In a world where fine dining is dominated by red meat, Water Grill emerges as a rare entity that truly puts seafood first. Water Grill takes their seafood so seriously, in fact, that they control virtually every step of their supply chain. Sustainable seafood has been a top priority since the first restaurant’s opening in 1989, long before it was ‘cool.’ Nearly 30 years, Water Grill has expanded ever-so-carefully with prime locations across Southern California and Dallas.
A theme of humble elegance resonates from the moment you set foot through the doors. A sprawling dining room with plush booths, dark wood tables and dim lighting speaks to the iconic steakhouse while the raw bar, lobster tanks and fish state that while steak is served here, it comes in a distant second. The staff to guest ratio is astounding, with an army of servers catering to the haute crowd in spectacular fashion even by fine dining standards.
Water Grill’s menu is both vast and ever changing, the revolving door of seafood selections changing with fishing seasons from across the world. An impressive raw bar showcases all the oysters you could ever want, as well as a fashionable crudo lineup highlighted by addictive Japanese-seasoned scallops.
Iconic dishes such as crab cakes and lobster rolls have been perfected over three decades. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t order the Chilean seabass, a historic best-seller so rich and flaky that it practically melts on the plate. Shellfish is nothing short of top-notch—spiny lobster was in season at the time of this writing, served sliced down the middle and practically bursting at the seams with butter.
Artfully crafted cocktails and a sophisticated wine and beer list contain a pairing for everything, and that impeccable service staff s more than ready to navigate the menu for you. Expectedly, the price point here will set you back, but is worth every penny.
Water Grill has locations in Santa Monica, DTLA, Orange County, San Diego and Dallas. Santa Monica location open 11a – 11p Sun – Thu, 11a – midnight Fri/Sat. Avg. Out-the-door price for appetizer, entrée, side, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$150/person. For more information, visit WaterGrill.com
Sea Change is one of three restaurants housed in Redondo Beach’s Chez Melange, a quaint retreat just steps from the beach. Run by Executive Chef Robert Bell and Co-Owner Michael Franks, who have been in business together for more than 40 years, Chez Melange is both homage to decades of friendship and a modern player in the realm of sophisticated fare.
Pass through Bouzy Gastropub and Oyster Bar, Chez Melange’s other micro-establishments, and a museum-style corridor allows for a glimpse of the past—photos of Robert and Michael from the early 90’s, menus from their previous restaurants, and even painted portraits of the two in action. From there, enter Sea Change, a small but mighty dining room hustling and bustling with the regulars, who are just as familiar with each other as they are with the servers who see them ever so frequently.
Friendly Becoming part of the family is easier than anticipated, with friendly staff that greet you with a warm smile at first sight. The difficult part comes with placing your order. Chez Melange’s massive menu with inspirations from across the globe speaks to Chef Bell’s range, and fresh fish specials that change daily take it up a level further.
At the top of the list stands the Zarzuela, a Spanish stew of scallops, shrimp, mussels and other seafood in an addictive bisque-like base. The New England dry pack scallops are the perfect golden brown, taken off the frying pan not a second too soon or too late, served with rich bacon cheddar mashed potatoes. The Pacific rim tostadas bring together sashimi-grade ahi, Japanese salsa, avocado, spicy aioli and pickled ginger atop wontons that contain just the right crunch.
Portion sizes are another strong suit at Sea Change. It’s a surprise to see guests finish the mountain of parmesan truffle fries, or have room after the delightful baby beet salad. The drink selection follows much the same face, containing a long list of wine, beer, craft cocktails and a homemade ginger lemonade that’s absolutely worth trying.
Chez Melange is located at 1611 S. Catalina Avenue, Redondo Beach, CA 90277. Sea Change is open 5:30 – 9:30 p.m. Sun, Tue – Thur, 5:30 – 10 p.m. Fri/Sat. Sunday brunch served 9:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Closed Monday. Out-the-door cost for split appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$79/person. For more information, call 310-540-1222 or visit Chez Melange online.
Downtown San Diego’s exploding Gaslamp District carries a distinct energy, spread through young partygoers and hip clientele that flock to the area’s restaurants, bars and nightclubs that transport San Diego from laid-back beach town to something closer to Las Vegas Boulevard. Lionfish embodies this energy in every aspect, serving a haute menu to an even hotter crowd, where groups come to see and be seen.
