Kuro may be getting all of the raves at the newly opened Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, but there’s something very comforting about the dining experience at Council Oak Fish, Hard Rock Atlantic City’s signature restaurant.
Lining the Boardwalk in a giant space that is modern and classy yet never pretentious, Council Oak Fish’s giant, comfy furniture, seaside views and bustling vibe perfectly match the comfort cuisine focusing on local seafood served every day.
Council Oak Fish is the first of its kind, borrowing the first two words from Council Oak Steaks & Seafood at the Hard Rock in Hollywood and filling in fish as to not compete with its Hard Rock Atlantic City neighbor Robert’s Steakhouse right next door.
At the helm is Quincy Logan, a Pennsauken native and Atlantic Cape Community College Academy of Culinary Arts grad who is making diners proud of the local chef done good. With experience that includes Davio’s and The Capital Grill in Philly, working for Iron Chef Marc Forgione at American Cut in Atlantic City — and opening two other restaurants with him — and equally impressively working with acclaimed Philly chef Kevin Sbraga at his Juniper Commons.
“The idea is to make Council Oak Fish as much about seafood from the East Coast as possible,” Logan says. “As much seafood and fish that we can get sourced from this area, we do. It’s about comfort seafood, cooking with ingredients that everyone can relate to while trying to elevate it.”
Managing the front of the house is General Manager Andrew Skilton, a Culinary Institute of America grad whose experience in the kitchen for restaurants including the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Fla., and even the Bubba Mac Shack in Somers Point coupled with his managerial experience for the Cape Resorts Group in Cape May and Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud in Palm Beach, Fla., made him a perfect fit for Council Oak Fish.
“It’s great to be back home, and Council Oak Fish reminds me of my summers at the shore because I’m a Philly boy,” he says. “It hearkens back to a time when we were all sitting around a big lobster pot sharing some beer and wine. We try to elevate that and refine that here. It’s comfortable in here with big, dramatic glass windows and oversized furniture. There’s a sense of relaxation here, which is what visitors should feel when they dine at the shore.”
Logan and his staff can be seen doing their magic in a giant open kitchen, and the most impressive food coming out of there comes from their Josper Oven, a charcoal-based grill that also incorporates cherry wood that allows Council Oak Fish to dole out items such as their signature wood-fired octopus ($16) with salt-crusted potatoes and roasted peppers; whole branzino ($32) with a gorgeous Meuniere — brown butter, parsley, lemon — sauce; swordfish ($29) with a Puttanesca — tomatoes, olive oil, capers, olives, garlic — sauce; as well as meats including sea-salt-rubbed free range chicken ($24) and 45-day-aged prime 21-ounce bone-in New York strip ($68) and 24-ounce bone in ribeye ($69) steaks.
“The wood-fired grill allows us to make our kitchen a backyard BBQ,” Logan says. “It’s really about presenting great food simply prepared. The branzino, for example, is just a great piece of fish that we simply salt, pepper, rub with olive oil and cook in the Josper oven. It’s about technique so you get that crispiness and sometimes char of the skin, but inside is all soft and moist. Best of both worlds.”
Shellfish pots play a giant role and are some of the most popular items at Council Oak Fish, particularly one with Maine lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, Andouille sausage, corn and potatoes for $49, and the shrimp, clams, mussels and scallops in a Cioppino tomato broth for $46. There’s even a fried pot with cornmeal-crusted scallops, shrimp, halibut, crab hush puppies and Old Bay remoulade for $29, a steal.
“The pots are the perfect comfort food,” Logan says. “The Cioppino is fisherman’s stew. What’s different for us in all of our pots is that we use slightly different herbs for deeper flavor, and then we used grilled country bread from the Josper for that dipping bread so you feel like you’re in your backyard.”
Other highlights include one of the best — and lightest — New England clam chowders ($11) you will ever have, loaded with amazing aromatics and not the chunky paste-like chowder locals seem to gravitate toward; beef tartare ($16) with a parmesan foam, capers and toasted quinoa for a nice crunch; and spicy steamed oversized mussels in a Posillipo ($14) with olive oil, garlic, white wine, tomatoes, basil and fish broth; and a stunning raw bar with at least five types of oysters, littleneck clams, chilled shrimp served three ways, caviar, king crab, blue crab and Maine lobster.
Wine snobs should be satisfied with a list of more than 2,700 bottles with a wide range of price and regions, and both Logan and Skilton are excited about the restaurant’s evolution.
“Now that we have our sea legs under us, Chef Quincy and I will collaborate on wine dinners and evolving the menu,” Skilton says. “We hope to have four sweeping menu changes every year to go with the seasons, and this is a concept for the Seminoles that we really want to replicate as we open more properties by seas, and then we will tailor dishes accordingly to where we are at.”
Logan agrees: “I am changing things and running specials and getting my input in there to make things more brazen on the menu. You will definitely see Council Oak Fish evolve, but we will always do it with ingredients that people can relate to. We want to try to elevate and expose people to different things, but we want to keep Council Oak Fish all about comfort food.”