Edit 08/25/2013: Waters has closed, and been replaced by Arirang Korean BBQ.)
Cat's birthday was on Friday the 13th this year. As spookily amusing as the date was, we ended up celebrating it this Friday instead for two entirely unrelated reasons; I had to work late last Friday and Cat decided to spend the weekend with her parents. I've always felt that when it comes to birthdays, the desires of the fine ladies who spent hours of their lives in labor trump any other considerations.
Cat blowing out the candle on her birthday dessert.
Normally, Cat and I celebrate special occasions at the Irvine Hyatt's 6ix Park Grill. However, since our engagement anniversary is on Guy Fawkes Day (Remember, remember, the fifth of November...) next month, we decided to try something new for her birthday. I made a Chowhound post requesting recommendations. Luckily for us, one of the members suggested Waters in Irvine.
Perched on the shores of a beautiful artificial lake in Irvine's Woodbridge community, Waters offers a tempered selection of West Coast dishes designed to appeal to the area's affluent residents. With a classy interior heavy on wood paneling and muted, warm lighting, the restaurant provides good food in a cozy atmosphere. Live musicians frequently play during evening service, adding to the cheerful ambience. While we were there tonight, an incredibly skilled acoustic guitarist and singer named "Paul" rocked with house with an amazing medley of popular and classic tunes. According to the bartender, he's there one Friday every month, so if you decide to go, call ahead and see what night he's playing.
The restaurant's biggest draw is its view. Bordered on two sides by a long veranda, and surrounded on all sides by large windows, Waters creates the illusion of fine dining while floating over the mirror-like lake surface. Regardless of the weather, the tables on the veranda are almost always full. At night, lights from the houses ringing the lake reflect off the dark water like captured constellations.
The restaurant was about half full when we arrived, although the bar was packed to the gills with people enjoying Paul's music and the drinks served by the pretty blonde bartender. We were seated immediately by a solicitous hostess, who took the time to help us locate a table that was exactly right; far enough from the veranda to avoid the chill night air, but close enough to the windows to see the gorgeous view.
Our server was a charmingly handsome young man who looked like he'd walked straight off the set for the OC. He presented us with our menus and a plate of warm sourdough bread, and gave us a few minutes to look the menu over before returning to take our order. The bread was pretty good, with a crisp, chewy crust and light, fluffy crumb. I thought the crust was a little tough, but the bread was otherwise decent.
The service provided by all of the restaurant's staff remained universally stellar throughout our entire dining experience. While we perused the menu, a cheerful Mexican gentleman with a water pitcher filled both of our glasses and kept them full during the whole evening. Our server was always close at hand, checking back with us frequently to see if we needed anything. He managed to always be there when we needed him without being intrusive. Overall, I was very impressed with our treatment, particularly since I'd ended up going in jeans and a Yahoo Developer's Network t-shirt that read "Mashup or Shutup". Despite the fact that I wasn't dressed as nicely as the majority of the clientele, Cat included, we were still given the four star treatment.
Since Woodbridge is a family-oriented community, the Waters menu is priced to appeal to parents out for a night away from the munchkins. Portions are large and affordable without being ridiculously huge. Cat and I decided to take advantage of the savings and explore the menu by ordering both appetizers and entrees.
Cat opted for an order of their Lobster Taquitos. Chunks of lobster meat were sautéed with celery, onion, breadcrumbs, and spices before being rolled up in red tortillas and deep fried. The taquitos were then cut on a bias and served with black bean salsa, fresh guacamole, sliced red cabbage, and a drizzle of sour cream. Light and crispy on the outside and meaty on the inside, the taquitos were excellently prepared with only one fatal flaw; the filling was overcooked and much too salty.
The sea salt used when sautéing the lobster and vegetables had been further concentrated during the deep frying process. As a result, all we tasted was celery and the sickly-sweet twang of over salted and overcooked lobster. The natural flavor of the lobster was entirely overpowered.
The guacamole was decent, but the black bean salsa failed to impress entirely. It tasted as if canned beans had been rinsed and mixed with storebought tomato salsa; entirely unremarkable save for its blandness.
I ordered a bowl of Steamed "Manilla" Clams (The quotes are there because I maintain that the correct spelling is "Manila".) This was a massive helping of fresh clams steamed in a broth made from onion, garlic, basil, white wine, lemon juice, and rough-chopped fresh tomatoes. It was spectacular. The clams were served in a large bowl brimming with their steaming liquid. While the clams were plump and juicy, the broth was the true star of the show. Rich and perfectly seasoned, I finished it with the help of a soup spoon after I'd polished off the clams.
At this point, the only sour note in our service occurred. Our server had made a mistake with the timing of our dishes. As a result, our entrees arrived while we were in the middle of our appetizers. The server immediately apologized for his mistake. I wouldn't have noticed right away if he hadn't pointed it out. Even though I said it wasn't a problem, Bob Kinney, one of the restaurant's proprietors, stopped by our table a few minutes later to give us his personal apology and offered to either have our entrees kept warm while we finished our appetizers or completely remade if we so chose. I thanked him for his consideration and told him it wasn't necessary.
For her entree, Cat ordered the Angel Hair with Lobster. Generous chunks of lobster and tomato were tossed with angel hair pasta and served in a delicate cream sauce made from olive oil, shallots, capers, and white wine. The gentle flavors of the dish were brought together by the rich cream sauce, which soothed the palate without being too heavy. Cat fell in love at first bite.
My entree selection was the Mushroom Dijon Chicken, which I enjoyed very much. A double breast of chicken was marinated in Dijon mustard, grilled, covered with sautéed mushrooms and a Dijon cream sauce, and served with a tasty rice pilaf, sautéed carrot strips, and blanched yellow and green haricot verts. Although it was juicy and perfectly grilled, the chicken by itself lacked the flavor a long marinating process would have given it. However, it was excellent with the tangy Dijon cream sauce and earthy sautéed mushrooms. The vegetables and rice were delicious. The rice had completely absorbed the flavors of the butter and chicken stock in which it was cooked. The vegetables were fresh, with just the right crunch and amount of salt.
The real highlight of the evening came toward the end of the meal. Having discovered we were celebrating Cat's birthday, our server produced a warm chocolate souffle topped with a scoup of vanilla ice cream and a lit birthday candle. The smell seized us by the nostrils and, before we knew it, we'd already finished it. Soft, sweet, and delectable, the contrast between the cold, melting ice cream and warm, steaming souffle was exquisite. It was a nice touch, and earned our server a hefty tip.
Waters - A friendly neighborhood restaurant offering affordable, fine dining in a relaxing atmosphere. While the food I sampled tonight wasn't the best I've ever tried, it was definitely quite good, and the prices were very reasonable. What will probably keep me coming back is the excellent service, the great view, and the cozy ambience.
Bill (for two):
Lobster Taquitos - 10.00
Steamed "Manilla" Clams - 11.00
Angel Hair with Lobster - 19.00
Mushroom Dijon Chicken - 16.00
Tax - 4.34
Tip - 15.00
Total - 75.34
4615 Barranca Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92604