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At Ocean, we also get a tedious spiel about how the fish gets to the restaurant: It's caught, wrapped, put in plastic-lined boxes, covered in ice, unwrapped, inspected, cleaned, cut, rewrapped in butcher paper, replaced in plastic-lined boxes, re-iced, flown in a cargo plane or driven by truck from downtown L.A. to its final resting place at Ocean. Then it's portioned in the restaurant's very own 32- to 40-degree cutting room, before chef Siegfried Hohaus deems it worthy of landing on our table. Well, whew I'm exhausted even before I pick up my designer-label silver fork.
Like Ruth's Chris, Ocean goes for the shock factor to warrant its sky-high prices. Portions are huge 12 to 14 ounces for fish, one-pound baked potatoes, appetizers and sides usually enough for two (my sister Elisabeth points out that the tumbleweed of sea salt and vinegar fries is a centerpiece, not a side dish). There are things I appreciate, like that simple preparation is designed to showcase the premium ingredients. Fish is presented in one of three ways: seasoned and braised in wine and butter; oreganata (rolled in breadcrumbs, herbs, garlic, Parmesan, wine and butter, then baked); or grilled with olive oil.
The restaurant flies in eight varieties of fish daily, including Chilean sea bass, mahi-mahi, swordfish, turbot, petrale sole, Atlantic salmon and blue nose grouper. They're all quite nice. At these prices, though, I'd only make a special trip for just two types the excellent sole (flounder, actually), with its mild flavor, fine texture and a curious presentation curled up like a cinnamon roll; or the grouper, firm, meaty and delightfully moist. I request my grouper porcini style, and it's decadent, rolled in dried Italian mushrooms, drizzled with clarified butter and baked.
15045 N. Kierland Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
Region: North Scottsdale
480-443-8555. Hours: Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
But I'm not drooling over Ocean's ahi, the star of the restaurant's advertising, which brags that the bone-in fish chop is served at no other restaurant in America. Amazing, but true: A yellowfin tuna, even one topping 250 pounds, renders just one bone-in loin. The bone supposedly imparts deep flavor, much like the marrow in a steak bone. But my fish arrives sashimi-style, rolled in Asian seasoning and black sesame seeds, barely seared, sliced and served cold over julienne daikon radish, red onion and sugar snap peas under a ginger soy sauce. The bone sits off to the side, and with barely any cooking of the fish involved, what's the point?
Another specialty, one night's offering of mako shark, is flat-out disappointing, and really irritating at $20.95. It's a tough, bland wad, and brought back to my mind those memories of hating grown-up seafood.
The real insult comes in the extras. With all the management types loitering around the restaurant (looking like Secret Service in their suits and ear-radios), it seems someone could protect me from the awful appetizers and side dishes that come my way. Mashed potatoes are dry as Styrofoam, thick like scooped-out baked potato. Au gratin potatoes are drenched in slippery oil. Dungeness crab dip may arrive in an expensive All-Clad silver skillet, but it reminds everyone at my table of tuna casserole. It's parched, not helped by scooping with stale toast rounds, and tastes nothing of crab, just celery and Parmesan. Someone in the kitchen went into conniptions with the salt shaker for the Boston clam chowder, and the meager sprinkle of lobster in the bisque can't compensate for the cloying cream tones. The only worthwhile distraction, in fact, is a superb platter of fried red tomatoes, lightly breaded and wonderfully wet inside.
Elisabeth, bless her imagination, knows just how to describe what she's found in a finale of peach polenta cake: slugs. It's an apt metaphor for the careless display of the cold fruit slabs over plastic-textured crust. It's also a perfect example of what Ocean's management thinks of us spoiled Scottsdalites who think that by looking pretty, and charging outrageous prices, we'll believe we're getting the best.
I adore my fresh fish. Ocean has some of it. But give me my friendly $4 snapper, instead of a silly $29.95 ahi fillet, any day.