Prime time

I received a sneak peek invitation for a preview dinner this week at the new Ocean Prime prior to the restaurant’s grand opening Thursday. Once again, I must say, my work does not suck.

Ocean Prime exterior

Ocean Prime resides near Keystone at the Crossing next to that funky split-personality bridge that crosses over into the Clearwater area. It’s in front of the Old Navy strip near Distinctive Diamonds and on the same side of the road as Maggiano’s. Valet parking is available if you need it.

Part of the Cameron Mitchell restaurant empire, the original Ocean Prime opened in Columbus, Ohio in 2006, and a handful of others followed soon after.

The first thing that occurred to me when I walked in was that perhaps I was a tad underdressed in my cotton sundress. Hubby was fine in his button-down shirt and dress slacks; most of the other folks in attendance were in suits and flashier attire. I was feeling a little conspicuous until I saw some young gal walk through in cut-off shorts and a beach top. Seriously. Can we possibly dumb down our already dismal fashion image any further, people?

one of the Ocean Prime dining rooms

Ocean Prime brings the swank with rich cherry furniture, classy textured stone walls and nifty boxed light fixtures. Servers (all men, from what I could tell) wear white jackets and black pants, and swarmed like bees. I know it was a dress rehearsal of sorts, but I’d venture to guess the floor staff might have outnumbered the customers.

We were seated on one of the main traffic aisles, which was fine because it allowed us to check out the food coming and going as we made our choices. Our server was a friendly chap who walked us through the intricacies of the menu with ease and authority. First things first. Drinks. There’s a fairly extensive wine selection here (bottles take up an entire wall in the Prime Room) and full bar service showcasing a dozen or so specialty cocktails. All handcrafted, of course. This seems to be the buzzword du jour when it comes to adult beverages. Oddly, we didn’t see any beer selections on the drink menu, although our server managed to rustle up a Sun King Osiris pronto when hubby asked if they carried any local beers.

the delectable Whiskey Clover

I was all set to ask for a glass of Shiraz when something called the Whiskey Clover caught my attention… Gentleman Jack, Hennessey, honey, fresh orange and lemon juice. Yes, please. Not my usual Maker’s Mark, but still damn tasty. Served in a martini glass, it kinda reminded me of the Seelbach Cocktail at Libertine. I spied a few other cocktails passing us by, including something called a “Berries and Bubbles” with actual bubbles frothing up over the rim of the glass. Not sure I’d want to drink something that looks like a bubble bath, but with Belvedere citrus, marinated blackberries, sour mix and a splash of brut, I could be persuaded without much protest.

Ocean Prime’s wedge salad

We skipped over the appetizers and split a wedge salad to start. This is one of my favorite summertime dishes. You really can’t go wrong with a wedge as long as the ingredients are good, and these were. Everything was snapping fresh and crunchy, and the dressing was nicely tangy. With slices of warm crusty sourdough from the breadbasket, it was a respectable prelude for what followed.

(We didn’t order any, but I should note that Ocean Prime offers some appealing raw bar selections, and the shrimp cocktails and seafood platters we saw flying out of the kitchen waft contrails thanks to a little dry ice in the dish. Great visual appeal.)

blue cheese-crusted KC strip

Hubby doesn’t like seafood, so I knew he’d opt for steak. And what a steak this was — a whopping 16-oz. Kansas City strip crusted with Maytag bleu cheese. This thing was massive, served with a half-head of roasted garlic and a sprig of rosemary as garnish. Hubby had asked for it medium/medium-well; this was more like medium-rare/medium and a little bloody for my personal taste, but he scarfed it down with no complaint. The meat was very tender (wet-aged, I believe the server said?) and I loved the bleu cheese crust on top.

