It's always a real treat to see Aunt Dede and Uncle Billy, and they really know how to treat a girl. This weekend they escaped the heat of Los Angeles to visit the oh-so-much-cooler San Francisco -- and last night we dined at Waterbar.
With Dede and Billy, the pressure to provide the right restaurant recommendations is particularly intense, since they've been to some of the very best more than a few times. On this trip they'd already been to The Slanted Door (which Billy gave 5/10 -- "not real Vietnamese") and Quince (which earned raves from both and a 10/10 from Dr. M.). Needless to say, my fingers were crossed as we entered the fishy next-door neighbor to Epic Roasthouse. Pat Kuleto and his group spent multi-millions opening both in late January. Though I hadn't thought Epic lived up to its moniker (click here to read my Epic tale), word on the Wharf was that Waterbar was a winner (whew!) so I was looking forward to trying it.
We had prime seating next to the massive window overlooking the Bay and its bridge, and next to a massive aquarium. I've always found having an aquarium in a restaurant beautiful and at the same time a bit strange. Every so often a massive eel would snake around the tank, grimacing at all the people eating his friends.
The Waterbar menu opens with a quote from Julia Child: "You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces -- just good food from fresh ingredients." While there are certainly some very interesting ingredients and combinations, the menu lives up to this mantra. Nothing is complicated, other than choosing what to order. When I attempted to ask our waiter whether I should get the Sea Scallop Ceviche with sweet potato, smoked salt and paprika oil or the... I was nicely interrupted and told that was his favorite dish. It trumps all the others? Yes. Alrighty then! The Kampachi Sashimi will have to wait for next time.
The ceviche was indeed a great choice. I was thinking the sweet potato flavor should have been a bit more pronounced, but perhaps that would have toppled the delicate balance of the other ingredients, especially the ridiculously fresh and perfectly textured scallops. Meanwhile, Billy had bristled at the thought of ordering something as pedestrian as Gulf Shrimp Cocktail, but turns out simpler can be better. Dede thoroughly enjoyed Emma's Favorite Salad of endive and fuji apple, accompanied by aged gouda grilled cheese sandwiches (not pictured, devoured).
Had a similar experience ordering my main course -- should I have the Wreckfish - grilled - potato gnocchi, english peas cured ham, red wine, or the Tombo Tuna - seared - maitake mushrooms, pea tendrils, saffron? Well, since I didn't even know what wreckfish was before last night, the waiter not only explained that it was a medium-firm, slightly fatty whitefish, but also helped me make the connection that if I didn't know what it was, all the more reason to try it. Once again, great choice. The fish, gnocchi and peas were all the right degree of firm, and the sauce was super-flavorful but didn't drown the other ingredients. The dish was like a seasoned ensemble cast, each ingredient supporting the other to produce a great show. As you can see, some baby carrots even made a cameo.
If my dish was the Emmy winner for best ensemble drama, Billy's was the one that so deserved but didn't win one for best comedy: the Rock Cod "Colbert" - Waterbar's version of fish and chips. As with Stephen, I couldn't even look at this guy without giggling. Those were some serious fries, though. A tiny bit thick for my taste, but otherwise just right.
Dede had the White Gulf Shrimp, grilled. N.B. they come with the shells on, which seemed like a whole lotta messy work for six little fish.
Dessert time! Dede and Billy immediately locked in on the Ice Cream Sandwiches. I required further deliberation. Chocolate Peanut Butter Silk, or Warm Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding Cake? Though I was leaning toward the former, I surrendered to the latter on our waiter's advice, since he'd already gone 2-0 for me. The ice cream sandwiches came in two flavors -- hazelnut and ginger -- each sandwiched between freshly baked brownies with chocolate sauce available for dipping, drizzling or dousing. The chocolate pudding cake was like buttery chocolate french toast with chocolate pudding inside and coffee ice cream (my fave) on top.
So if I go missing for several days, check for castaways at Waterbar. As for Billy, he gave it a 7/10. Not bad!
Waterbar | 399 The Embarcadero |415-284-9922 | www.waterbarsf.com