Jazzy dining

Soho Food hits the right notes; Ocean Grill & Jazz blows cold

Soho is a magnetic spot. It's the kind of place where lingering is easy with service that's a bit slow, but gracious and nurturing. Time and a little culinary tuning will let it blow effortlessly on key. Oh, and the bathrooms are nice too.

Ocean Grill & Jazz is another small mall slot that seeks to pair jazz and a seafood menu. Clustered photos of jazz greats--Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday--fill the walls just to the right of the bar where musicians play. On one visit, a hastily assembled quartet attempted to fill the room with moving sounds, though the results were somewhat flat and smarmy, with notes that just barely touched on cool.

Yet if the music wasn't solid cool, the menu sure was. Literally. Our visits unearthed a trio of chills that no doubt would have grown into quartets or quintets had we expanded our visits. Grilled ocean snapper over tomato orzo pasta and under a tangle of fried leeks was firm and flaky, but a puddled sauce of brandy cream charged with mango was cold. Grilled halibut suffered from the same affliction. Texturally, the fish was tight and flaky. But the dribbling of ginger butter sauce was cool, and that's unfortunate, because it seemed as if this sauce was the sole source of seasoning. A side of basmati wild rice with sauteed vegetables, however, was thankfully warm, moist, and delicious. The third cool note was the creme brulee. It was served ice-cold instead of cool with a warm, freshly browned sugar coating. And the flavor was equally dissonant: bitter lid over stiff, pasty custard.

Yet one dish here almost flirted with flawlessness. Seafood paella was rife with moist, supple risotto harboring the perfect level of aromatic saffron. Mussels and pieces of shrimp, calamari, and snapper were all firm and succulent with good, fresh, briny flavors. Sadly, one bite into the baby lobster tail marred the dish. The flesh was viciously sour, as if it were well into the throes of decomposition.

Opened originally just a couple of years ago as Ocean Grill by Anson Chan, the restaurant was picked up by businesswoman Deborah Ingleman last summer when jazz and extended hours were added to the mix. Reopening chef Mario Melgar, formerly of Clive & Stuart's, has since left and has been replaced by James Creager, former banquet chef at the Crown Plaza Suites.

It's ironic that the most successful dish was the grilled sirloin sandwich, a tender piece of beef slipped between sturdy, house-made flat bread slathered with roasted garlic mayo. But cows don't swim in the ocean. And the notes they blow mostly stink.

Soho Food, Drinks and Jazz. 5920 Belt Line Road at Montfort, (972) 490-8686. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; Open for dinner 5:30-10:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Jazz goes until 2 a.m. on weekends. $$-$$$

Ocean Grill & Jazz. 18101 Preston Road, Suite 102, (972) 248-9983. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; open for dinner 5:30-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 5:30-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Jazz Thursday-Saturday 9 p.m.-1 a.m. $$-$$$

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