‘Prime’ time gives audience mixed messages

Lauren Ciallella

A light fog seems to have drifted off the water and into Island Prime’s dining room, creeping low on wooden paneled walls and dimly lit tables stark of any linen.

Countless bay windows and raised rafters blend a kaleidoscopic view of San Diego’s aquatic fronts, forcing me to switch seats twice before choosing downtown lights over harbor reflections.

Bobbing above serene waterways, Island Prime set patrons adrift in a type of secluded off-shore cabin, but all passengers seem to be in the same boat whether they’re dressed for it or not.

A Titanic ensemble range in apparel from jeans to formal wear, creating an unclear impression to whether this is an elegant experience or a high priced hoot-nanny.

I was torn between my pleased palate and my wilted wallet. Was there room in this lifeboat for everyone or should the inflated price keep the swarthy customers castaways?

Our waiter immediately arrived to fill drink orders and inform us that he would be indisposed for a few moments with a newly seated table of six.

Impressed with his direct communication, we were never questioning his brief, yet noticeable absence as we were plied with cocktails and the airy, pancake battered muffins that morphed into an upscale carnival treat.

After our waiter’s slight delay, he floated at our elbows for the remainder of the meal, sensing each need before we knew them ourselves.

Our clams casino were gone faster than cash in its gambling namesake, shelling out moist, garlic breading with hits of citrus in each dime sized bite. My fellow forager had to talk me out of getting a second order and though this casino addiction wasn’t a gamble, I realized it was just as dangerous.

A ‘study in lobster’ had me on my way to becoming an ‘A’ student with three individual preparations of the Maine variety, making a sweeter, more succulent entrance than the west coast, Mexican lobster.

Opening with bisque, a heartfelt “hallelujah” escaped my lips before an opaque blanket of pink velvet enveloped my tongue.

Claw meat arrived like a present resting on my spoon and I admired someone doing their homework on what makes superior bisque- cream, sherry and lobster- easy as 1-2-3.

A mini-melt, grilled cheese and lobster sandwich warmed comfort food cockles in a clever sequel, while the third theory focused on a Mexican tostada with shredded lobster and black beans.

I liked this least and formed the same conclusion I had in prior studies- lobster is best “au natural”, but because of this appetizer’s impeccable and playful presentation I would take this course again.

I encountered the most memorable part of the meal through an inspired salad accessory which I plan on campaigning to become a staple of the American table- the tempura, fried anchovy.

This warm, crispy burst of saltiness arrived like a feather in Caesar’s cap and was far superior to any crouton. The salad itself was a foggy memory as I reveled in the delight of a newfound, deep-fried friend. I wanted 100 more of them.

Not a fan of scallops, but admiring their hazelnut coated preparation served with a goat cheese risotto cake, I asked if the snapper could be done the same way. Graciously accommodating my wishes, I savored the flaky luxuriance of snapper matched with the tart decadence of savory cake.

My dinner colleague ordered NY strip steak with pancetta in a pinot noir reduction which was adequate, but as he noted, “nothing to jump up and shout about”.

Sideshow acts ranged from freakishly common sautÇed mushrooms to jaw-dropping truffle macaroni and cheese. Introduced to the earthy delicacy of truffles for the first time, my counterpart wrangled with the concept that this Kong-sized strain of flavor could spawn from one ingredient. This potent pasta indeed rivaled the great ape as eighth wonder of the world.

Rounding out the event was the potted brownie performing sautÇed bananas splits as vanilla ice cream skated on a sweet brulee shell, finally cracking under the weight of plunging spoons. It scored a 7.2 by the judges and was a worthy competitor.

As much as I enjoyed each avenue of this meal’s tour, my resounding memory was the absorbanant price. With entrees ranging between $29.95-48.95 it’s impossible to make this your regular Saturday go-to, but even for special occasions the lack of dress code and ambiance make it difficult to drop that kind of money at the ‘Prime’ anytime.

A compromise is struck at C-Level, Island Prime’s subdued sibling that occupies the same structure and sits to the left of the bar. Its less expensive menu features highfalutin appetizers (ahi tuna stack) and sandwiches (lobster BLT) indulging in an identical view at a fraction of the cost. C-Level still allows the finer things in life to be experienced while wearing flip-flops, but lets you leave with part of your paycheck.

Island Prime
880 Harbor Island Drive
San Diego
(619) 298-6802

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‘Prime’ time gives audience mixed messages