I’m just going to come right out and say this at the beginning and get it over with: Ulysses’ Prime Steakhouse is a restaurant of the highest caliber and may very well be one of the best in Central Florida.
That it should be located in Cocoa (Village, not Beach) makes it all the more delightful.
It was complete serendipity that I happened upon Ulysses’. I was on my way to Café Margaux, because after almost 12 years since visiting that fine restaurant I thought it was time to go back and check up on it. I had to pass Ulysses’ to get to Café Margaux, and it wasn’t until a few days later that I discovered both restaurants are owned by the same people, Alex and Pamela Litras.
Café Margaux has continued quietly over the years to provide east coasters with a brand of moderately upscale dining, a tad frilly in the décor, perhaps, but with delicious continental cuisine. Even though my absence lasted a dozen years, I continued to hear from satisfied diners that things were status quo, and my own recent experience proved that if the years had done anything at all to Café Margaux it was all on the plus side.
But Ulysses’ Prime Steakhouse is a different dining experience. It is more upscale, both in food and décor, and it offers a quiet and intimate dinner of exquisitely prepared food served with absolute precision.
One of the finest items I sampled was the seared duck liver, which though priced like an entrée at $19 was one of the standout appetizers and easily worth its cost. It featured a beautiful fat lobe, dearingly sauteed with figs braised in sauterne then glazed with mandarin-infused black pepper. It was served on challah toast and topped with chervil. Too many chefs feel a need to go overly sweet with foie gras; the chef here knows how to grace the taste of the liver instead of masking it.
Nearly as good were the diver scallops ($15), monster-sized mollusks served on the half shell with a tangy relish of kalamata olives.
The kalamata is clue to the underlying theme of the restaurant, which, as scholars of Homer will have guessed from the restaurant’s name, is Greek. Litras was attempting to pay homage to his heritage, but the Greek items tend to be the ones that don’t work. That may be because there are but a few passing nods to Greek cuisine.
Avgolemeno ($7) is one. The traditional chicken soup thickened with egg and tinged with lemon can be quite good when done well, but it is still a pedestrian soup that doesn’t blend well into a high cuisine menu. But the Greek notes are rare on the menu, and I’m grateful for that. I love Greek food, but to work it into this environment would have been a detriment.
Once you get past Ullyses’ in the restaurant’s name, you’re left with the words Prime Steakhouse, and that is were the Litras’s wisely focused their attention. The steaks were quite simply wonderful.
The menu features some Wagyu beef selections, though they are of course the domestic variety. True Japanese Wagyu can fetch astronomic prices. But the domestic variety sold here is fairly pricey, too.
How’s $56 for a 16-ounce Wagyu ribeye? For the true connoisseur it’s a mere pittance. The meat fairly meltet on the plate, let alone in the mouth. And it was cooked perfectly to the requested medium-rare. When you’ve got a product that costs as much as this does, you need a grill cook who isn’t constantly cooking re-dos.
I also had the Wagyu short ribs ($35), braised in a ragout of roasted vegetables and rose wine. The meat was delightfully fatty and coated the mouth with richness. The three ribs were served on a pallet of risotto blended with parmesan cheese and roasted garlic.
From the non-Wagyu meat list, the filet mignon stuffed with crab meat ($45) was a study in overindulgence. The USDA prime meat would have been treat enough; so could the lump crab meat that covered it. Put the two together and you’re willing to sacrifice an artery or two.
Meats are served with four sauces, served in ramekins arranged on a tiny bridge. They included rosemary cabernet demiglace de veau; chocolate demiglace de veau; pink and green peppercorn; and Maltaise, a hollandaise tinged with 150th Anniversary Grand Marnier for a slight orange flavor. All were good, but frankly the meat didn’t need saucing.
For dessert, bread pudding ($6), made with challah and dates, figs, raisins and apricots, was heavenly. The bread was custardized to a creamy texture and then sauced with rum caramel. And the macadamia pecan baklava ($8) was unlike any I had tasted before, covered with a tangerine glaze and drizzled with Mt. Ranier fireweed honey. Remember what I said before about the Greek theme not working on the menu? Forget it.
Service was positively top-notch. It wasn’t just the attentiveness – something that shouldn’t be hard in a restaurant with only 36 seats – it was also the intuitiveness, the ability to know what the diners want before they ask for it. Sometimes before they even realize they want it.
Pamela Litras designed the décor, which is sumptuously lush without being gaudy. Yards of alternating fabrics swoosh down the windows. Tables are draped with crisp white linens. And the kitchen is only slightly hidden behind glass panels that look as though they’ve been smeared with chocolate. The panels slide apart for kitchen staff to pass plates to the servers, like it was some elaborate Horn & Hardart’s automat.
I told you my assessment of Ulysses’ Prime Steakhouse at the top. There’s only one thing left to say: go.