OP crab cakes

Lots of things sounded great among the seafood options, but I finally settled on the jumbo lump crab cakes from the Chef’s Compositions (also available in a starter portion). They were gorgeous, two big broiled (not fried – yay!) mounds of meaty crab with very little filler, and a splash of sweet corn cream underneath. I also received a few stalks of asparagus that were basically unnecessary, and a little ramekin of tartar saucy concoction studded with fresh corn kernels. The corn and crab played nicely together, and it made for a tasty combination.

Parmesan truffle fries

On the side, we shared an order of Parmesan truffle fries that were perfectly crispy and delish. Hubby said he still thinks the pomme frites at Taste are better, but I’m not so sure. These spuds made a pretty impressive showing. The jalapeno au gratin potatoes are on my radar for a follow-up visit.

We couldn’t leave without dessert, a list heavy with time-tested traditional steakhouse crowd-pleasers like blueberry cheesecake, crème brulee and chocolate cake with handspun ice cream. Having never tasted baked Alaska before, I figured this was a good opportunity to give it a whirl.

Baked Alaska

The portion size was intimidating, a ginormous frozen slab of pound cake, ice cream, raspberries and marshmallowy meringue. Wow. The chocolate syrup underneath was just ok, but the fresh raspberry coulis really sang. There was no way we were finishing this puppy, though. After a few bites, we groaned and conceded defeat.

Service was attentive down to the tiniest detail. I know it was a training night, but it was almost too much at times. At one point, I think three different people stopped by our table within five minutes to ask how everything was.

Ocean Prime is a high-end dining destination, and prices are on the steep side, as you’d expect. We enjoyed our meal very much, but I have to wonder just how many upscale steak-and-seafood establishments Indianapolis can feasibly support. OP faces some stiff competition right in the neighborhood from Sullivan’s, Fleming’s and Ruth’s Chris, not to mention Peterson’s just up I-69 and all the downtown heavy hitters. For me, St. Elmo’s is still going to be the sentimental favorite when I’m in the mood for a good steak and shrimp cocktail, but I have a feeling Ocean Prime is definitely poised to make some waves here in Indy.

For more info:

Ocean Prime on Urbanspoon

Conrad confessional

Valentine’s Day arrived a week late at my house this year. An ugly wave of strep throat followed by a cold sore epidemic hit me and then hubby in quick succession, soundly defeating plans for the romantic staycation we’d arranged in downtown Indy. Fortunately, a week of recovery time saw us both in much better shape and we were able to resume our rescheduled reservations. (Thank God, the toddler somehow managed to avoid the contagion.)

Child-free overnight getaways are a big deal for us, and only happen maybe a few times a year if we’re lucky. Again, it was our fabulous neighbors to the rescue, taking in the toddler for a fun-filled night of indoor camping.

Since hubby and I weren’t actually in the same country for either of our two wedding anniversaries this past year, we decided to really splurge for Valentine’s Day and call it three occasions in one. Site of said rendezvous? Indy’s most upper-crusted luxury hotel — the Conrad.

My only prior experience with the Conrad property had been an awesome race week cocktail party hubby brought me along for two years ago, and a glass of wine at Tastings with a handful of women friends two weeks ago following a play at the IRT.

Let me spell it out for you. Nothing about the Conrad is cheap. The restaurants, the rooms, nada. You’re going to drop some cash to stay here. Figuring what the hell, I requested the room upgrade option when I made the reservation, assuring us of a soaking tub and a Monument Circle view.

Figuring we’d try to cut a corner, we ditched the car at a 24-hour Circle Centre garage (for about half the price valet parking would have cost us) and checked in around 3:30 p.m. The common areas of the hotel are spotlessly clean, and the lobby features a gorgeous huge Chihuly-style glass light fixture that I couldn’t take my eyes off.

Sure enough, the windows in our 18th floor room opened out onto a spectacular view of the monument and the eastern side of the downtown skyscape. Not too shabby. The room itself was subtly decorated in classy neutral shades with a massive flat-screen TV and a bathroom I could have lived in for a few days. Deep soaking tub, separate shower, marble countertops and another TV. Sweet. Our only very minor complaints – the full-length mirror in the room was streaky and didn’t look like it had been cleaned very well, and the tub itself leaked slightly, which we remedied by placing an extra washcloth over the drain.

