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Are Water Grill’s Contemporary-Caught Specialties Definitely worth the Splurge?

1691 Market St.

The Draw: Arguably probably the most complete and globally sourced seafood menu on the town
The Disadvantage: Excessive costs; inconsistent meals temps; dishes that rely too closely on butter and cream
noise stage: Reasonable
Do not Miss: Black code; be bass; uncooked oysters

I grew up within the Nineteen Seventies within the Bay Space, the place my household usually went to our favourite seafood home, Berkeley’s now-shuttered Spenger’s Contemporary Fish Grotto. The sizable eatery was the spot for New England clam chowder, crab Louis, and uncooked oysters harvested from the 90-plus-year-old eatery’s personal shellfish beds. The decor was heavy on darkish woods, nautical knickknacks, and nostalgia.

Getting into LoDo’s Water Grill took me again to these household dinners of my childhood. Maritime kitsch, a bustling uncooked bar, and the aroma of recent seafood greeted my dinner date and me after we arrived on the 11-month-old restaurant. Water Grill is kind of a bit splashier than Spenger’s ever was, although, and that is sensible: Though it’s technically family-owned, Water Grill is a part of an upscale chain operated by California-based King’s Seafood Firm, which was based by Lou and Mickey King in 1945. Since then, the brothers and their sons have expanded the enterprise to incorporate seven outposts of Water Grill and a dozen places of the extra informal King’s Fish Home throughout a number of Western states. What units King’s aside from its competitors—and what made it worthy of a evaluation, regardless of being a part of a series—is the corporate’s seafood distribution arm, which emphasizes environmental stewardship, together with sustainable sourcing and reliance on aquaculture (farmed seafood).

Whereas coastal seafood homes usually highlight native specialties, Water Grill’s attain is decidedly international. That turns into apparent the second you open the hefty four-page menu. Though an compulsory clam chowder seems on the checklist of starters, extra rarefied selections equivalent to wild Spanish octopus and bluefin tuna tartare illustrate King’s vary. There are additionally roughly a half-dozen sushi preparations and a protracted checklist of uncooked bar specialties, together with 15 styles of oysters. Entrées embrace entire fish, equivalent to Brittany Dover sole; pedigreed fare like Maryland soft-shell crab and farmed New Zealand king salmon; and different wild-caught choices equivalent to Pacific Bigeye tuna and Barents Sea crimson king crab.

Water Grill’s hamachi nachos characteristic smoked yellowtail over yucca chips. Photograph by Sarah Banks

Throughout that first meal, our server, who responded to menu questions in beautiful element, delivered heat sourdough rolls (sourced from Golden’s Grateful Bread) with whipped butter. The bread’s tang was a reminder of the San Francisco sourdough I ate as a child, however I needed to save room for a starter of correctly browned, moist, pan-roasted halibut cheeks. The beautiful preparation was undermined by a cool serving temperature and a creamy brown-butter-lemon sauce served beneath the fish that was extra cloyingly wealthy than complementary. The willow had braised fennel that supplied some aid, however extra citrus would have helped. A second starter, the hamachi nachos, was extra gratifying and spotlighted delicately smoked Japanese yellowtail served over yucca chips with Asian pear and Marcona almond garnishes.

The Grand iced shellfish platter, which could be devoured as a shared appetizer or principal course, was a blended bag. The oysters, significantly the Fanny Bays, have been the celebs. The Peruvian Bay scallops, thoughtfully partnered with pistachio and citrus pesto, have been additionally glorious. Much less spectacular have been the too-salty lobster tail; barely overcooked Mexican shrimp; and mussels and Lengthy Island littleneck clams, which lacked taste. The inconsistency and blandness could not be remedied even by all of the condiments, which included cocktail sauce, horseradish, and mignonette-style dips zinged with elements like habanero. Sooner or later, I’d as an alternative order a dozen oysters curated by the waitstaff.

For my entrée, I chosen the cioppino, a Bay Space–born, Italian-American fisherman’s stew. Sadly, it additionally suffered from a temperature downside. The lukewarmness was an actual disgrace, as a result of the seafood, which included tender salmon and well-textured Dungeness crab, was scrumptious. The marginally acidic, mildly spicy, tomato-infused wine sauce squared with my assortment of genuine San Francisco preparations and lent itself effectively to a dunk with bread. The ocean bass, which my dinner date declared a winner, was accompanied by butternut squash gnocchi and had a superbly delicate sear.

On a return go to for lunch, I began with an amped-up tackle New England clam chowder swimming with each shell-on and morsels of clams. The thick soup was—sigh—tepid and had a far-too-creamy texture that resembled a white sauce greater than a chowder. Redemption arrived within the type of the black code. Maybe taking inspiration from chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s well-known miso-marinated recipe, the Asian-influenced, flawlessly cooked course was served atop soba noodles with inexperienced onions, fish broth, and garlic chips.

Reaching flawlessness (or near it) is one thing Water Grill must work on. At costs that vary from $33 for fish and chips to $99 for 3 stone crab claws, incorrect meals temperatures, overbearing sauces, and viscous chowder ought to by no means be on a regular basis points. It is doable to have a satisfying meal right here, but when Water Grill needs seafood lovers to recollect it fondly years from now, it must rectify these missteps now.

higher collectively

Lengthy-standing custom dictates that seafood is greatest loved with lighter wines that will not overpower delicate flavors, however there are lots of varieties to select from. Whether or not you need bubbly or a dessert wine, we tapped Denver-based sommelier Maia Parish that will help you decide the best grape to pair together with your fruits of the ocean.


Parish recommends pairing lighter- and flakier-textured catches equivalent to salmon or cod with a medium-bodied South African Chenin blanc. In terms of heavier-fleshed picks like halibut or swordfish, attempt a floral and fruity Italian prosecco rosé, whose bubbles harmonize with oilier fish.


For lobster, shrimp, and oysters, bubbles equivalent to Crémant (a French Champagne different) are the perfect all-around shellfish wines, due to their balanced mixture of acidity and carbonation. For sweet-and-salty crawfish, Parish proposes the vivacious Blanc La La La from Colorado’s Carboy Vineyard. The glowing Grüner Veltliner earned a spot within the 2022 Governor’s Cup Assortment, the state’s annual winemaking competitors.


For the Japanese specialty, Parish suggests a white Furmint, which is produced with grapes from a area in Hungary identified for making each splendid dessert wines and dry whites. The bracing acidity and sharp, tart flavors are a pleasant accompaniment to uncooked seafood and fiery dishes. Alternatively, go for an Italian Vermentino, a light- to medium-bodied bottle with a dry and recent profile that’s good with “something fishy, ​​herby, or citrusy,” she says.

This text was initially revealed in 5280 January 2023.

Clay Fong

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