And who better to be behind the helm of it all than Executive Chef Jojo Ruiz, an up-and-coming visionary that’s continuing to push San Diego’s culinary scene.
“I want people who want to try something, and then taste it and discover it’s amazing…I want them to feel adventurous,” Ruiz said about the crowd who comes to Lionfish. Beyond the restaurant’s nightclub-esque feel is a sophisticated menu, dedicated to fresh and innovative seafood, seasonal produce and Mediterranean, Asian and Latin American flavors.
The food at Lionfish is simply superb. A small mountain of rock shrimp comes bursting at the seams with slightly spicy, slightly tangy, and totally savory character. Pair it with the wild mushroom and potato gnocchi, which enters the palate like an angel resting its head on a pillow. Flavors here are elevated and pronounced in a way that can only come with fresh ingredients executed with fine attention to detail.
“We try to use everything that’s in season, matching the fish to the produce,” Ruiz said. He takes pride in his ability to change the menu on a dime. “If corn is done, that dish needs to change tomorrow.”
Seafood at Lionfish is as fresh as can be. Ruiz spearheaded Lionfish’s ability to source from Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, located about a mile away.
“We get every fish fresh and break it down from whole,” Ruiz said. He’s established personal relationships with market vendors to bring in new seafood to experiment with, allowing guests a new and different experience every time they walk in through Lionfish’s doors. At the time of this writing, it happened to be spiny lobster season, whereby Ruiz showcased whole lobster dressed in spectacular fashion.
Ruiz’s talents come from more than a decade training with some of hospitality’s hottest names. After starting his career as a sushi chef and going through culinary school, Ruiz trained at Oceanaire, one of San Diego’s most acclaimed seafood restaurants and Brian Malarkey’s home base when he rose to fame on Top Chef. He followed Malarkey to Searsucker as a su chef, then to Herringbone as an executive chef. Ruiz then transitioned to Ironside, another San Diego seafood establishment, under Michelin-star Chef Jason Mcleod.
Lionfish brings Ruiz in partnership with Clique Hospitality, run by the founders of The Light Group, a wildly successful Las Vegas-based organization that ran some of the Strip’s hottest restaurnats and clubs, which sold to Hakkasan in 2014. It’s no wonder, then, that anyone who’s dined at a Light Group restaurant gets a hint of déjà vu at Lionfish.
Ruiz’s big eye tuna pizza is a near spitting image of a similar dish served at the Bellagio’s Yellowtail. Each bite encompasses fresh, tender fish and perfectly crispy crust—Decorated Yellowtail Chef Akira Back would tip his hat here in the Gaslamp. Lionfish’s sushi program is another story in itself. You’d be missing out if you didn’t treat yourself to the surf and turf, a roll of wagyu beef, Maine lobster, avocado and crispy shallots that embody Ruiz’s mantra toward ‘taste, texture and presentation.’
The cocktail program is another force to be reckoned with. Mixologist Antony Sazerac has created a cocktail program that matches Ruiz’s culinary flare. Drinks such as the raspberry beret, with Absolut Elyx, aperol, raspberry and Sancerre white wine make for the tasteful and visual creations that equally tasteful partygoers crave in a dining scene like this.
If you’re not worried about a food coma getting in the way of your late-night escapades, then dessert is every bit as good as the rest of the restaurant experience. The churro ice cream sandwich is exactly as it sounds, with fresh churros dripping cinnamon syrup over ice cream. The peanut butter tart is rich as can be, delivering a fine finishing touch.
Lionfish pays homage to its Las Vegas predecessors in the quality of its food and drink as well as the feel of the experience itself. It’s not for the faint of heart or the budget-conscious diner, but it is for those looking for an electrified night and a dining experience that lingers in the memory books.
Lionfish is located at 435 Fifth Ave #2, San Diego, CA 92101, at the Pendry Hotel. Open 5 – 10 p.m. Sun – Thur, 5 – 11 p.m. Fri – Sat. Avg. out-the-door price for appetizer, split sushi, entrée and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$95/person. For more information, call (619) 738-7200 or visit Lionfish online.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.