Photos by John Bruno Turiano
Located in the former La Panetière space, Ocean Blue Prime places a high attention to detail on everything from seafood to steaks.
To say Giovanni Rraci is a hands-on restaurateur would be an understatement. The Briarcliff Manor resident who opened the 127-seat steak-and-seafooder Ocean Blue Prime in Rye in November is always present, looking after every detail. “I’ve always worked in high-end restaurants,” says Rraci, who spent eight months, every day and night, readying the former La Panetière space to open, “and they pay attention to details. Nothing is too small.” Rraci focuses on such disparate details as going to the New Fulton Fish Market every other night and buying flowers for and arranging the fresh flower displays every four days or so. He also conceived the interior, choosing white-gray for the walls, velvet blue accents, and a white-oak floor. Rraci even designed the white tablecloths with the Ocean Blue Prime logo in the center.
Having emigrated from Kosovo in 1983, at age 18, his first job stateside was as a busser at Firenze Ristorante on 82nd and 2nd. “I just walked in and said, ‘I don’t have a job. I’m hungry.’” The owners gave him food, and he was there a short time before they helped him find a job as a waiter at another Manhattan restaurant, called Abruzzi.
It was the start of a 40-plus-year career in the food industry that eventually led to owning Toscana in Ridgefield (which Rraci closed immediately before the pandemic) and a restaurant in Kosovo. He’s served mayors (Dinkins, Giuliani) and developed many connections with purveyors, including in Boston and Holland, for top-rate seafood (e.g., Dover sole), which he has overnighted to Rye.
In addition to excellent fish (potato-crusted Chilean sea bass is a laudable order), the menu’s highlights are the steaks: Prime and dry-aged, they are prepared by Chef Ernesto Gomez, who spent many years in the kitchen at Sparks Steak House. (“No butter and certain seasoning” was the laconic reply this writer received when he asked for the secret to preparing a good steak.)
The kitchen also does many items in-house, such as breads and desserts by Pastry Chef Carlos Gamara (who also worked at La Panetière). The Grand Marnier and chocolate souﬄés are worth the wait; a $17,000 Carpigiani ice cream-and-sorbet maker is behind the delicious house-made cold and creamy desserts.
The beverage program includes an international wine list with 300 different wines and between 4,000 and 5,000 bottles. Rraci plans to double the list.
“I go to Italy a lot, to be inspired about food,” says Rraci. “It’s my passion. If I make someone happy, I’m happy,” he says. “I go to every single table to make sure everything is perfect — and I see a lot of plates coming back clean.”
530 Milton Rd, Rye; 914.881.1270; oceanblueprime.com