Classic Tables: Water Grill

A downtown institution for seafood comes to Santa Monica

Long before a fascination with retro seafood dishes rolled over the city like a salty wave, Downtown's Water Grill was the hands-down favorite for elegant surf-and-turf: chilled shrimp Louie salad ($26), bowls of garlicky cioppino ($32) brimming with shellfish and an impeccably fried plate of fish and chips ($26).

It's no coincidence that L.A.'s two most prominent seafood chefs, Michael Cimarusti and David LeFevre, both spent time running Water Grill's kitchen over the years before opening their own projects (Damon Gordon is currently at the helm).

Twenty-four years after its original debut, Water Grill has added a ritzy second location along Santa Monica's Ocean Avenue, complete with panoramic seaside views, a burnished copper raw bar, puffy leather booths and schooner-inspired wall hangings.

Grand Shellfish Platter for two at Water Grill

The two-month-old restaurant already looks and feels like a well-salted local juggernaut. 

Our last visit began with a bottle of brisk Muscadet Sur Lie ($45) and a Grand Shellfish Platter ($39), which turned out to be a delightful bargain for two: fresh oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops and a steamed half-lobster fanned out beautifully onto a iced-packed tray.

While the original Water Grill was a haunt for the Financial District's wellheeled suits, the new location–overlooking touristy Santa Monica pier–invites a more casual beach vibe.

Can you eat poached Dungeness crab with saffron aioli ($20) in flip-flops? Certainly. Should you? Probably not.