Behind the scenes with Sam King, owner of Water Grill at South Coast Plaza
For 28 years, Sam King has created a haven for himself in Orange County. This is where he and his family helm seafood restaurants such as the King’s Fish Houses that reach from Orange to Laguna Hills, the casual Fish Camp in Huntington Beach and King’s Seafood Distribution Center, headquartered in Santa Ana. Now the Southern California native and USC graduate introduces another restaurant to the roster, the tony new Water Grill at South Coast Plaza. The family operates Water Grill locations in Santa Monica, downtown LA and San Diego, but this latest venture is especially dear. “We were patiently waiting for an iconic location like South Coast Plaza to become available,” he says. “So when it did, we reacted swiftly to the opportunity.”
The Bristol Street space, which had been Scott’s Restaurant & Bar, underwent a massive transformation, taking nearly 16 months to perfect. The once-stuffy dining room now feels inviting and fun – part upscale fish house, part luxury resort. The main room’s nautical motif features large, retractable windows that open to the street and let fresh air waft in. A thousand pounds of hand-strung oyster shells dangle like chandeliers over the raw bar, pounded shiny copper is riveted to form the main bar, and the floors are laid with reclaimed wood sourced less than 400 miles away. It appears the Kings finally constructed their dream castle in the heart of Costa Mesa.
Coast: For the past 30 years, you and your family opened several eateries across the country. How will this Water Grill differ from your other concepts?
SK: We actually want all of our Water Grills to operate the same, to showcase our devotion and inspiration to seafood. Having multiple outlets allows us to leverage our ability to source outstanding seafood from all over the world. For example, researching seafood for our new Dallas Water Grill has opened our eyes to some great new products from the Gulf that we presently do not use … genuine American red snapper or black grouper will find its way on our West Coast menus soon. The new location at South Coast Plaza is our biggest restaurant we have opened to date, and as a result the biggest difference is the 200-seat private party room and a very large outside patio, which is 3,500 square feet.
Coast: The new location will feature the company’s largest oyster bar. What oysters do you recommend tasting?
SK: As a result of the efforts of King’s Seafood Distribution, we are able to provide one of the largest variety of oysters in the country. The plaques behind the oyster bar change daily, telling guests which species of oysters are available that day, and believe it or not, we have nearly 120 plaques in total.
In fact, this evening at South Coast we are offering 18 different types of oysters that include Naked Cowboys from Long Island Sound, N.Y.; Sea Cows from Hammersley Inlet, Wash.; Black Duck Salts from Hogg Island, Va.; and Kumamotos from Humboldt Bay. I honestly love all oysters, but if I had to choose some favorites, they may be Belons from Maine or the Sea Cows we are serving tonight.
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Coming up Rosé
Neither red nor white – and sometimes too sweet to be taken seriously – rosé had once been relegated by wine snobs to the bottom of the barrel. But that’s changed. Over the past decade, this blend has ascended as the wine of choice for the yachting millennial set, and bubbly versions now pop up at soirées hosted by A-list celebrities. Toast to these unique rosés:
SOL Cocina’s Frozé – “I came up with the Frozé because of the rosé craze we have been seeing at all of our locations,” says Colin Pflugradt, beverage director at SOL Mexican Cocina in Newport Beach. “We took advantage of the growing popularity of this ‘pink wine’ and put a SOL touch on it – rosé wine, a splash of guava nectar topped with our frozen margarita.” Imagine a fruity slushy for grown-ups. SOL Mexican Cocina, 251 E. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 949.675.9800 :: solcocina.com
Champagne Armand de Brignac ups the luxury ante with $500 bottles of rosé adorned with customizable French pewter labels applied by hand. Housed in a velvet-lined, black lacquered wooden box, the limited edition cuvées are crafted with care by 11th-generation Champagne growers. Owned by entrepreneur and mogul Shawn Carter – also known as Platinum-selling rapper Jay Z – the Champagne Armand de Brignac wine remains so exclusive that only a highly skilled team of 14 people touches each bottle, from pressing the fruit to when it departs from the cellars in France. :: reservebar.com
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It started with cocktails and chef-driven hors d'oeuvres on the patio – liquid nitrogen coconut ice cream in squid-ink waffle cone by AnQi, anyone? After schmoozing and boozing, guests settled at tables set with Champagne and dessert, and the show began! At the Golden Foodies, a people’s choice style awards ceremony held in September at the Fairmont Newport Beach, chefs were the stars. Celebrity presenters included Food Network host Simon Majumdar, who poked fun at nominees during some wild video clips: Chef-testants finished dishes while impersonating their colleagues in a bleep-filled charade. After all the cussing and tattoo jokes were done, the big winner emerged, and it was a nod to tradition. Disney executive chef Andrew Sutton and The Ranch’s Michael Rossi gave the Chef of the Year prize to Zov Karamardian, as the vanguard of OC’s food revolution decades ago. After winning, she immediately disappeared in a sea of congratulatory hugs.
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Good as gold
The resplendent Golden Door spa is an iconic Southern California oasis, with acres upon acres of crashing Zen-inducing waterfalls, swaying citrus trees and biodynamic vegetable gardens. A big perk for Golden Door’s blue-chip clientele is the gourmet low-calorie meals prepared by chef Greg Frey Jr. However, now spa guests aren’t the only ones enjoying the organic produce grown on-site.
Last month, the Golden Door opened its Farm Stand where stalls were filled with fragrant herbs, plump figs, pomegranates, colorful carrots and firm eggplants. The outpost shares its bounty of hyper-local organic produce and artisanal foods – think marmalades and the chef’s signature ginger cookies. The Farm Stand echoes the spa’s charitable mission. All proceeds will be donated to help children of abuse. So each organic bite is another way to find fulfillment inside and out. :: goldendoor.com