Tuna tartare. All photos by Laura Hayes.

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Tuna tartare. All photos by Laura Hayes.

At most power surf & turf restaurants, the customer comes first. The idea being that if you’re paying $56 for a slab of meat sans sides, it should please your every whim. Ocean Prime opening downtown on Thursday takes a different posture. “The associate comes first,” explains general manager Alex Schultz. “Associates” is the term Ocean Prime team uses to describe employees.

Rather than saying the guest is always right, it’s a different approach. Give them the tools, training, uniform to do their job. They come to work happy and the guest sees they’re happy and it’s a trickle-down effect.”

Dining room

The idea comes from Restaurateur’s Cameron Mitchell playbook of philosophies governing how his restaurants should operate. In addition to many other concepts, Mitchell runs 12 Ocean Prime restaurants in the U.S. The D.C. location replacing Ceiba at 1341 G St. NW will be the 13th.

Manning the kitchen is Executive Chef Jason Shelley, a 12-year Ocean Prime veteran who has the perfect last name for cooking seafood. He says the dining room menu is similar to the other locations, but the bar is where they’ll add local flare in the form of mumbo shrimp and Maryland crab cake sliders. Slapping a Maryland crab cake on the menu is a common move made by out-of-town chefs to “localize.” Remember when Daniel Boulud briefly adorned a burger with a crab cake when DBGB Kitchen + Bar opened?

Shelley’s dinner menu includes raw bar selections ($18+), soups and salads ($11-$20), appetizers ($12-$19), sushi rolls ($17-$22), seafood ($38-$59), steaks ($42-$51), and more. 

Surf & turf is a common theme, including an appetizer that marries sea scallops with slow-braised short ribs. And then there’s the “Prime Roll,” which will make sushi purists leap over its tempura shrimp, cream cheese, scallion, and beef carpaccio filling.

Bar

Shelley expects the tuna tartare, Chilean sea bass with champagne truffle sauce, and blacked snapper atop corn spoon bread to be the biggest sellers. The restaurant is sourcing seafood from Philadelphia-based Samuels and Son Seafood, plus Congressional Seafood Co. locally. They’re also in talks with Profish. “Once we get our feet under us, we’ll work with as many local people as possible,” Shelley says.

Wine drinkers will find a list with 300-400 bottles, Coravin pours of rare wines, and 60 by-the-glass selections. There are also a handful of cocktails ($12-$15) made from fresh ingredients, such as the “Berries & Bubbles” with vodka, marinated berries, house-made sour, and Domaine Chandon Brut.

The space received such a mega-makeover that Ceiba loyalists won’t recognize it. The floor has been raised and the ceiling lowered to create a “more intimate” atmosphere. Warm woods dominate, but there are a couple of reminders about the ocean, including an eye-catching coral sculpture. The art found in the dining room is from local artists, and the bar area will feature live music Wednesdays through Saturdays.

10-layer carrot cake

Ocean Prime will serve dinner seven days a week and lunch Mondays-Fridays. Those interested in friendlier prices can visit on Sundays for a three-course “Surf & Turf” meal priced at $55. Sundays are also half-price wine night (on bottles $99 or less).

Reservations are accepted through OpenTable. 

Ocean Prime, 1341 G St. NW; (202) 393-0313; ocean-prime.com/locations-menus/washington-dc