Downtown Los Angeles continually witnesses its fair share of change and reinvention. So it's no surprise that one of its fine dining stalwarts, where notable chefs have developed careers and power brokers wheeled and dealed through many a seafood and martini-fueled lunch, is in the middle of a top-to-bottom renovation that started on December 18th. When the Water Grill at the ground floor of the landmark 1922 Pacific Mutual Building reopens in about two weeks, gone will be the early 90s décor sensibility, with an updated yet totally retro style room in its place. And in all likelihood, a new executive chef will be overseeing the kitchen by the time service begins again.
Jeffrey Goodman, Chief Operating Officer of parent corporation King's Seafood Company, describes the remodel and concept overhaul as a “casualization” that also maintains consistency with what Water Grill's clientele has come to expect since 1991. Meaning the upscale Grand Avenue spot next to the Biltmore Hotel will still be about decadent fruits de mer towers, what might be the most extensive oyster selection in town and overall impeccably prepared seafood. Orange County-based Hatch Design Group is revisiting the space that it originally designed just over twenty years ago and handling face lift duties.
Carpet throughout has been pulled up and in its place are penny tile and herringbone oak floors. Fussy ornamentation on the load-bearing columns have been stripped off and replaced with subway tile and antique mirror cladding. A pressed tin ceiling has been installed above the bar, along with chandeliers featuring a band of LED lighting surrounding Sputnik arrangements of incandescent bulbs. (Because any restaurant design scheme in this day and age isn't complete without some Edison bulbs, right?) Other vintage-inspired components such as clubby horseshoe and Pullman style booths and a wall of antique fishing rods will be part of the new Water Grill, while one original mural (the other was removed) and terrazzo floors in the entrance corridor will feel familiar to longtime customers.
Opening up what was a relatively isolated part of the old Water Grill by drawing more focus to the bar itself is one of the project's goals. A gorgeously hewn, extensive marble slab dedicated to the oyster bar at the west end should help that plan, as will a beer tower with 10 mostly craft and local beers on tap. Director of Operations Joshua Levine, who spent some time in the NYC Sasha Petraske camp, will oversee the cocktail program.
As for what's happening in the soon-to-be more visible kitchen, a new tank is being filled with live creatures such as Santa Barbara spot prawns, Dungeness crab, spiny and Maine lobster and rock shrimp. The same approximately 35-40 menu items (currently still in-progress) will be served at lunch and dinner. In this incarnation of the Water Grill, classic cod fish and chips (a very, very good version of it, at that) can be a menu staple and coexist alongside the kind of slicker seafood techniques expected of this outfit, plus three to five whole fish available daily in three different preparations — including over burning mesquite.
Goodman says developing the menu has been a “collaborative effort” by Culinary Director Brian Okada and other members of King's Seafood staff. And the next 14 days or so will reveal who will take the helm for executing it as the rest of the fresh operation settles in.