There’s something to be said about visiting a five-star restaurant when the city is in the grip of an ice storm: the other scheduled patrons have canceled their reservations to hide under padded sheets tending a hot toddy; and so the chef and his staff, having braved the ghastly weather themselves to bravely show up for work, will be very Really happy to see you there, and they will go out of their way to express their gratitude, except for a headstand, serving you exceptional meals with exemplary service.
Such was my visit, on a windy winter day this December, to Ocean prime, Cameron Mitchell’s elegant 2006 creation on Cedar Springs Road, across from the Crescent Court Hotel, at the north end of downtown Dallas. The staff was so happy to see us, and our compliments after an excellent meal were such, that while we were having our coffees, Executive Chef Eugenio Reyes himself came out personally to curtsy and chat with us for a few minutes. He is a talented artist.
Upon arrival, it was clear that my dining partner and I had the place to ourselves. There was another table, this one with five guests, on the other side of the room. My host kindly chose a table away from the door and any gust of icy wind that might have eluded the doorman. Our server was Shelby Griffing, a five-year veteran of Ocean prime and an expert guide to dine there.
When Shelby suggested that the chef was raving about a plate of shoulder lamb chops (the popular American name for bone-fried lamb chops), my ears perked up. On a day like this, do you really want to order something from the menu? After all, the chef is alone in the kitchen and is dying to show off his favorite dish. Why disappoint him or yourself? In such conditions, go with the will of the restaurant. One must listen carefully and unless you are allergic to the special one, it is wise to select it. The chef, in these circumstances, will go the extra mile to shine. In fact, many years of dining in high-end restaurants have taught me that the best meals are obtained on those occasions when one can “bond”, so to speak, with the kitchen staff. Never take good cooking for granted. Always listen. My father once told me decades ago that I could always better assess a man’s character by observing the way he treated waiters. That’s how it is.
To be honest, I am not particularly fond of lamb, despite my years in North Africa, because it takes a special skill to cook it correctly and it is a staple in much of the world that its preparation is often indifferent. Too often, too, “lamb” really means “lamb.” Lamb is often stringy, tough, and unpleasant – the kind of meat that angers inland Australians. I usually go to Ocean prime Eat fish, as there are very few really good fish restaurants in Dallas. I am partial to Ocean prime’s Blackened blackfish, served with a bread spoon and a jalapeño corn tartare. I’ve asked for it half a dozen times.
But there was something about Shelby’s description of the lamb chops that made them irresistible, and both my lunch partner and I ordered them. To open the palate, I chose as an aperitif a trio of simply exceptional Vietnamese. prawns, or giant shrimp, served in the traditional tomato sauce with a bit of Tabasco.
And then came those lollipop lamb chops, five little ones served piping hot. We were not disappointed. To begin with, the ingredients were absolutely the best, before Eugenio Reyes worked his magic in the kitchen. These were the finest and most tender lamb chops Oregon has ever produced (just as good, if not better, than Colorado, which is the usual place for the best American lamb). It is as often true, in the kitchen as in other activities of life, that the best ingredients are more than half the battle. But the way that Chef Reyes prepared these chops was extraordinary and, in my experience, unique.
Instead of the traditional lamb recipe, or a variation of it, in which they are crusted with rosemary and salt, these were served in a clear raisin reduction, very delicate and slightly sweet. Absolutely out of this world! The lamb chops were served with tiny potatoes the size of marbles. I’ve never had lamb with a hint of sugar or raisins before, except maybe once or twice in Morocco. It was a pleasure, and I will remember it.
I then asked Chef Reyes why these lollipop cutlets are not on the regular menu, and he replied quite reasonably that it is simply not possible to get the desired quality of cutlets on a daily basis (although they are generally available) and that, too, Respecting the gastronomic inclinations of your Texas customers, lamb is not something Dallas people want to order every day, no matter how good it is. I think this is wise.
We finish our lunch with a magnificent and very generous homemade crème brûlée with berries, rich vanilla custard wrapped in a caramelized sugar armor. Then I had an espresso with lemon peel.
Executive Chef Eugenio Reyes is a man of great culinary talent. Before he took the helm in Ocean primeHe was second chef here, but regularly traveled to other Cameron Mitchell restaurants across the country to train staff as well. He began his career in Columbus, Ohio, at Mitchell’s Ocean club restaurant. After leaving his native Mexico years ago, Reyes began life in American kitchens at the bottom of the stairs, as a dishwasher, dreaming of the day he could become a cook himself. Over a career spanning two decades, he has learned more and more.
I generally avoid chains, but Cameron Mitchell’s ten locations are not really part of a chain in the sense that each restaurant has adapted to its host city. Mitchell plans to open his 11th restaurant, this one in Beverly Hills, California, in early 2014.
Cameron Mitchell’s public relations team has stated that “Ocean prime It is the culmination of a creative exercise that we began in 2006 to define the best in food, beverage, service and atmosphere “in Dallas, and I think it’s fair to say that they have succeeded.
Ocean prime It is at 2101 Cedar Springs Road in Dallas (75201) at the corner of Pearl and across from the Crescent Court Hotel. Even on days when the weather is bad, it is always advisable to make a reservation: (214) 965-0440.