Located in the former Reggiano’s, a popular Italian restaurant that closed earlier this year, Watermark Grill is both similar and different. Boasting a convenient location with ample parking at Loop 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway, the new eatery has kept the general features of its predecessor, but updated the décor with tatami-style table covers that match the rattan chairs, and attractive prints of mollusks, and added an array of infused cocktails for up to $15 per. I’m not a huge sweet-cocktail fan, but I enjoyed the Red Tide, a maraschino-cherry and hibiscus infused vodka with fresh
Most noticeable is the emphasis on seafood, pitting Watermark Grill against Wildfish Seafood Grille, its neighbor a few miles west on 1604 and adjacent to Brasserie Pavil, hospitality entrepreneuer Patrick Kennedy’s earlier Far North project. Pavil has been doing well and drawing favorable reviews from diners and critics alike. To get Watermark Grill up and running prestissimo, Kennedy has drawn on the resources of French-themed Pavil for staffing. Head Chef Scott Cohen is presiding over both eateries, and recent arrival Robert Fairbrother has signed on as general manager.
Watermark Grill has a lot of positives. The décor is inviting, if a bit sedate. The staff is well-trained and helpful in explaining the characteristics of less frequently encountered fish, such as Arctic Char (misspelled as Artic on the menu) and Wahoo. Service is dependable and attentive. The wine list is well chosen and affordable, with about 80 selections ranging from $18 to $99, most in the $30-$40 range. Pours by the glass start at $6 and include a really lush Edge Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. The Perrin Côtes du Rhône 2008 was an appealing bargain, full-bodied with a refreshing tartness.
Our crispy calamari with a sake sauce was very good, although the breading was a tad excessive. The presentation in a paper cone seemed a little downscale, more appropriate to fish and chips perhaps. The yellowfin tuna ceviche marinated in Grey Goose vodka was definitely a winning starter. Other diners commented enthusiastically about the oysters and littleneck clams.
Lunch features a variety of salads, a few sandwiches, and the dinner fish entrees. The sandwiches were fairly basic: shrimp roll, fried fish sandwich, and a burger. Salads include the usual Caesar and Cobb, but there is a grilled octopus and scallop plate, and an ahi tuna with a creamy peanut dressing. I had a filling and tasty lunch of grilled Pacific swordfish (all fish is available sautéed or blackened as well) with a sweet Asian barbecue sauce that smacked nicely of ginger and jalapeño, with sides of sauteed chard and baked potato. A small point, but the music could have been muted. It reverberates off the high ceilings and long walls. A little Pat Benatar goes a long way.
For dinner, we tried a weekday, and not surprisingly, more tables were empty than full. Also the crowd is an older set than on weekend nights. My partner raved about her Alaskan halibut in sake kasu (the lees left over from sake production); a large fresh steak, crusted with sesame seeds, served atop bamboo rice with a sweet aromatic flavor mingled with the pomegranate soy sauce. I managed to get a few bites off her plate before it was yanked away.
I was every bit as satisfied with my Icelandic Char, a fine-flaked pink fish akin to salmon. I was tempted by the Asian barbecue sauce, but opted for the classic lemon-caper butter sauce. All the fish dishes come with the chef’s seasonal vegetables and a side; my char was served with baby carrots and garlic mashed potatoes. The tiny sourdough rolls were a bit disappointing, and with a bakery adjoining the premises, there should be a better selection of breads available.
Even knowing the desserts had migrated from Brasserie Pavil, we still enjoyed sharing the crème brulee with fresh berries and the lemon meringue pie. All in all, a satisfying meal with lots to recommend another visit.
But a caveat to Watermark Grill is the lack of splash and dash that sets off Wildfish. Yes, Wildfish will dent your wallet a bit more. However, if you like elegance, rich atmosphere, and presentation showmanship, it might be a while before the new kid on the block catches up. If you prefer top-rate dining in a more casual, low-key setting, Watermark Grill won’t disappoint. Good seafood restaurants are hardly so numerous in San Antonio that we can’t enjoy a few more. •