The Waterhouse restaurant opened over the summer in a spot on Prospect Avenue that once housed the Diamondback Brewery and, more recently, Phil the Fire. Some of that bad luck seems to have hung around the location, as the latest incarnation has already weathered a number of personnel changes, including the departure of the chef who was at the helm during our visits.
Hope is on the horizon, though. At press time, the owners, a group of professional football players from Atlanta, had entrusted the kitchen to the leadership of chefs Heather Swartz, formerly at One Walnut, and Ronza Burns.
Manager Kim Viccarone says that while the new kitchen team works to fine-tune the menu keeping the winners and "deep sixing" the losers most of the bill of fare will remain unchanged. She does, however, expect the new team to be given wide latitude in selecting and offering seasonal specials, and the general plan is to introduce additional choices geared toward budget-conscious, time-strapped visitors to nearby Jacobs Field and Quicken Loans Arena.
If you're familiar with either of the restaurants that previously occupied this space, you'll hardly recognize the interior. Because the building has historic landmark status, no part of the exterior architecture could be changed. Inside, however, the kitchen is brand new and the dining room has been extensively redecorated. Wall and upholstery colors are soft and soothing. Gray and beige tones predominate. Beautifully designed lighting fixtures hang in a double row from the lofty ceiling of stamped tin.
The kitchen aims to offer diners high-quality, contemporary American cuisine in a comfortable, sophisticated dining room at a moderate price. In keeping with that mission, lunch and dinner prices are surprisingly low for a chef-driven, downtown restaurant. Cases in point: top price for an entrÈe at dinner is $22, and most items are priced at or below $20; Waterhouse offers an extensive lunch menu every weekday with a number of items under $7; the wine list features at least 100 bottles, some very pleasant, all at $20; and an excellent martini, made with top shelf liquor, costs $7.
Viccarone informs us that the lobster and crab fritters ($9) are among the restaurant's most popular appetizers. Chunks of crab and lobster meat are folded into a wheat-flour based batter and deep-fried. They're usually good, but the kitchen should be warned to fish these crunchy delights out of the fryer before they become overbrown and turn slightly bitter. On one recent visit, out of an order of four fritters, three were good, the fourth was overcooked and borderline unpleasant.
An antipasto platter ($9) included slices of good prosciutto ham, an excellent tapenade and toast to spread it on plus various cheeses, olives and marinated vegetables. With a bow to European/Asian fusion, Waterhouse offers one of its most original appetizers,"carpaccio sushi." Beef tenderloin is seared quickly and, still blood rare, it's rolled with sushi rice and presented with bleu cheese and roasted peppers ($9).
We decided the tuna napoleons ($10) were the best of all the appetizers we sampled. Chunks of excellent, sushi-grade tuna are seared and served rare and rosy on crisply fried wonton skins. The tenderness of the tuna plays beautifully against the crunchiness of the wonton. Inspired garnishes include a puddle of mouth warming, wasabi-and-ginger-scented vinaigrette, and a tangle of raw julienned vegetables tossed together in a crisp and spicy Asian-style slaw. Also certainly worth trying are the restaurant's pan-seared mussels in a rich tomato broth, redolent of garlic and spiked with red wine ($9).
Salad choices include a "Classic Caesar," though it includes the not-so-classic addition of escarole greens to the expected romaine, a spinach salad, an iceberg wedge and a tossed salad of field greens. All are priced at $5 or $6. The most popular salad at Waterhouse blends tiny leaves of baby spinach with bleu cheese, sweet onion and tomatoes, and dresses the mixture with an excellent house-made champagne vinaigrette ($6).
After the originality and skill displayed in the appetizers and salads we'd enjoyed, our expectations were high as we awaited our entrÈes. Sad to say, some did not live up to the standards set by the early courses. Whitefish tempura, for example, promised fillets of three different fishes: grouper, tilapia and cod, in we assumed a light and lacy tempura-style batter. That's not exactly what we got. While all three fishes were fresh, delicious and perfectly cooked, they appeared to be coated with ordinary breading rather than tempura batter as promised. More of that spicy Asian slaw and roasted potatoes completed the dish ($17). Seafood pappardelle, wide noodles dressed in a sauce of roasted tomatoes and mixed shellfish ($18), was strangely clumped together. The sauce was tasty enough and did contain shrimp, lobster, crab, mussels and scallops as promised, but the pasta clung in unappetizing snarls, as though it had been allowed to sit a while before being dressed and served. Herb-grilled pork chops were bland and underseasoned, as was the Parmesan risotto that accompanied the chops ($16).
More successful were the grilled Atlantic salmon, a fine hunk of fish perfectly cooked ($15), the rosemary roasted chicken with rice, moist and succulent and dressed with a pleasantly sweet orange sauce ($14), and the shrimp and veal scaloppini that married veal cutlets in a crisp coating flavored with Romano cheese and sauted baby shrimp, all dressed with a tasty marinara sauce ($20). Also worth trying is the pan-seared grouper ($20).
The Waterhouse signature dessert is a cappuccino martini. It's super-rich, house-made coffee ice cream, complete with bits of finely ground espresso coffee beans and rich whipped cream. It's served in a martini glass and garnished with a skewered chocolate truffle "olive." It's well worth the calories. Other desserts include a flourless chocolate cake served warm, very warm, key lime pie and cheesecake. All are priced at $5.
Lunch at Waterhouse is one of downtown's better bargains. Many items are priced at $6.99 and choices include Niaoise salad, chilled Asian noodles tossed with sesame sirloin, all-white-meat cashew chicken and a half sandwich with a cup of soup.
Our visits to Waterhouse all occurred after the restaurant had been open for only a few months. Given the talent demonstrated by the appetizers and some of the entrÈe selections, we offer the restaurant a second chance. With the new staff, an evolving menu and a bit more attention to detail, Waterhouse could develop into a downtown dining destination.
Waterhouse is at 728 Prospect Ave. in the Gateway District. (216) 694-0005. The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday at 11. Dinner is served until 10 p.m. Mon-Thu and 11 p.m. Fri-Sat. On Sunday the restaurant opens at 4 p.m. for dinner. The dining room is raised above the street-level bar, but a long, easily negotiated ramp from the Prospect Avenue entrance makes access easy. Restroom access could be a problem for some. Valet parking is available on weekends.