There was a chef at Water Grill before Michael Cimarusti, but due to his impact on the kitchen, he became synonymous with the downtown seafood emporium. Cimarusti left Water Grill in 2005 to open Providence, and another talented young chef – David LeFevre – filled his bearded predecessor’s big clogs. Based on my inspired Restaurant Week lunch, it’s clear that LeFevre and his kitchen “brigade” deserve their own accolades.
While some dineLA Restaurant Week participants opted to play it safe, LeFevre made every cent of his $28 lunch count. He incorporated premium, rarely-seen ingredients, served large portions and better yet, every dish is available on the regular Water Grill menu. Throughout the meal, Water Grill also delivered a kaleidoscope of flavors and colors.
In House Cured Alaskan Salmon resembled a silky tartare, topped with a tangy apple-brown mustard seed salad and crispy Weiser Farm potato chips. LeFevre even found ways to incorporate sweet corn kernels, a hard-boiled quail egg, salmon roe and dill.
Spicy tuna is pretty well played-out in L.A. Japanese restaurants, but LeFevre had an original take on the theme with his Cucumber Rolled Spicy Big Eye Tuna. Plenty of restaurants mask the poor quality of their tuna with copious amounts of mayo. Not at Water Grill. LeFevre minced high-quality tuna, wrapped it with thin sheets of cucumber and accented the fish with heart of palm puree, tart ruby grapefruit and spicy dabs of tobiko wasabi.
The first entrée centered on a juicy slab of Grilled Columbia River White Sturgeon, which LeFevre surrounded with roasted beets, tiny pickled onions, coriander-spiced Garnet yam puree, slightly-bitter rapini and beads of vegetable-flecked Israeli couscous.
California “Pacific Ridgeback” Swordfish was probably even more satisfying, a meaty steak with a nice sear. The fillet was spooned with Tuscan salsa verde and plated on roasted garlic Swiss chard that was stripped of its bitterness with roasted garlic. The other end of the rectangular plate held thin-sheathed polenta “batons.” They looked like French toast sticks, but were completely savory, coated with a zesty red pepper and tomato ragout.
Blueberry Mascarpone Cake was really an exemplary blueberry muffin, with a crisp crust that had plenty of give. Fresh blueberries and candied corn kernels were paired with blueberry sorbet and a streak of blueberry sauce came with a scoop of fluffy crème fraiche ice cream.
Red Velvet Pudding was rich, with a molten chocolate center. The cake was plated with a scoop of tangy Mascarpone ice cream, even tangier raspberry sorbet and a Cocoa nib streusel crumble.
With the check, we received complimentary mignardises: chewy hazelnut macarons with an intensely nutty flavor that crept up on me, sweet pates de fruit and tiny lemon squares studded with poppy seeds.
Angelenos seem to take for granted that Providence is L.A.’s best seafood restaurant. After this lunch, I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case. I’m looking forward to many more meals at both restaurants to settle the internal debate.