The Conrad offers a pretty 6th floor indoor pool/whirlpool area we hit soon after checking in. The lounge chairs all held fresh towels and the side tables were stocked with fruit and bottles of water. The water facilities were great, but hubby and I quickly realized we both reeked of chlorine on the elevator ride back up to the room.

Since the weather outside was so frightful, we’d decided to just hole up and spend our entire stay on site at the Conrad. After bathing and relaxing in the room for a few hours, we got dressed up and made our way back downstairs for a pre-dinner drink at Tastings Wine Bar and Bistro. I like this place, it’s full of nifty high-tech wine dispensers that look kinda like vending machines. The wines are grouped by theme and style — i.e. pinot noirs, Italians, sparkling. What you do is wander around reading the descriptions below each until you find something you want to drink, then use a key card to dispense a glass worth or just a taste. Hubby found the whole thing a little crass, but I thought it was cool in a Jetson’s kind of way. There’s also table service, of course, if you want to be prosaic.

We chose to stick to the menu with hubby ordering a robust glass of cabernet; I selected a so-so Sangiovese that the waitress recommended. As tempted as we were to sample a plate of the blue cheese kettle chips, we decided wisely to save our appetites for our dinner to come at the Capital Grille down the hall.

I’d never eaten at Capital Grille before, although I’d heard they serve a kick-ass burger for lunch. The first thing that hit me when we walked in was “wow, this place is DARK.” Dark, intimate and masculine. Very old boys’ club-ish, as most steak houses usually are. Someone could make a fortune creating a steak house that caters to women, decorated and staffed accordingly. (Hm… note to self??) Good thing we were hungry and ready for some serious eats.

The menu wasn’t nearly as extensive as I expected, mainly a short list of wet-aged steaks, seafood and a la carte sides. I must admit, our service was outstanding; our waiter came off as knowledgeable and friendly without a hint of condescension. His pinot noir recommendation was spot on, and way better than what we sampled at Tastings next door. I did get a little tired of the guy who kept swooping in to refill our water glasses every time we took a sip.

But back to the food. After much consideration, we both opted for steaks. When in Rome… Hubby ordered steak au poivre, a hefty slab of sirloin that came drenched with a peppercorn brandy cream sauce so good I wanted to drink it off his plate. I got a straight-up filet mignon, meltingly tender and perfectly cooked to medium well doneness. We split two sides — a dish of steamed green beans with roasted tomatoes that hubby refused to touch after he spied a few slices of onion in the mix, and a sinful pile of crispy fries drizzled with truffle oil and dusted with shavings of parmesan cheese. Yummy.

Everything was delicious, although the two women seated next to us were apparently not having the same experience. We couldn’t help but overhear them bitching to the waiter and insisting on getting the manager out there to take something off their bill, although we never did figure out just what had gotten them so riled up in the first place.

The tab? Again, not cheap. We justified it by reminding ourselves that this was really three special-occasion dinners in one. Very upscale, tasty and professional, but honestly, I think I still prefer St. Elmo’s if I’m in the mood for a great steak.

We retired to our room, wrapped ourselves in the complimentary robes and settled in for a movie and some rejuvenating relaxation.

For breakfast, room service was the logical choice. Service was quick, and we luxuriated in bed over pastries, fruit, fresh squeezed juice and coffee. Ah. Bliss.

All in all, the Conrad was lovely. A few very minor hiccups, but certainly nothing to detract from a wonderful overall stay. Looking back, I’m not quite sure the value we got was worth what we paid. The problem with staying or dining someplace so upscale is that your expectations are so high going in, the disappointment is that much greater if there’s any misstep or things aren’t absolutely perfect. Not that we were disappointed, but next time, I’d probably go somewhere a little more affordable and try to build in an extra night instead. Still, I’m glad we checked it out and can now check it off our list.

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