The Chelsea’s stunning fifth-floor restaurant has gone through several reincarnations since opening in 2008.
It all started with Philadelphia restaurateur’s chic, black-and-white concept Chelsea Prime, a pricey but stellar steakhouse that garnered great buzz but may have been too rich to attract year-round business, ultimately leading Starr to pulling out of the Atlantic City-based hotel in 2009.
For a few years, Chelsea Prime remained in name but was operated by a talented Chelsea culinary team that tweaked the menu and lowered prices a bit in hopes of attracting more people.
Last summer, the restaurant was called The Chelsea, a name that encompassed the entire fifth floor, including its nightlife options. The move lowered prices and made the menu more approachable while adding a DJ, more international food options and comfortable lounge seating.
By august the one-name concept has evolved so that the restaurant is simply titled Dining on the Fifth Floor, continuing the more affordable theme, international menu and all-around cool vibe.
“The whole goal with the re-launch was to make the restaurant more economically friendly and make it open to as many guests as possible,” says Food and Beverage Director Megan McNulty. “We wanted people to come to this great restaurant for more than just special occasions. We want them to enjoy it even if they are wandering the hotel and stumble across it and realize we offer something for everyone here.”
On a recent visit, a crowded bar was enjoying its popular happy hour (see sidebar) before dinner kicked off in style at 7 p.m. as a DJ played R&B dance music in the still-gorgeous room that boasts a classy black-and-white theme accented by white tablecloths and one of the best ocean views in the city.
“People know about us as a restaurant with a gorgeous view,” McNulty says. “Sometimes they walk in to check out the view and look at the menu and say, ‘Wow, we can afford to eat here now.’ Some people come in for happy hour and decide to stay for dinner. They realize you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to enjoy the view.”
The menu, overseen by Executive Chef Jaime Quintana, is as fun as it is inexpensive. Appetizers start at just $7, with standouts including Cuban pork tacos ($9) with mango salsa that are as good as tacos you will find anywhere; tender, flavorful lamb sliders ($9) with a house tzatziki sauce served on the same delicious homemade brioche rolls that once stood out on Chelsea Prime’s menu; fresh tuna ceviche ($11) perfectly balanced with onions, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers in a citrus marinade; crab cakes ($12) stuffed with plenty of jumbo lump blue crab and very little filler served with a spicy aioli; fresh-breaded coconut shrimp ($11) on a skewer with “hurricane” sauce; and ginger chicken lollipops ($9).
“The tacos are a big hit,” says Restaurant Manager Jamie Sofia. “They are fresh with a great mango sauce. People love the crab cakes, too, because like everything else, they are fresh, too.”
The small but enticing menu features two inexpensive salads – spinach ($7) with cranberry, toasted almonds and poppyseed vinaigrette; and chopped salad ($7) with corn, red pepper, onion, haricot vert, avocado and “green goddess” dressing – before moving to about a dozen entrees.
Looking to please all palates, the size of the menu doesn’t make it easy to choose. The double-cut pork chop ($25) stuffed with sundried tomatoes, feta cheese and spinach served with garlic mashed potatoes sounded amazing, as did the grilled rack of lamb chops ($31) with roasted potatoes and mint pesto. We also could have opted for the 12-ounce New York strip ($29), the seared scallops ($20) served over risotto and asparagus; or the orecchiette pasta ($18) with roasted eggplant marinara topped with mozzarella.
But we made two stellar choices: the roasted chicken ($20) was tender, succulent and stood out thanks to its perfectly seasoned au jus and some of the best garlic mashed potatoes in A.C.; and the pistachio-crusted ahi tuna ($23) served nicely mid-rare with sautéed white beans and roasted peppers with a lemon oil drizzle.
“The steaks are still the most popular,” McNulty says. “People know us here because of our great steaks, and Chef Jaime trained with Chelsea Prime, so he knows how to make a great steak.”
The menu has evolved since the re-launch with the addition of some trendy, fresh items and the deletion of some that didn’t resonate with guests. The current menu looks like it will be a fixture for the spring and summer season, with Quintana adding daily specials focused on freshness and seasonality.
“We did make one major change since we changed everything,” McNulty says. “It first started as an a la carte experience but we decided to go to the next step and offer complete meals for one price. So when you order a New York strip for $29, you’re getting mashed potatoes with it. We wanted to make it even more affordable.”
The little things matter, too, including one of the most knowledgeable and polite servers we have come across in some time, an amazing white truffle mac and cheese ($7) as a side dish, and homemade desserts (all $8) such as the warm cookie plate – actually three cookies basked into one, chocolate chip, sugar and oatmeal raisin – served with homemade vanilla ice cream. Other items worth checking out include the vanilla crème brulee and the chocolate Kahlua cake.
“We made a decision to not only offer great food but not to cut any corners,” McNulty says. “All of the desserts are made in-house. All of the sauces are made in-house. And all of the dishes, from the pork tacos to the crab cakes are made fresh. We bread the coconut shrimp to order. We are not sacrificing quality.”
When the word spreads about Dining on the Fifth Floor’s inexpensive menu and quality food, it could become one of the most popular spots in the city.
“Our hope for the place is that it not only continues to draw the hotel guests that we are seeing but locals as well,” McNulty says. “When you can have a great view, great food and affordable pricing all in one experience, the word will get out quickly. I think we are going to be very popular.”
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Happy hour at Dining on the Fifth
If you’re looking for a great happy hour, the one at Dining on the Fifth Floor at The Chelsea is hard to beat. Offered from 4 to 6 p.m. every day it’s open, guests can indulge in $5 appetizers such as fried calamari with homemade marinara sauce; fried zucchini; coconut shrimp; tuna tartare; and Cuban pork tacos. Plus, there’s $6 martinis such as the Pom Champagne with champagne and pomegranate juice; Strawberry Delight with strawberry rum, cranberry and pineapple; Gin Spin with gin, lemon, juice, simple syrup and cherries; Fuzzy Feeling with vodka, Peach Schapps and orange juice; the Beam Dream with bourbon, amaretto and cola; and more. Plus you can also just have the bartenders make a martini of your choice using either Beefeater or Absolut. Make sure you grab a free raffle ticket for the “Get Lucky” promotion, which offers happy hour guests several chances a night to win everything from free dinner for two to a three-night stay.