For more than two decades, fresh and rare seafood has been synonymous with Water Grill. It's funny that one of this city's prime seafood servers isn't located directly beside a body of water, rather position downtown on Grand between 5th and 6th. Over the years some of LA's top talent has shuffled through the kitchen, most notably Michael Cimarusti of Providence and David LeFevre of M.B. Post. Last winter management decided to invest $1.5 million to refresh the restaurant's aesthetic, and just over a month later Water Grill 2.0 resurfaced as a more open, modernized version of its original self. Here now GM Jason Klingsberg on the new look, esoteric fish, and those shellfish platters.
How is Water Grill 2.0 different from Water Grill 1.0? Quite a bit and not at all. Our main goal with the renovation was to make the restaurant more comfortable, more casual, and more reflective of how people like to dine in LA. We’ve completely remodeled and redecorated the bar, dining room, and oyster bar, enlarged the tables (for sharing food) and chairs for comfort, added more and larger booths, and switched to wood tabletops, no cloths. We expanded our lunch and dinner menus by forty percent. We added live tanks for Local Spiny and Maine Lobsters, local Ridgeback Shrimp, and Oregon Dungeness Crab and installed a Josper wood burning oven for grilling whole fish (we have four varieties a day and today’s menu has Pink and Black Breams, Brittany Dover Sole, and Greek Loup de Mer). We built a beer room and installed a Chill-Rite 10 tap system, enlarged our wine and by the glass programs. The list goes on and on and everyone should come down to check it all out! That being said, our commitment to serving California and the world’s great fish and shellfish has been a constant and will never change. Our oyster bar and raw menu is still epic. Ten varieties of oysters are always on the menu. We continue to serve our guests with extreme hospitality and drive 100% product and provenance knowledge in our service team.
How have customers reacted to the redesign? Their response has been overwhelmingly positive. Our 20-year regulars have embraced the changes and like the comfortable and modern approach we have taken and we are seeing a huge influx of new guests. A very small percent of past guests miss the formality of the old Water Grill but we’ve mostly won them over too.
It's 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. What's the wait for two? Anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes for a dining room table. Maybe longer if you want a booth or something specific. Our guests love eating at the oyster bar and that’s first come first serve so if you time it right, you could sneak right in. We also serve a lot of meals at the bar.
Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter? A cocktail or two at the bar, maybe a dozen Kumamotos and Naked Cowboys definitely makes the wait feel shorter. We encourage our guests to make reservations a week in advance, especially for Saturdays.
Do you have many regulars? We’ve been in business for 20 years so of course we have our share of regular guests, too many to list. I see certain people every day five days a week for lunch. I hold booth 16 for a certain someone three nights a week. I have several couples who join us pre-theater for every new opening at Walt Disney Concert Hall. I set four to six Santa Barbara sea urchin aside every other Thursday for a particular guest.
Since the re-launch, any strange requests that you've been asked to accommodate? We had a guest from the Midwest call a week before his meal and ask if we could serve a Walleye for his dinner (it’s a firm fleshed lake fish similar to a perch, really tasty but not on our menu). During the redevelopment we spent a great deal of time foraging new and interesting fish and were able to jump back into that mode quickly. Chef Damon [Gordon] and his team all mobilized, called their contacts, and were able to fly in a three pounder that we wood grilled whole for his group. I can say that was probably the only Walleye served in Southern California that night!
Who are your VIPs here? City Hall and the Staples Center/Nokia are just down the street so you can imagine. That being said, anyone who walks through the door is a VIP.
How would you describe your clientele? Families, couples on dates, business people, theater-goers, travelers, downtowners, food tourists, oyster enthusiasts, wine and beer geeks,
What would you say are the more difficult aspects of working in this restaurant? The seafood genre is exciting and challenging, more so than most other restaurants. First of all, fish are caught by fishing so what we serve on any given day is dependent on what boat captains and fisherman are able to land. Seasonality plays a huge part in what we serve. In the past 90 days, Florida Stone Crab, Nantucket Bay Scallops, California Spiny Lobster, and locally caught Swordfish seasons have all ended. Wild Alaskan Halibut, Maryland Softshell Crab, and Wild Salmon seasons have all begun. California White Seabass season opens soon. We are committed to offering the first and best of the season, so always have to keep focused on this. We offer so many different seafoods. Ten different oysters, 10 different finfish, four whole fish in five to 10 different sizes, lobsters and crabs in five different sizes, so there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of chefs and managers working out that aspect of what we do.
Has last month's Los Angeles Times review affected business? From the day we re-opened our doors, Water Grill has been packed. We were really pleased with how Irene V experienced the restaurant and since her review we have seen our business pick up even more. Guests have been really excited to try us after reading her review.
Where do you like to eat when you're not here? I moved downtown a short while ago from Long Beach and am having a great time eating my way through all of the restaurants. Church and State, Drago, Lazy Ox, Baco Mercat. When I need some comfort food, definitely Philippe’s and The Pantry.
What is the must-order dish on the menu? You have to start with a shellfish platter when you come in. Three types of oysters, clams, mussels, two types of shrimp, half shell scallops, lobster, crab, live urchin, periwinkles, all extremely fresh, extremely tasty, and one of the best values on our menu. A whole New Zealand Pink Bream, either grilled or ceviche is a must. Our fish and chips are world class. Atlantic true cod and a pale ale batter. Also, our lobster roll dominates all others?that’s a challenge for sure!
·All The Gatekeepers Coverage [~ELA~]