The restaurant scene in Beverly Hils is sizzling! Two exciting new restaurants opened just this week...and several more are coming shortly. (The Palm, for one, will be opening in mid-November.) Fred's, an offshoot of the popular spot in Manhattan's Barney's New York (Madison Ave. and 60th St.) opened on the top floor of the Barney's New York department store here, replacing the New York-originated Barney Greengrass which closed some months ago. We'll do a Huffington review on it shortly. But the big news is the opening of OCEAN PRIME (9595 Wilshire Bvd, at the corner of Wilshire and Camden, BevHills (310) 859-4818), one of the most stunning, sophisticated and satisfying restaurants to appear in our city in a long, long time. (Yes, Hakkasan is also elegant and sophisticated, but a completely different kettle of Asiatic fish.) Ocean Prime is the first California outpost of a restaurant group, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, out of Columbus, Ohio. I have had occasion to twice meet and interview the dynamic larger-than-life namesake president, Cameron Mitchell, and the first thing I asked him was, "Why Beverly Hills?" He laughed and told me: "We have restaurants all over the country but have long wanted to have a premier restaurant in California but could not find a suitable location. Then about two-and-a-half years ago we saw the Beverly Hills corner location where the defunct El Torito had been, and immediately knew we had found our home." Mitchell told me that this is the eleventh Ocean Prime and the 40th restaurant of his group. ("We had about 70, but sold off a seafood chain to Ruth's Chris some time ago.") He emphasized that they are not a typical restaurant chain. "Every one of our restaurants is an individual entity, with its own personality and style."
That's certainly true of the new eatery. It is a huge, elegant and vibrant place which will be a focus of attention hereabouts for a long time. I asked the corporate chef, Bill Crow, what makes Ocean Prime different from other such seafood-and-steak houses, and he answered in one word: Service. "We believe in giving our diners an experience beyond anything they get in other places. We go the extra step. Tonight a fellow asked for lamb chops, which are not on our menu. I sent a waiter down the street to Doma, and we got him an order of lamb chops. Anything to make the experience better." One of my tests of a steakhouse is how they prepare a 'black-and-blue' steak, charred slightly on the outside while pink in the center. It takes a really hot grill and expert attention to make this happen, and here Exec Chef Matt Briggs did it perfectly on their 1200 degree grill (see the picture.) It may have been the tastiest, juicy cut of prime beef I have had all year (and I eat a lot of meat.) I asked Cameron the source of his beef and he told me the story of how, when he was first starting out at the age of 23 with his first restaurant, Cameron's, he went to a wholesale meat guy named Michael Bloch at Michael's Meats in Columbus, Ohio and asked for 30 day terms. "Mike took a chance on me, and we have stuck with him ever since." He joked that today he gets 45-day terms but a huge lot of beef goes through the operation by now. (he also supplies beef to Mastro's.) Bill, the regional chef, who lives and works out of Denver, told me that most of their beef is grain-fed, with perhaps one grass-fed offering on the menu, but he will add some 'specials' in time. No hyped Kobe beef from anywhere....just great prime. My 16 oz. ribeye cost $49; the 8 oz. filet mignon was $43, the 10 oz. one was $47. I'm alwaya amused by a 'bone-in filet,' a non-sequitar, here it is a 12 oz. and $50. The New York strip is $47 and the Kansas City strip is $45 (I've got to test the difference between them). I am always startled when places charge for the accompanying sauce: here it is $3 for Bearnaise, $4 for black truffle butter, and $5 for the au poivre. There's a Maytag blue cheese crust for $5 which I didn't even taste. Go for the au poivre. Another test of a steakhouse for me is the creamed spinach (here $11 and the best I have ever tasted.) Bill told me the secret is the bacon and spices in the creamed green...utterly delicious. My other favorite side is the japaneno au gratin potato ($11). Sides are $9 to $11, kind of high, but they are first quality and enough for two.
A startling addition to the seafood-and-steak profile is separate Sushi and Raw Bars in the center of the restaurant. I asked Cameron why 'sushi' and he smiled and shrugged: "This is Beverly Hills, and people here will like that touch." I tried the sashimi plate ($24), with ahi tuna, yellowtail and King salmon...excellent quality, pricey, and then had a wonderful Lobster Roll ($18), the toasted roll filled with lobster tail meat, kiwi, pickled jalapeno, mango and mango puree. Still to be tried is the Camden Roll ($17), with tempura shrimp, cream cheese and beef carpaccio. Sounds weird.
