The reclaimed wooden ceilings and walls caught my attention first – the sea-glass spheres placed in a net made of thick ship ropes and hanging from the ceiling caught my eye next.
People laughed and greeted one another to my right, in the lovely covered patio area. The design was airy and bright, with hints of ship and ocean themes. Looking around Water Grill in Dallas, I was transported thousands of miles west to California, where I spent a short year… If I looked out the window, would I spy the waves of the ocean nearby?
Water Grill opened in Uptown Dallas in January 2017, bringing California coastal cuisine to a part of the state that’s been lacking in phenomenal fresh seafood. The chain first appeared in Los Angeles in 1989, and has since spread to Dallas—making it their fifth location.
This amazing seafood restaurant is still a bit underrated in a city that isn’t located near a coast, which is surprising as folks should be scrambling here for fresh seafood the likes of which isn’t available nearby. Perhaps, North Texas doesn’t know what to expect of a California-based seafood restaurant, and that’s okay. I went for a taste and this is what I found:
1. All their fish is fresh
When I say Water Grill’s seafood is fresh – I mean it. The restaurant flies fresh seafood from California, Alaska, South Texas, the East Coast, and many other seafood-driven locales to Dallas Love Field each and every day. You can even watch as chefs grab live lobsters and prawns from tanks set next to the glass-encased kitchen, and then skillfully prepare your meal.
2. The food is seasonal
Preserved seafood – whether it’s in a can or frozen for months – isn’t as tasty as what’s just been caught, gutted, and pan seared in a delicious buttery sauce within a day. At Water Grill, whatever seafood is in season, that’s what’s getting served at the restaurant. The menu changes daily depending on the market, allowing you to have a different seafood dining experience every time you visit.
3. There’s a 500-bottle wine cellar
Off the main dining area is a private dining room that doubles as a 500-bottle wine cellar. Their knowledgeable staff can guide you to the right glass or bottle of wine to be paired with your seafood.
4. Diverse dining experiences
The main restaurant is 7,500 square feet, offering a variety of seating options. Sit in comfy leather chairs and enjoy a meal with friends or family at a wooden table. If you’re solo, you can sit at the main copper-topped bar. Or, sit a few feet away at the raw bar for the delightful experience of raw seafood like oysters on the half shell, or raw crudo dishes like Wild Indian Ocean Bigeye Tuna prepared with red beet jam, horseradish cream, mizuna, red beet chips and olive oil.
If you prefer a laid-back setting and the lovely Texas outdoors, a seat on the patio, which has a retractable roof, is a fantastic option. Order an appetizer like the Wild Spanish Octopus or a happy hour selection of oysters or clam chowder, and a glass of wine, and make it a fun after-work spot with friends.
5. The food is spectacular
My dining experience at Water Grill couldn’t have been better. I started with a bottle of Merlot, suggested expertly by my server, who brought out a set of rolls with butter. One roll was lightly lathered in sea salt and the other had melted Parmesan inside the roll. I soon learned that Water Grill flies the rolls in from a bakery in California, as the recipe and quality is just too perfect not to. And I agree!
Not only did I get to try oysters on the half shell, my favorite being the Blue Pool oyster from Hood Canal, Washington, but I also gobbled up a raw crudo dish of tuna. For an appetizer, I ordered the Jumbo Lump Blue Crab Cake—and it might have been the best I’ve ever had. With more crab than breading, it had the right kind of moistness and flavor to make for an exquisite snack before my meal.
For the main course, I had the opportunity to try two different fish – the Wild Ross Sea Chilean Sea Bass pan sautéed with herbed ricotta gnudi and brown butter, and a Pan Seared Halibut in Vera Cruz sauce garnished with peppers. Though I loved the mix of peppers and halibut, the Chilean sea bass was my favorite, melting in my mouth like butter in a pan.
I admired the sides like the crispy polenta and roasted asparagus and even the dessert menu filled with cheesecake and ice cream sundaes, but I was completely full from my meal and didn’t have room to partake.
Water Grill could have placed their first non-coastal seafood restaurant anywhere in the U.S., but they chose Dallas, because they know that this Texas city deserves high quality seafood. Whether you’re driving through Dallas on a road trip, flying in for a business meeting, or you live in the city and want an upscale taste of the ocean – Water Grill is for you. Trust me, Texans haven’t had seafood like this before.
Alex Temblador is a novelist and travel writer based in Dallas. Her work has appeared in outlets including Oyster, Matador Network, Culture Trip and the Huffington Post. @alextemblador