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Water Grill's Sunday Clambake Dinner

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I get asked more often than I can handle for recommendations for where to eat in Los Angeles. And it's a hard question to answer because there are not only a staggering number of excellent options, but also it's so often a matter of personal taste and finding the right spot for the right occasion. For the past four or five years, however, if you ask me what my favorite special occasion restaurant in Los Angeles is (not counting the epic $500 sushi of Urasawa, mind you) I will without hesitation say The Water Grill.

Neither new, nor particularly trendy, what The Water Grill has going for it is consistently excellent food and the kind of service you might actually write home about. In a time when customer service has devolved from the phony cheer of a Gap door greeter to the frustrating melange of automated phone "press one for English, two for Spanish" systems that lead you to an unintelligible and often ineffectual person halfway across the globe, the Water Grill can be counted on for a personal, warm, comfortable, welcoming, and high-quality dining experience. This is why, without hesitation, I joined my fellow web-writers Caroline on Crack, e*starLA, and ShopEatSleep for an intimate meal hosted by The Water Grill to check out their Sunday Clambake Dinner.

The evening begins as all evenings do at The Water Grill, with a friendly welcome from the hostess, and meeting our servers at the table in the beautiful dining room. We indulged in selections from their of classic specialty cocktail menu to get things started, and toasted to an elegant Sunday evening out with friends with drinks like a French 75, a Gin Fizz, and a Manhattan.

An amuse bouche was the first item out, and this was by far one of the best of its breed, since it did precisely what an amuse bouche should do, by definition: It awoke our palates within a single bite and had us ready to taste more. Their amuse this night was spicy salmon wrapped in Japanese cucumber with wasabi creme fraiche, hearts of palm puree, diced mango, micro cilantro, black sesame, Thai chili and grapefruit. It was a zippy, zingy morsel that called our tastebuds to full attention and set us off to a rollicking start.

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When dining at The Water Grill it is impossible to forgo the chance to taste their raw bar seafood selections, and while it is not part of the Clambake Dinner special, our hosts were kind enough to assemble a staggering sampler platter, complete with two varieties of plump, briny oysters (one sweeter than the other), cold lobster, chilled tiger prawns dusted with dill, scallops on the half shell, and velvety sea urchin. We also took advantage of their fantastic sommelier skills and opted to accept wine pairings for all our courses, and, as past visits indicated, the Water Grill was right on track with their offerings, from the Rose brut with the amuse bouche to the refined whites with our salad and main course.

Here the Clambake proper begins. It is served every Sunday, though the produce will vary with season. For the appetizer diners can choose between two dishes, and at our table we all went with the sugar pumpkin and Black River gogonzola salad, which was light and well-balanced in texture and flavor. Next emerged for each of us a 1 1/4 pound whole lobster split with lemon and drawn butter. Yes--a whole lobster comes with this $55 three-course meal! Here is where The Water Grill sings like an ethereal mermaid sunning herself on a rock (sorry, had to go with the nautical metaphor). Perfectly cooked lobster meat was wrested free from the shell in bits and hunks, then dipped into their beautifully slow-drawn clarified butter. The butter was, in fact, so sweet and smooth we asked the chef on duty their secret, thinking perhaps some sugar was added, but no--high-quality unsalted butter is slowly cooked and clarified, which becomes a luxurious dip for the bites of lobster.

How The Water Grill makes their drawn butter. (Video by CarolineOnCrack)

The Clambake is served family style and is sized to suit your party. Our party of four saw a large tureen filled to the brim with clams and mussels cooked in wine, herbs, shallots and garlic along with rich, spicy linguica sausage, tiny fall veggies and potatoes from Weiser Farms set center-stage, and a small bowl of fresh corn on the side. The broth was as savory as fragrant, and the clams and mussels perfect vessels for the comforting classic dish. But I cannot lie; the personal showstopper was that lobster, and of that I ate more than my fill, which meant having to slow down on the clams and veggies after a few tantalizing tastes.

But diners, be warned: You'll want to save room for dessert! For one thing, it's part of the Clambake, and here you can choose again between two selections. Our table was split with two orders of the Apple Cobbler and two orders of a Root Beer Float made with their housemade root beer and served with two thin ginger cookies. Having gone with the float I was glad to not see the hearty, autumnal crisp topped with a jaunty round of vanilla ice cream go to waste thanks to a full stomach, but instead sipped the earthy bubbles of the beverage in total appreciation of its flavor and lightness. To wrap things up, a small plate of petit fours always conclude a meal at the Water Grill (along with a smart check-in from the staff to make sure no one needed a taxi to be called to get us home safely), and we nibbled on fruit gellees and tiny macaroons.

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As with all previous meals at the beautiful, elegant Water Grill, I left feeling fully sated and with the sense I'd had another wonderful dining experience--not just a pricey meal out. The Sunday Clambake, at $55 is an affordable indulgence, and would make a wonderful celebration meal or special date if fine dining is what you're looking for. If ever you can--and by this I mean can afford it, make no mistake--however, let the Water Grill really show you what they've got: Beautiful, fresh seafood and shellfish and a masterful wine list and sommelier service. But no matter how much you spend, know that you will be treated well, and really, in this day and age, that's priceless.

Previously on LAist
DineLA 2009: The Water Grill
The Wonderful Water Grill (2006)