May 1 2015 05:42 PM

Water Grill in East Village banks on raw bar offerings

Water Grill’s “The Grand”
Photo by Ron Donoho

It's pricey at Downtown's gargantuan, two-story Water Grill (615 J Street). It's a place for tourists, or conventioneers with corporate expense accounts. If you've got affluent parents who like to swing into town and shower you with the kind of affection that flows from their wallets, though, do suggest this place.

This new seafood eatery occupies the site formerly held by The Palm, at the corner of J Street and Sixth Avenue, where the Gaslamp Quarter borders East Village. 

Garage-door-style windows open up to the roof, giving diners and passers-by ample ability to check each other out. We were given the option of taking a window-side table. It wasn't too chilly a night, but the hostess offered us the "house shawl." To her surprise, we accepted it. To the perky hostess' knowledge, nobody else had ever asked to use the blue-orange blankets. This was confirmed when we found a cleaning claim ticket still pinned to the shawl.

We started with a dozen Hama Hama oysters ($2.90 per shell). These Washington State bivalves were heaping big. Still, there are a few $1-oyster Happy Hours around town that have spoiled me for price.

"The Grand" iced shellfish platter—with oysters, littleneck clams, wild jumbo Mexican brown shrimp, Peruvian bay scallops in a citrus pesto, black mussels and half a lobster—was a hearty portion and amply sharable by two people.

A waiter baited me with the jumbo lump blue crab cake. He noted that the dish is pan-seared, lightly breaded with Ritz crackers, sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning and a bit of apple. I routinely avoid crab cakes unless I'm in my hometown of Baltimore. There, you'd go out of business in two days if you put any breading into a crab cake and didn't use lump back-fin meat. Water Grill does not serve a "Maryland-style" crab cake.

If it didn't require getting a second job, I'd return to the restaurant. I'd know to avoid the crab cake and focus on the platter deals. Water Grill has a massive team of wait staff walking around, all of whom are knowledgeable and will stop in their tracks to service your request for more horseradish flakes, or the like.

The kitchen is run by prominent local chef Fabrice Poigin, whose resume includes a stint at Betrand at Mr. A's. Water Grill is owned by King's Seafood, which also owns Lou & Mickey's, another Gaslamp spot where you'll want to let mom and pops take you out if you know they're picking up the bill.

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