But Cameron Mitchll insisted that I understand this is basically a seafood house serving great steaks, and the emphasis on top-quality fish is paramount. I acted as usual like a wise guy when asking Chef Bill if he knew the real name of Chilean Sea Bass ($45), and he quickly threw back at me Patagonian dogfish. He said it was the most popular seafood dish here, served with whipped potatoes and a champagne truffle sauce. My lovely ex will certainly order, as always, the King salmon ($40), served with lobster, gnocchi, spring peas and lemon jus. I am not a fan of 'blackened' anything, but here they have a Blackened Snapper ($36), with corn spoon bread and jalapeno corn tartar. The Teriyaki Salmon is $35, the Yellowtail Tuna is $39, and the Twin Lobster Tails are $55, served with asparagus and drawn butter. I have tasted the Sea Scallops ($35) with a Parmesan risotto, and my companion let me have a bite of her Crab cake ($36), made with lump Maryland crab and a little filler. There's a Shellfish "Cobb" Salad ($22) yet to be seen.
I asked Cameron Mitchell if they would ever move their company headquarters from Columbus, and he was adamant that it would not happen. (They are opening an Ocean Prime in New York next Spring.) "I was a wild kid of 18 in Columbus when I had an epiphany and realized that I wanted to work in restaurants all my life. I buckled down and managed to go to the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, N.Y. and then worked as a chef for a few years, knowing that some day I would run a restaurant group. At 29, I achieved that. But the hospitals in Columbus helped my sick kids when they were born, and we appreciate that....we have a charitable foundation and give mllions to various entities in the cities where we operate." A long answer, but no, they would not leave Columbus. Cameron told me that he had called French Laundry/Bouchon Chef-Owner Thomas Keller, whom he knows from serving on the board of the CIA, and apologized for hiring away his Bouchon Beverly Hills manager, Stephan Cook, as general manager of the new restaurant here, and Keller gave his approval. A terrific hire, the English-born Cook has over 20 years of experience, and his well-trained crew shows this. Exec Chef Matthew Briggs worked at Mastro's in Newport Beach and The Loft in Laguna, where I first reviewed him. Mitchell rather startled me by saying that the first consideration they gave was to the well-being of their 'associates' (employees), then came the satisfaction of the diners. All of the people working here seemed confident and desirous of being helpful in a cheery way....not always the case with help here.
This 350-seat restaurant is built in what seems to be two parts. As you walk up to the entrance, to the left is the reception desk and a bar area, all teak and black steel, leading into the inner room....here's the raw bar and the sushi bar, looking into the main dining room with its leather booths and tables. At the rear is the glassed-in large open kitchen. If you make a right turn at the entrance, you enter a large bar area leading to the spacious patio/terrace facing Wilshire Blvd., although it is shielded by bushes. There are about 160 employees working the property, and Cameron said there were 3,200 people in the company as a whole.
In coming weeks I will explore the menu, and I have made note that I must try the Grilled Pittman Farms Chicken ($29), the Pork Porterhouse ($32) and the Veal Chop ($49). More interesting to me, and many diners, is the extensive appetizer selection. My gluten-free regime precludes me from trying the Goat Cheese Ravioli ($15) but I will certainly experience the Ahi Tuna Tartare ($18). I was curious about the "Surf and Turf" ($20), a sea scallop and braised short rib..sounds like a full dinner for me. I know I will try the White Truffle Caviar Deviled Eggs ($13) and might even spring $29 for the Butter-Poached Dungeness Crab. There's fried calamari and crab cakes to fill the void. Lobster Bisque ($14) and French Onion Soup ($10) are joined by several salads...the traditional Iceberg Wedge ($11) comes with red onion, smoked bacon, grape tomatoes, bleu cheese and a buttermilk dressing....sounds like a full meal.
I had a nice conversation with Jonathan Mitchell, the assistant g.m. who monitors the exensive wine list. There are 300 bottles lining the walls of the barroom, and I was fascinated watching the waiters climb the ladder to select bottles from the wall cabinets. I expressed my disappointment to him that there was no Laetitia, Justin and Landmark wines on the iPad list, my particular favorites. I think I made an impression on him about them, and we even discussed havibg a Laetitia wine dinner after the holidays. Later, the owner of the restaurant, Cameron, agreed with me and said they would be on the future list.
One final note about the menu: whoever chose to put that Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake on the desert menu should be arrested for indecent exposure. It was recommended last night by my terrific server, Allison Rothschild, and was she ever right. Perhaps the best dessert all year. I have not yet had lunch here, but assume the lunch menu is somewhat less expensive and must contain a hefty burger. I explored all of the private dining rooms and spoke to Melissa Goodman about the many private events which will be upcoming here. The restaurant is open from 11 am to 10:30 pm Monday to Fridy, and 5 pm to 11:30 pm on weekends
Ocean Prime is an opulent and positively palatial place, with really delicious food. Not inexpensive, it is fairly priced for what you get on the plate and around you. See you there.
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