Water Grill Graces South Coast Plaza with Oceanic Bounty

by Joshua Lurie

A walkway lined with stones and succulents stretches to a quirky seahorse holding a food tray. The logo marks diners’ arrival at the grandest Water Grill from family-run King’s Seafood Company. The 17,500-square-foot South Coast Plaza restaurant builds on the success of the original L.A. location.

The spacious, resort-like bar and lounge provide a start with fun vantage points—two nautically themed wood bars, fire pits and colorful cushioned seating. Stylish twentysomethings pack the bar and there are business and pre-theater guests dining in the restaurant on a weeknight.

The creative cocktails take inspiration from fresh produce on display—fragrant herbs, berries and citrus. The El Niño satisfies with a surprise punch: silver tequila, lime juice and sweet notes from agave syrup and passion fruit are finished with a smoky mezcal mist.

Next stop was the black, square raw bar, which sports sea blue tiles resembling fish scales. Dangling strings of oyster shells are fashioned into a decorative lighting element. A signature starter is the iced shellfish platter and King’s local seafood distribution ensures super-fresh and unique offerings. I sampled three pristine types of oysters from 18 varietals. A showstopper was the Peruvian bay scallops with vivid purple shells, dressed with citrus pesto. Wild jumbo brown shrimp from Mexico were flavorful and perfectly cooked; delicate Alaskan king crab “nuggets” pulled easily from cracked shells for dipping in spicy saffron aioli.

On to the dining room, where warm house-baked sourdough rolls and pull-apart Asiago cheese bread are served. The creative three-crudo sampler arrives on slate, dramatically plated with a palate-teasing array of flavors and textures. Our favorite was the rosy Faroe Islands Atlantic salmon buoyed with sweet fig jam and tangy sour cream.

Water Grill serves steaks, but why not stay fin-focused? The handwritten “whole fish” section offers Brittany Dover sole. The flaky white fish classic from northwest France is basted with brown butter, deboned, and brightened with lemon and parsley. More than eight sides, served family-style, may be ordered to complement the entrées. 

The affable server made a convincing argument for dessert. The warm almond cake was buttery, studded with red wine-poached apples and topped with housemade sweet-tart apple cider ice cream.

Water Grill is the buzzy scene with serious culinary chops not to be missed.