Surf and Turf War: A Review of Ocean Prime
A luxe new contender cruises into town among Indy’s high-end seafood-and-steak houses.
It takes some chutzpah to offer complimentary valet service at a restaurant that sits grandly at the edge of a vast strip-mall parking lot, as does Keystone at the Crossing’s new stunner, Ocean Prime. Anywhere else, it might seem excessive—or at least contrary to the Midwestern work ethic—to watch from the curb as somebody else guides your car between the white lines of a parking spot. But here, where the shrimp cocktail arrives on a misty bed of dry ice and the servers have been trained to properly deliver a baked Alaska without catching their crisp white jackets on fire, it comes with the package.
Open since June, Ocean Prime rode into town on a well-oiled PR machine, the ninth installment of a fine-dining chain that has already touched down in mid-size cities from Tampa to Denver. Visually, it has the polished sheen of a high-end steakhouse, equal parts rich cherry wood and Art Deco accents. One of the dining rooms has the streamlined look of a yacht’s galley, all tight curved booths and porthole windows, an appropriately extravagant setting for slurping fat, sweet Delaware oysters and cutting into a tender filet, wet-aged (as are all of Ocean Prime’s cuts) to its peak, mineral-rich flavor.
The usual steakhouse stars shine. Among the starters, a broiled jumbo lump crabcake packed with big hunks of meat and very little filler nearly collapses at the touch of a fork, a good sign. Shellfish Cobb salad might be the best interpretation of the ladies-lunch staple that I have ever tasted, its lightly dressed greens and bleu cheese generously piled with broiled lobster, shrimp, crab, and bacon. French onion soup has a thick base rich with brandy, crusted over with a four-cheese topping that includes a layer of aged Swiss—a noble crock. But the white-truffle caviar deviled eggs (which, in spite of all that, taste mostly of salt) and the pan-fried Point Judith calamari (swamped in so much sweet chili sauce that it might as well be Chinese carryout) seem unworthy of such a place.
A pork Porterhouse is cooked rosy pink to its core, set off by a port-wine reduction and a haute-hearty mound of crunchy sweet-and-sour cabbage. The crispy-skinned roasted half-chicken reclines in a bath of lemony pan juices, while a shared side of lobster mashed potatoes offers starchy decadence, with clarified butter pooled around the edges of its serving dish. At meal’s end, every dessert is a spectacle—a rare treat.
Surprisingly, seafood entrees range from very good (delicate cod in a bowl of shiitake miso broth afloat with shrimp dumplings; and a hunk of foie gras–topped yellowfin plated pot-roast–style, with root veggies) to unimpressive (Parmesan risotto with flavorless sea scallops hidden under gratuitous tufts of fresh herbs, and a gloriously succulent $42 Chilean sea bass all but ruined with what tastes like a failed attempt at blackening). A thick slab of Alaskan halibut placed atop a sauteed confetti of peppers, corn, and tiny bias-cut asparagus has some personality—but like so many of the seafood dishes at Ocean Prime, it lacks the “wow” factor that people expect from a $36 cut of fish.
Not that Ocean Prime doesn’t try to impress. One evening in the house bar, I ordered a tasty-sounding drink called Berries & Bubbles, described on the handcrafted-cocktail list as “citrus vodka, blackberries, and champagne.”
“That’s a good one if you like berries,” the bartender enthused, “… and bubbles.”
Minutes later, she sat down a sugar-rimmed martini glass filled with a hot-pink liquid that was actually hissing at the surface, like a witches’ cauldron—due to the dry ice that had been dropped in, unannounced, for effect.
Um, is this safe to drink? I wondered, waiting for the drink to calm down enough to not splash me in the eyelashes. Apparently it was, but for all of its scene-stealing, the Berries & Bubbles just tasted like a plain old Cosmo—and one without nearly enough booze to make me forget that I was drinking something this embarrassing in public. Or that beyond the upright staff and fancy cocktails, what you get at Ocean Prime is a very expensive, just-above-average meal.
Which is why, until they work out those kinks, you should not feel guilty about taking them up on the complimentary valet.
8555 N. River Rd., 317-569-0975, oceanprimeindy.com
HOURS 5–10 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 5–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 5–9 p.m. Sun.
Photos by Tony Valainis
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue.