"A sophisticated seafood restaurant with extensive raw-bar options and a menu updated daily."
Located on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, Water Grill is a restaurant that won't only bring you sustainable, high-quality seafood, but it'll provide you with an atmosphere and view you won't be able to get enough of.
The design and feel of the restaurant incorporate various woods and iron finishes; the interior is inspired by a refurbished ship and has several nautical-themed components placed all around the dining area.
Overall, the service was fantastic, the atmosphere was one to remember, the wine was excellent, and most importantly, the food was impeccable, but let me enlighten you a little bit on the history of this restaurant and its sustainability aspects.
Water Grill is part of a larger chain with SoCal locations in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and San Diego. They're operated by Costa Mesa-based King's Seafood Co., which is a family-owned seafood distribution company owned by cousins Sam and Jeff King, and it's been in operation for over 75 years, opening its very first Water Grill in downtown Los Angeles in 1989.
With a dedication to transparency, sustainable sourcing, it has a well-earned reputation as a quality and sustainable source of seafood.
"Maintaining strong, healthy oceans is imperative to our growth. We source all our fish from legally caught, well-managed fisheries, and the second we suspect otherwise, we remove the product from our menus. As a major seafood buyer and concerned company, we are active in this dialogue and work closely with our suppliers," says Matt Foley, Director of Marketing, King's Seafood Company.
Currently, Sam King sits on the board of the ‘Aquarium of the Pacific’ to support the local, state, and federal initiatives that protect the environment and the animals.
King's Seafood Co. has a commitment towards sustainability, and they honor it by working closely with all of their suppliers, as well as promoting the growth of the aquaculture industry. In addition to that, a team of aquaculture, social science, and ocean science advisors provides recommendations on environmental, economic, nutritional, and social considerations of various seafood selections, ensuring all of the seafood King’s Seafood Co., purchases are of the utmost quality.
Water Grill's menu is vast and constantly changing, just like the revolving door of seafood selections changing with fishing seasons from all over the world.
You'll find several iconic dishes like crab cakes and lobster rolls that have been perfected for over three decades. You'd be doing yourself a disservice if you don't order the Chilean sea bass, which is a historic best-seller that is so rich and flaky it practically bursts at the seams with butter.
"Seafood is our passion," King beamed as he talked about the variety of fresh seafood Water Grill provides.
A huge point of pride for Water Grill is its live bar, showcasing over sixteen different kinds of oysters on a daily basis, as well as other specialties like red sea urchin or uni.
Correct harvesting of oysters can help restore local waterways in places like the Chesapeake Bay, which is one of the areas Water Grill sources from.
The menu often features fresh catch specials like Wild New Zealand Pink Bream or Wild Massachusetts Black Sea Bass, and they have a few options for sides such as roasted butternut squash, or grilled broccolini, this often depends on what season it is and what’s local.
I came here on a Sunday for lunch, looking forward to enjoying a dozen or so oysters, as I heard they have some of the best in town. I was proven right, but first, a review of their beverage menu.
Water Grill offers a great selection of aperitifs, cocktails, beers, IPA's, and liquors, but the star of the show is their wine menu.
I opted for a glass of Chardonnay called Petit Chablis, by Garnier & Fils. A French Chardonnay with citrus and earthy notes, pairing perfectly with shellfish. A plate of fresh homemade sourdough buns followed the wine, which was a pleasant surprise as sourdough is always made with local or organic flour, avoiding any types of chemical fertilizers.
At first glance, the menu gives a few options for appetizers; their Wild Pacific Bigeye Tuna Poke is a popular option made with soy sauce, avocado, wasabi tobiko, and topped with sesame seeds.
The iced seafood platters are generous for their price and are piled high with oysters, clams, mussels, crab, and lobster, it's a good option if you're sharing amongst multiple people. They also have various sushi rolls to choose from if that piques your interest.
I, however, was fascinated by their raw bar, which had 16 types of oysters. Oysters are a great sustainable choice as they're considered a regenerative fish species. Under natural conditions, oysters form reef structures that support more than 300 other species, and they’re a keystone species in the Chesapeake Bay, filtering 30-50 gallons of water daily.
Cleaner water allows wild oyster populations to regrow, as well as allowing critical coral to regenerate, creating a proper habitat for fish and other wildlife. Essentially, oysters start a chain reaction of regeneration that extends throughout the bay.
According to Bren Smith, Co-Founder of regenerative aquaculture, oysters are an inherently sustainable food with massive potential for future food systems.
"Oysters can filter as much as 200 liters of water daily. This, in turn, reduces marine nitrogen levels, curtails ocean acidification, and prevents toxic algae blooms that smother other vital species such as seabirds, manatees and dolphins." - Bren Smith.
Upon request, the server recommended the following oysters: Wellfleet, Kumamoto, and Indigo.
Wellfleet oysters are from the east coast; they're more plump but have a crisp finish. The Kumamoto oysters are a bit more buttery in taste, and they're from Oakland, Washington. Finally, Indigo oysters are on the saltier side since they're in the upper hood canal, and these are a favorite staple in Seattle oyster bars.
To put it simply, the best way to distinguish Eastern oysters from Western is that Eastern ones tend to be more simple, salt-forward, and mild; meanwhile, Pacific oysters are more complex in their flavor profiles. You'll get hints of mineral and savory-ness.
Overall, they were all fairly small and perfect in taste, especially with the addition of lemon juice, fresh horseradish, mignonette, cocktail sauce, and their famous habanero-lime relish.
Moving on to the main entrees, Water Grill offers salads, sandwiches, and whole live wild spicy California lobsters, which are caught in San Diego and Santa Barbara and prized for their sweetness and firm texture. They have limited availability, and you’ll only find them on the menu in October through March.
As far as popularity goes, the Wild Icelandic Atlantic Cod Fish & Chips is a crowd favorite from what my server told me, but, "You can't go wrong with our WIld Alaskan Black Cod Sablefish it's made with soba noodles, green onions, cooked to perfection in a spiced fish broth."
Naturally, I went with his recommendation, and my guest had the Wild Mexican Mahi Mahi with grilled heart of palm, soy raisins, and a delicious brown butter sauce.
Both of the entrees were phenomenal; however, the Sablefish was outstanding, and I’m still thinking about it.
The flavor combination of the cilantro, mint, and green onion amplified the whole dish, and the filet itself melted in your mouth. It was a 10/10 meal, and for any first-timers, I'd recommend the Sablefish in a heartbeat.
One of the best things about Water Grill is that they prioritize the quality of their seafood, ensuring that every catch is fresh and taken care of with respect.
The second best thing is that the King brothers have mastered ambiance interlaced with quality service and quality food. They're a straightforward seafood house with the goal of setting the culinary world on fire by providing wholesome and sustainable seafood to all of their guests.
If you find yourself in Santa Monica, check out Water Grill on Ocean Avenue, you won't be disappointed.
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