If you've never tasted Santa Barbara spot prawns that were swimming around moments before landing on your plate, or Channel Island sea urchin, or fabulous Southern California spiny lobster, soon you'll have a chance: Water Grill, a top Los Angeles seafood house, is coming to Dallas in 2016.
With plans to occupy a 7,500 square foot space at 1920 McKinney Ave. (that's just south of Harwood), it will be the first out-of-state location for the restaurant. The original opened in downtown Los Angeles in 1989, launching the careers of a couple of L.A.'s best-known chefs -- Michael Cimarusti (Providence, Connie + Ted's) and David LeFevre (MB Post). After LeFevre left in 2010, the restaurant, owned by King's Seafood Co., took a less cheffy, more straightforward direction. King's opened a second location in Santa Monica two years ago; I had dinner there in March, and was wowed by the charcoal-grilled spot prawns, which I ordered after seeing them swimming around in a tank. (Check out the menu here.) A third Water Grill debuted in San Diego earlier this year.
Seawater tanks will hold live spot prawns in Dallas as well, along with Washington state Dungeness crabs, Barents Sea (Alaska) red king crabs and Southern California spiny lobsters.
And naturally the Dallas Water Grill will have an oyster bar -- spectacular raw bar items have long been a Water Grill specialty. King's Seafood Company C.E.O. Sam King told me his 18-seat oyster bar will serve both Atlantic and Pacific oysters on the half-shell; when I pointed out that it's illegal to sell Pacific oysters in Texas, he said he wasn't aware of the law. ("I'm going to have to look that up!") To be clear, Pacific oysters are a species (C. gigas) whose sale is banned; as is the sale of Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida) and Kumamotos (C. sikamea). Well, that's for Water Grill to sort out -- a number of Dallas restaurateurs serve the Pacific oysters and Kumamotos in spite of the law.
So why is Water Grill opening in Dallas, of all places? "We're able to bring product into the Dallas market that nobody else has," says King. That's because King's Seafood Company also owns a private seafood distribution center in Southern California. Meanwhile, he adds, "Texas is a tip credit state." In other words, it's one of 20 states where minimum wage for servers is only $2.13 per hour -- considerably lower than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, so they're saving money there. "We're going to take some of that money and have product flown in." And then there's the Dallas dining community's "great disposable income."
King seemed a little concerned about one aspect of opening in Dallas: "It's such a steak-centric area," he said. Yes, Mr. King. And Dallas isn't always inclined to fall in love with restaurants that colonize here from out of state.
But we have a serious dearth of great seafood restaurants here; since I rounded up our top fish places in a Best in DFW story two years ago, the two I called "far and away the best" -- Driftwood and Spoon -- closed. When Water Grill opens, it wouldn't surprise me at all if we, you know, eat it up.