Downtown Los Angeles' best seafood restaurant - for many years - has been the Water Grill. Absolutely beautiful the day it opened, recently remodeled, it has the look and feel of a great San Francisco restaurant, but the casual air of a fine LA restaurant. Seafood is taken seriously here, and the proprietors know what they are doing. They have many other seafood restaurants, and this is their marquee. I lost count of the number of good meals I ate there while working downtown for 30 years.
So I was skeptical when I hear that a second Water Grill would open in Santa Monica, right on Ocean Avenue. This is an area where restaurants come and go as often as the tourists, with a few exceptions (Ivy at the Shore, the Lobster). Some really fun new restaurants have opened in the same stretch south of Wilshire: Blue Plate Oyster Bar and Taco, for example, and some very expensive new restaurants, which appear aimed at tourists.
But the Water Grill? This is sort of clubby in look and feel. You can hang out at the bar. It's not a scene, it's for eating, and eating superb seafood prepared in a kitchen by a staff that knows how to feed 200 patrons over an hour. That's demanding. And how could you keep that clubby feel in such a large restaurant.
They've done it. The design reduces the size of the place because the bar splits it up. You can dine there and never realize how big it is. Everyting on the walls, the menus, the plates, and the smallwares has been thought through. This isn't formulaic, it's experience. Management knows what it's doing.
Setting aside superb seafood, which isn't to be taken lightly, the wait-staff has had its challenges. This is new, not only to patrons, but to people who mean well, who want to serve, but are new at it. Service is good. My guess is that it will get better. It is the kind of restaurant where some of these employees will be found ten years from now because it's a business that is run professionally and built to last.
The menu offers pretty much what you'd expect. Every type of fish, appropriate for the season, and from all over the globe; shellfish, live offerings, raw offerings. The type of menu from which to experiment.
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