Phil Vettel reviews Ocean Prime

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CHICAGO, Ill. -- A seafood restaurant with a steakhouse sensibility, Ocean Prime opened in the spring at Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue. It's not the easiest restaurant to spot; the window signs are subtle to say the least. But there is a sign over the door, once you find it.

Inside, the decor is very modern steakhouse-y, with white-linen tables, leather booths, and soaring ceilings with uplit pillars and elegant chandeliers. And, of course, there is a serious wine cellar.

The menu includes the expected classics, all executed well. There's an excellent, hefty crabcake, with horseradish aioli and some dressed kale; and steak tartare, a little on the tart side, topped with a quail egg and served with toasted crostini.

Fish entrees run $40 dollars or so, but the quality and accompaniments are there. Spicy-glazed tuna is beautiful, matched to a colorful salad with mango, avocados and cashews. Florida grouper, a fish not often found in Chicago, is crowned with tomato compote.

One of the stars of the menu is the blackened snapper. A New Orleans person would call this bronzed, not blackened, but the principle is the same; the fish is aggressively seared with spices, and served over sweet-corn spoonbread with jalapeno tartar sauce.

Of course a seafood restaurant will have Key Lime pie for dessert; this version is layered like a parfait, rather than a pie, but the flavors are spot on. There's also a New York style cheesecake, perfectly faithful to the style, served with cherries and cherry sauce.

The lounge is a nice place to hang out; the full menu is served, and there are some happy hour specials for the early arrivals. Inventive cocktails include something called Berries and Bubbles, made with vodka, sparkling wine and Grand Marnier-marinated berries. And some dry ice adds a little theatricality to the drink.  

I give Ocean Prime, 87 East Wacker Drive, two stars. It's admittedly on the pricey side, but quality is very high, and you'll save a lot of money if you visit at lunch or during early-bird hours.

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