photographer/blogger HughE Dillon posted on Facebook about the opening party, writing that the restaurant “must have a lot of confidence in their food” because “they comp’d 500 dinners.” I found that a bit odd, since comping 500 dinners might suggest the opposite. In any event, Dillon added that “the food was delicious.” But that was not my experience on Wednesday night.
Oh, the room is quite pretty, and it was filled with all sorts of well-heeled pretty people eating generally pretty-looking food. Rittenhouse personality Kelly Boyd looked positively radiant in her see-and-be-seen corner booth, somehow managing to look five years younger than she did a year ago. And lots of VIPs have been coming in, like basketball player Andre Iguodala and some really well known baseball player whose name escapes me right now.
But when a chain restaurant decides to open in Philadelphia’s prime dining district, charging $18 for three pieces of shrimp cocktail and in the mid-40s for an unseasoned hunk of meat (sauces and sides are, of course, additional), it had better be exceptional. And Ocean Prime Philadelphia just isn’t.
I was invited to dine at Ocean Prime Philadelphia by the chain’s Chicago-based publicist, so they knew that I was coming in, and I was greeted by the chef and various management types. In other words, they have no excuse. Here’s what I liked and what I didn’t.
The Good at Ocean Prime Philadelphia:
• A beautiful, comfortable dining room that was crowded with attractive diners on my visit
• Mouthwash and a shoe-shine kit in the spotless bathroom
• Nice stemware
• High-quality cuts of meat (and they better be at these prices)
• The sommelier-suggested $123 bottle of 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape
• The truffled mac-and-cheese (which the chef sent out after we had problems with the sides we ordered; see below)
• The chocolate bomb dessert
• The bread
The Meh at Ocean Prime Philadelphia:
• The raw bar only offers two varieties of oyster, one of them being Blue Points
• The pedestrian “smoking” shrimp cocktail, priced at $18 for three pieces, as seen below
The Bad at Ocean Prime Philadelphia:
• We had been seated for at least 15 minutes before we had anything alcoholic to drink on the table, and the booth of gents next to us somehow managed to get food before drinks
• The baked potato came out cold… not lukewarm, but cold
• I don’t know what the “Béarnaise sauce” they’re charging extra for actually is, but it is in no way Béarnaise sauce
• The white-truffled deviled eggs were perilously salty, and no one bothered to ask if anything was wrong with them after we ate two of the six and pushed the plate of four remaining eggs to the side
• The strip and ribeye were under-seasoned, as if someone just slapped them on the grill without any seasoning of any kind (maybe because they want you to buy the sauces?)
• Our server more or less disappeared on us, forcing us to glance around the room to look for him for several minutes, which no one took as a cue to come over to our table; in the end, we had to grab someone who was walking by in order to get help
• When my glass is empty, ask if I want another drink… it’s that simple
• A restaurant should never serve Brussels sprouts that are merely steamed, without any kind of caramelization or added flavor
• The creamed spinach tasted like it had been bathed in Liquid Smoke (this was another side sent out by the kitchen)
• Not a single French Bordeaux on the wine list
Enjoy the view, because that’s the best thing that Ocean Prime Philadelphia has going for it.