Updated August 17, 2022 - 12:36 pm
At a desert crossroads, four stories up, it’s a trip through the pasture, and a plunge to the briny deep. For $20 million.
Ocean Prime, the first Las Vegas location from the luxury steak and seafood restaurant brand, is taking shape atop Project 63, at the corner of West Harmon Avenue and the Strip. It’s a particularly posh stretch of the souk, a center-cut portion also populated by The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Aria, The Shops at Crystals and the Waldorf Astoria.
The $20 million build-out encompasses a main dining room, two bars, three private dining rooms, double-height ceilings and more than 400 seats across 14,500 square feet. A curving wall of glass — Ocean Prime is fashioned in an oval — partitions the restaurant from a 2,500-square-foot terrace overlooking the Strip.
Ocean Prime currently has 17 locations, including Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York City. The $20 million cost of the Vegas restaurant exceeds the second-priciest Ocean Prime (NYC) by $7 million and the third priciest (L.A.) by $10 million.
But big bucks — exceptionally big bucks — are part and parcel of being in Vegas, Cameron Mitchell, founder and CEO of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, parent company of Ocean Prime, said in an exclusive interview with the Review-Journal.
“In Vegas, everything is over the top to a certain extent, and we wanted to make sure this restaurant matched that. It’s going to be our flagship restaurant, our most expensive, our biggest restaurant to date. It is the most glamorous restaurant we’ve ever built. At one of the busiest and best-known intersections in the United States.
“It is an iconic location in this iconic city for what we think is an iconic brand. We think it’s a perfect match.”
Lots of beef hereabouts
That match has been awhile in the making, Mitchell said. “We’ve wanted to be in Vegas for years and years.” Meetings in summer 2021 with the developers of Project 63 led to the deal that will see Ocean Prime open in spring 2023.
When it debuts, the restaurant will have plenty of competition, including the $10 million Toca Madera steakhouse that recently opened very nearly next door. The Strip (and Vegas generally) does not lack for spots brimming with steaks, seafood and loaded cocktails.
“I like competition,” Mitchell said. “It’s like the sun coming up every morning: It’s going to come. We can’t stop it, so we spend time focusing on what we do within our four walls. I think great competition around you begets a better atmosphere. I’d rather be around several successful restaurants; we like being in the mix.”
Another important aspect of the Ocean Prime approach is harnessing brand power without being blandly formulaic.
“We look at ourselves as a collection of independent restaurants,” Mitchell said. “We’re particular about where we go and how we design the restaurants. We want them to fit within each city. We don’t want 100 Ocean Primes around the country. That’s a nightmare for us to be a cookie cutter.”
Menu standards; Vegas pizzazz
As part of its exclusive discussion with the RJ, the restaurant shared several signature dishes from the menu:
— Berries & Bubbles cocktail featuring organic lemon and basil vodka, marinated blackberries, lemon, sparkling wine and furls of dry ice smoke.
— Ahi tartare with avocado, ginger ponzu and sesame seeds.
— An Ocean Roll, from the sushi menu, uniting tuna, salmon, hamachi, avocado and jabs of chili garlic oil.
— Chilean sea bass graced with truffle sauce.
— USDA Prime Grade steaks (filet, bone-in filet, New York strip, ribeye and so on) accessorized with béarnaise, black truffle butter, Maytag blue cheese, Oscar topping, garlic shrimp scampi and a lobster tail.
— 10-layer carrot cake rising from the plate.
“We’re also adding some bells and whistles here in Vegas,” Mitchell said, like caviar service, an enhanced sushi menu and a hot seafood tower (a twist on the usual chilled assemblage).
The terrace will be a prime perch for eats and drinks.
“You can be seen from everywhere,” Mitchell said. “You’ve got the view, but it’s close enough to the street that you’re getting the street vibe and energy and action. The Las Vegas Grand Prix is going right by us. It’s the catbird seats on our terrace to watch that.”
Mitchell got his start in the business washing dishes in a restaurant at 16. At 18, he knew he wanted to be the president of a restaurant company, he said. Mitchell attended the Culinary Institute of America, one of the world’s best culinary schools. He founded Cameron Mitchell Restaurants in 1993. The Ocean Prime brand started in 2006.
Today, the company, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, operates 40 restaurants (Ocean Prime and other concepts) across the country, and this year, Mitchell was named one of the country’s most influential restaurant CEOs by Nation’s Restaurant News, the leading trade publication.
Mitchell is proud of his company’s independence, the fact it’s still privately held.
“We’re not owned by a private equity firm,” he said. “We’re not owned by the stock market.”
The Vegas Ocean Prime will generate about 160 full-time positions, Mitchell said. Those new employees, like new employees across the country, will be served a chocolate milkshake at orientation.
The milkshake recalls the time that Mitchell, years ago, ordered a chocolate milkshake for his son at a restaurant. The item wasn’t on the menu, and several staffers told Mitchell the milkshake couldn’t be made, even though the restaurant had the ingredients and equipment. Eventually, he convinced the restaurant to honor the order.
Mitchell vowed that his restaurants would make that milkshake — and other customer requests. “If we can do it, we will,” he said. “It’s a major piece of our corporate culture. It defines our hospitality.”
Call it the milkshake method.