If you happen to hit this post as your first visit to the Pegu Blog,
Meandering Through Mitchell’s is a series of posts exploring the cocktail offerings of the Cameron Mitchell restaurants in and around Columbus, Ohio. For more on my reasons for profiling the Mitchell’s chain in particular, read the intro to my review of his restaurant, M at Miranova.
The Ocean Club has been my favorite of Cameron’s restaurants for as long as it has been open. This is remarkable, since it has been tinkered with relentlessly, leaving it in many ways unrecognizable from its original form. We’ve been going here long before I shifted my drinking focus from wine to cocktails. When the Ocean Club first opened ten years ago, it was our place to go drink champagne with dinner.
At its nativity, The Ocean Club was a fish house that served good steaks as well, and was decorated in an avant garde style of blue hues, bubbly glass, and wavy lines. Today, Mitchell’s Ocean Club is a steakhouse, with better and more varied seafood than is the norm. (Better seafood, usually, than that which I’ve eaten at Mitchell’s vaunted Fish Market restaurants, a chain he recently sold off for 3.84 potloads of money.) The decor now is the wood paneled look that seems the norm for steakhouses, but with a lighter, friendlier, more open look than many. The most recent change here is the huge wrap-around balcony. This area provides hands down the nicest, most elegant, outdoor dining seating in Columbus. On nice evenings, it can be a long wait to get a seat out there for dinner. This is actually not so bad, as you can wait in the bar, which is among the nicest in town as well, and the subject of this post.
The bar itself is a huge, black granite-topped rectangle. One of the narrow ends is for service staff, but there is abundant seating on the other three sides. There is lots of overflow area around the bar with places to sit or lean when the bar is full. There is a huge grand piano near the entrance, and live music, mostly of the piano man style. They always manage the pretty difficult trick of having the music be loud enough to hear all through the restaurant and out on the balcony, while not being so loud as to be annoying or make conversation difficult in the bar. The bar is always generously staffed, making for very short waits for service, no matter how packed it sometimes gets.
There is not a cozy nor particularly romantic atmosphere in the bar. Instead it is a great place to wait for a table, or meet up with friends, or wait while a spouse is shopping in the surrounding Easton Shopping Center.
And a darned fine place to have a drink.
The wine list here is excellent. I won’t link to the cocktail menu since the online version is out of date as of this writing. The current set of offerings ranges from a classic like the Bombay Sapphire Martini to a blueberry and blackberry smash of some kind. They even garnish a drink or two with a chunk of dry ice. They used to do this more than now. Back in the chrome and wavy glass days, the dry ice was in everything. You’d look down the bar at a horde of different colored drinks, all pouring mist out the top, and it would look a bit like Quark’s bar on Deep Space Nine. It was fun, and frankly I miss it a little.
As with all Mitchell’s restaurants, fresh citrus rules the roost. I got the whole
we don’t have Rose’s here, just fresh lime and simple syrup lecture. While I don’t know if it is true or not, I get the impression that the bar’s spirits inventory is slightly broader at Mitchell’s Ocean Club than at M. But regardless, the selection still shies away from the seriously exotic. The staff knows the classics, and how to make them correctly (Our bartender Pat easily passed my Sidecar test, for instance). But I doubt a drink like a Corpse Reviver #2 has ever been placed on the granite here. The Angustora only comes out for Old Fashioneds and Champagne Cocktails, not even in Manhattans unless specified, and you won’t get vermouth in your vodka Martini unless you beg.
I decided to try a drink off of the cocktail menu called the Cucumber Gimlet. Essentially, it is nothing but a basic Gimlet with muddled cucumbers. Here’s how Cameron’s corporate bar master decrees the drink should be made:
- 1.5 oz. Sapphire
- 1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1 oz. simple syrup
- 5 slices of cucumber
Muddle cucumber, syrup, and lime thoroughly. Add gin and strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with a long, pretty cucumber peel.
Cameron’s corporate bar master is wrong. Made this way, you have a sweet mess that utterly destroys any character from the gin, and thus in the drink. You might as well make it with vodka.
Now, here is where you see the value of the well-trained staff at the Ocean Club. I never said a thing about what I thought of the drink. Indeed, I was deep in an interesting conversation, and not looking to fuss. But Pat was paying attention, despite being busy, and knew I was not digging it. He did not have to ask did I like it, he just asked if he could get me something else. I asked him for the recipe, and I blanched at the full ounce of simple in the drink. I asked him to make it again, but with just a quarter as much.
The result is a really damn good cocktail. If you visit the Ocean Club, I recommend the drink, just make sure they back the sugar way off.
Incidentally, they offer the same drink at M (I didn’t try it there), only they make it with Hendrick’s, which would seem to make more sense. I should have, in the interests of journalism, had a second Cucumber Gimlet, specifying the Hendrick’s. But I wanted a Pegu, which Pat absolutely nailed on his first try. At any rate, I’ll get a cucumber the next time I hit the store and try both myself.
As I said, the Ocean Club has been a work in progress for a decade. Apparently Cameron feels that he has finally gotten it right, as he has opened five more, under the slightly different name of Ocean Prime in Detroit, Phoenix, and Florida. The one in Tampa is supposedly especially gorgeous. All seem to be holding up very well, despite being premium restaurants, with premium pricing, in a slowish economy. I suggest you drop in, if you have the Ocean Club or an Ocean Prime near you, and find out why.
Here’s a complete list of the posts so far in my
Meandering Through Mitchell’s series:
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