January 2017 Hot Spot 3

South Coast Plaza welcomes seafood star Water Grill to Bristol Street

Simple pleasures. What is more divine than a fresh oyster? Chilled, bite-sized bursts of the ocean sparkle with a briny finish. Eaten raw, oysters come dressed in the bare minimum, sprinkled with a vinegary mignonette or dotted with flecks of spicy horseradish. Oysters are simple, yet undoubtedly elegant. They are definitely simple pleasures. Fortunately, oysters are a specialty at South Coast Plaza’s new Water Grill.

In October, restaurateur and OC resident Sam King opened Water Grill in Costa Mesa. It sits on the space once occupied by the longstanding Scott’s Seafood Restaurant. Where Scott’s hid from passersby, the Water Grill façade cannot be missed. It screams, “Check out this place!”

The lounge area transports diners to a getaway resort. It feels as if a celebrity will pop in at any moment. The walkway into the restaurant boasts a water wall feature that cascades thousands of water droplets, stimulating the soothing clatter of a tropical waterfall.

The space is divided into four areas–raw bar, main dining room, lounge and private dining, which is tucked away, hidden from the public. The main dining room features a side comprised of large retractable windows. At night, the windows are left open. The cool air breezes in, and there is a clear view of the lights twinkling across Bristol from South Coast Plaza.

It’s all about the details. Behind a cluster of two-seater booths, another dining room wall features sustainable oyster crates stacked to appear like wooden shutters. The main bar is topped with shiny riveted copper. The hardwood floors have been sourced from nearby.

The raw bar holds several dozen oysters, clams and other seasonal shellfish resting on piles of ice. The night we dined, three burly men shucked oysters in quick effortless swoops. Above them hung thousands of polished shells dangling like chandeliers. The oyster shells were hand-strung specifically for this space.

The shellfish is a point of pride for Sam King and his Water Grill team. The company’s seafood distribution center in nearby Santa Ana keeps each of King’s restaurants stocked with the freshest sustainable fish and shellfish. The raw bar frequently rotates its oyster offerings. The night we dined, my husband, who prefers large, meaty specimens such as briny Pacific oysters, was instructed to order Naked Cowgirls from New York. My favorites: Malpeque from Prince Edward Island and delicate Beausoleils harvested from Nova Scotia were also available.

“On an average evening, the raw bar might offer between eighteen to twenty different types of oysters,” says King.

The raw bar does impress, but for most diners, the real show is the open kitchen. Designed after the culinary shrine at the Waldorf Astoria, the cooking ranges and ovens at Water Grill are constructed with the highest efficiency in mind. It is a serious kitchen–meant to feed a lot of people.

This makes perfect sense since the location is intended to serve several diners in quick bursts. There are luncheon meetings during the week, early preshow dinners and late, late night bites, thanks to the crowds visiting the nearby theaters. And, let us not forget brunch on the weekend. This means that the kitchen relies on efficiency. It’s a well-oiled machine.

Two large tanks filled with saltwater crustaceans stand on one side of the kitchen. The aquarium holds dainty two-pound lobsters, oblong Dungeness crabs, spiny lobsters and gargantuan king crabs.

“The king crabs, those just came in this morning,” says General Manager Daniel Williams. “They are magnificent. They run $600 a piece.”

I stare as a spiky king crab leg stretches out and touches the walls of the glass tank. It was signaling us. Come closer, it implied. Order me.

“We started with seven today,” continues Williams. “Now there are only two left.” I do enjoy crab dipped in melted butter but, alas, I already stuffed myself on oysters and Champagne. Simple pleasures.

Water Grill, 3300 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa 949.208.7060 WaterGrill.com