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Water Grill

Bellevue's new seafood house

Let's just get this out of the way right now: yes, Water Grill is owned by a California-based restaurant company. And no, you don't need to give them the Seattle freeze. Opened in December 2022, they're adding something good to Bellevue's food scene with a great environment, very fresh seafood, and a knowledgeable and genuine staff, including an executive chef from, yes, Seattle.

Chilean seabass

The first Water Grill, owned and operated by King's Seafood Company, opened in Los Angeles in 1989 by Sam and Jeff King (cousins), built on the foundation started by their fathers in 1945. They've been offering quality, responsibly-sourced product for more than 75 years, using both local and international fishermen. King's also has their own exclusive distribution center in California that fillets and packages seafood and sends to their restaurants. As Bellevue GM Ryan Shepherd explains, "We don't use vendors, we go to the source and have relationships with people. We're asking, 'What did you get, how much did you get?' Our biggest hurdle is logistics. We do get air shipments and some truck shipments in Bellevue from our distribution center, but a lot of what the company gets is sourced from the Pacific Northwest, so we already have it right here. At each location, Assistant General Managers (AGM) control the product. It's much more difficult when it's live, there's a shorter shelf life. The AGM is like a choreographer, managing cost and product and volume." The Bellevue AGM came from their busiest location at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, which is four times the size of Bellevue.

Boards near the live tanks show the provenance of the product. On the menu you'll find familiar favorites like lobster, Dungeness crab, and clams, but you'll also find spiny lobsters, Spanish octopus, Florida wild stone crab claws, Ecuadorian shrimp, farmed Peruvian bay scallops. They also offer whole fish (head to tail) like Dover sole and bream (pink from New Zealand, black from Greece). The raw bar has 16 types of oysters: it's one of the largest Pacific and Eastern oyster selections in the country. Their first-of-the-season program gives guests the opportunity to check out the first catch of each season. You're the one person in the group who doesn't want seafood? Well, how about a roasted chicken and baby kale salad, mac & cheese with a seven cheese sauce, filet mignon, American Wagyu ribeye, or Mary's organic chicken? Plenty of veggies, too: maple roasted carrots, grilled broccolini, roasted Brussels sprouts. You all have options.

The menu changes twice daily. "It's built at 9 a.m. and the crew members know what we are offering. We never want to disappoint a guest and run out of something, but we want everything on the menu to be fresh. If we use something up over lunch, it is taken off the p.m. menu," explains Ryan. "We won't freeze anything in order to keep it on the menu. We want to serve the best product. At 4 p.m., the new crew members come in and find out what's on the dinner menu. Sometimes we have post-shift meetings to talk about what happened during the shift. It's a circle of responsibility. Individuals are responsible for handling their job so the team succeeds. We have standards in place so everyone knows what their responsibilities are. Managers and chefs go through a three-month training process which includes taking shifts as host and server. Crew members train for three weeks."

King crab roll

Executive Chef Kaelon Sparks moved to Seattle in 2010 and eventually ended up as the executive chef for Cutter's at Pike Place Market staying seven years. During the pandemic, he worked for Compass, managing cafes at Boeing. When he heard Water Grill was coming to Bellevue, he looked into it and thought it was worth talking to them. During his interview process, he did a tasting for Sam King. Afterward, they toured him through the production facility. "It smelled like the ocean," Kaelon recalls. "It was so fresh. The product is fantastic, and I've been impressed with their training. I love it here. All locations use the same recipes, and we don't create new ones here. But sometimes they'll want something new, and I'll take it on as a project." Many things are house made at the restaurant: sauces, bread, freshly-grated horseradish per order, cocktail sauce. "I think the only thing we buy in bulk is catsup," laughs Ryan.

Throughout the restaurant, repurposed wood from barns is used. Chandeliers are recreations of those used in the original downtown Los Angeles site. Bookshelves hold actual antique books. "Everything we do has our heart in it," says Ryan. "It's elevated without being fussy. Tables are Boos cutting boards with rounded and finished edges. We say that Water Grill is an easy place to enjoy great seafood." It's a pleasure to sit at the copper-topped bar in cushy seats with backs, and seahorse hooks beneath the bar for your bag(s). The private dining room is named after Jon Rowley, Seattle's local "fish missionary" and "champion of oysters" who passed away in 2017. He had a more than 25-year relationship with the Kings.

"Water Grill is all about value for the guest," says Ryan. "We increase/decrease prices based on what we pay for product. And we love to guide guests through an experience as opposed to just putting the most expensive dish in front of them. Sometimes two people come in and want a live King crab. It's too much food for two people, and if they want to spend that kind of money, I'd rather build a menu for them where they get to try a number of things. We're service- and guest-based."

Connie Adams/May 2023

Click here to read GM Ryan Shepherd's bio
Click here to read Executive Chef Kaelon Sparks' bio
Click here to read more about King's Seafood history

Water Grill Bellevue
700 Bellevue Way
Bellevue WA 98004

Other King's Seafood restaurants:

Meat on Ocean
King's Fish House
Pier Burger
555 East
Lou & Mickey's

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