The Surf N Turf appetizer ($23) features seared scallops topped with slow-braised short rib
In a town replete with superb steakhouses, Ocean Prime looks to make waves on the Magnificent Mile.
What a rare comfort, these days, to walk into a restaurant and know exactly what to expect. At Ocean Prime, it’s right there, in the name itself: seafood and steak. And in a city where great steak is the norm, the new Magnificent Mile fixture gets the job done, with an approachable selection of nicely rendered steaks and a hearty list of seafood that pairs perfectly with a sweeping view of Michigan and Wacker. “We’re a white-tablecloth restaurant, but we don’t want to be pigeonholed as only being for special occasions,” says chef Jason Shelley, who has spent 15 years rising in the ranks of the Ohio-based steakhouse chain. As he flits across the country, having set up Ocean Prime outposts in Philadelphia and Orlando before landing in Chicago, Shelley delves into how each city eats and adjusts accordingly. In Chicago, diners have been going mad for his seafood selections, he says, particularly the blackened snapper ($48). The meaty filet gets a nice sear from the flattop for a smoky, caramelized crust, elevated by the spicy dollop of jalapeño tartar sauce and cooled down with a pool of corn spoon bread rendered to a puddinglike consistency.
The Berries & Bubbles cocktail ($18) gets a finishing flourish
Shelley seems to be the sort of chef who prefers to get out of the way of the big flavors he’s working with and let ingredients shine. With a chain restaurant, it can seem like he’s backed into a corner, menu-wise, but his small tweaks can make or break a dish. The double-cut lamb chops ($48) featured a different presentation leading up to Ocean Prime’s opening, but “we thought it wasn’t the right fit,” Shelley says. “We’re buying a beautiful domestic lamb, and lamb has a very unique and robust flavor—why cover it up?” In its current iteration, the chops are broiled and then drizzled in a sizzling sauce pungently imbued with thyme and roasted garlic confit. Steaks, too, are not fussed over. The methodical broiling supplies each cut with a nice char and an ideally juicy, tender center. The Kansas City Strip ($49) is a healthy yet manageable 16 ounces, recommended by our server for its buttery, nutty flavor and 28 days of dry-aging. The roasted Brussels sprouts ($14) proved a large enough side dish for a couple of us to share, and were coated in a sweet mix of brown sugar and onion. While less elegant, I still preferred the indulgently cheesy smoked Gouda-filled tater tots ($12).
Ahi tuna tartare ($19)
In many ways, indulgence is the name of the game. The Old-Fashioned ($17) tempers the kick of Russell’s Reserve bourbon with Aperol, while the Prime Manhattan ($16) sweetens the deal with Amaro Nonino and bitters infused with notes of rosemary, grapefruit and peppercorn. Plump ravioli ($16) are stuffed with goat cheese and flavorful mushrooms, and the appetizer version of the Surf N Turf ($23) is a lavish start to dinner, with the salinity of portly, seared scallops contrasting perfectly with the deep richness of fork-tender short rib and potato puree.
The sole letdown of our evening was being seated at a booth where a frosted-glass partition blocked the best views from the second-story restaurant’s perch next to the LondonHouse Chicago hotel. The restaurant’s layout doesn’t take total advantage of its prime real estate overlooking the city’s most famed corridor—quite a few tables lose out on the chance to glimpse Wrigley Tower or the Chicago River while dining.
I was a little wary of the desserts as well, concerned that, like a couple of steakhouses I’ve patroned, Ocean Prime would phone it in with the final course. But I am happy to say my worry was misplaced; the warm butter cake ($14) was a lovely end to the evening. The pastry itself was quite dense, and its light, almond-tinged flavor was an ideal vehicle for the fresh berries, raspberry sauce and hefty scoop of vanilla ice cream. Beautifully simplistic, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
87 E. Wacker Drive | 312.428.4344 | Open for lunch Mon.-Fri.; dinner nightly Appetizers, $16-$23; entrees, $32-$69; sides, $11-$19; desserts, $9-$14; cocktails, $16-$34
Photography by: Anthony Tahlier