The historic Pacific Mutual Building is a monument to a glorious Los Angeles downtown of yesteryear. So it is only fitting that the building house a restaurant of similar reminiscence. The Water Grill is a reminder of what great dining is all about.
The lighting is dim with incandescent illumination, the walls black and tastefully decorated with maritime memorabilia. Wine bottles are featured prominently throughout, and at the center of the restaurant is a circular-style bar. The music supplies a bustling tempo at a relaxed volume. Downtown style applies; men are not overdressed in jackets (there is a coat rack) and women can wear stylish dresses -- it's unlikely you'll find yourself sitting next to someone in beach attire.
The menu is simple and explanatory and the staff is helpful and well-versed in everything seafood. The wine list, on the other hand, is extensive. Not to worry, there is a page of wines by the glass, and after that is an extraordinary array of bottles for the serious connoisseur.
"We just couldn't edit it," says Jeff Goodman, chief operating officer of the King Signature Group, which includes some of the finest seafood restaurants in Southern California.
After beginning with the bartender's choice cocktail -- the Casino (Beefeater gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and orange bitters -- for me, and the Airmail (Champagne, rum, honey syrup and lime juice) for my date (there are about half a dozen house specialty cocktails), it was on to the Grand Platter. There are several platters available; the Grand is a perfect sampler for a party of two. It is beautifully presented on a bed of ice and includes a half-dozen oysters of three varieties, scallops, jumbo shrimp, Prince Edward Island mussels, lobster and even some periwinkles, which required a bit of an excavation to extract the meat, but worth the trouble. The platter was accompanied by six delicious sauces.
For our entrees, we enjoyed Chilean sea bass with kale in a delicate white sauce and California spiny lobster from the waters off Santa Barbara, with a side of Yukon gold mashed potatoes. The sea bass was amazing. It was as though butter had become reincarnated in the form of a light, flaky fish. You can't go wrong with this dish.
The spiny lobster, a little bit more expensive than the Maine lobster, came in three portion sizes between a pound-and-a-half and two pounds. The wood-grilled flavor of the meat gives it a smoky taste, and the texture is crisp on the outside and silky underneath.
With the smiling approval of manager Jamie Boalbey (who seemed to anticipate every need at every table), I paired my meal with first a white Burgundy -- the 2000 Latour -- and then, the 2011 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. The contrast was stark. For those interested in subtle, earthy French terroir, it is hard to beat a Burgundy. The Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, popped with intense grapefruit on the palate.
Choosing a dessert was like choosing a favorite among one's children. We opted for the pecan cheesecake with bourbon whipped cream. If that's the sort of dish that perks up your ears, you can only imagine what it will do to your taste buds. All I can say is be prepared to embarrass yourself with gluttony.
Actually, I can say more than that. Enjoy it with a glass of Cognac or scotch. I chose the scotch. If you enjoy a fragrant, complex, lightly smoky and peaty taste, try the Ardberg 10-year-old single malt.
General manager Jason Klingsberg has been influential in revamping the Water Grill, both renovating the interior to a more open, inviting atmosphere and hiring a new executive chef, Damon Gordon, who worked previously at the Jefferson Hotel and ran Damon Gordon's Quarter Kitchen at The Ivy Hotel. The result is a masterpiece of a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, which is also available for events -- let me recast that -- special events.