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We used to eat out all the time, living in NYC does that to you. It's one of Gotham's more effective ruses to ensure that when you and the city finally part ways the city holds on to your money, while the credit card debt is all yours. Like a sucker partnered with a well-rehearsed show-girl, you don't get to go until you have nothing left to go with.

- E2's JohnnyGoodyear, in Food Writing.

Take a classic American restaurant with a seafood-heavy menu. Add a delightful wine list that's not over-priced, particularly by New York City standards. Mix with a comfortable bar with working fireplace. Add water. Lots of water. Voila! You've got Manhattan's Water Club. A Manhattan landmark for over twenty-five years, it's stood the test of time.

The restaurant is located not near the water, but on the water. The main building is actually a retired motor yacht that now stands on cement pylons — in the East River. The reception area, bar room and kitchen were built-on, and are the only parts of the structure on dry land. The view in the dining room, no matter where one is seated, is outstanding; and particularly dramatic at night. Whomever designed the dining room placed the seats farthest away from the windows (and the view) higher than the rest, on a platform running the length of the dining room. This ensures that even if one is seated at a less-than-desirable table, one can still see the view.

Parking

Pull up to the curb and a uniformed valet takes one's car. This is one of the reasons this restaurant is such a good value. Just about any other location in New York these days charges a lot for valet parking, if you can get it. And garages cost even more. Moreover, if one's car is in a garage, one might be left waiting for up to a half-hour whilst they go fetch it. Standing around in a parking garage for thirty minutes, freezing in winter and boiling in summer, is no way to end a sparkling evening.

Upon entering the soaring front hall, guests are greeted by a cheerful receptionist who'll relieve diners of coats etc. One can't help but notice the gleaming brass and nautical touches. A lobster tank is featured in the front hall; a reassuring sight for devotees of the delicious denizens of the deep.

Lounge with Fireplace

The bar, through which everyone must pass to reach the dining room, is clubby-feeling, but a comfortable clubby feel. Not stuffy nor pretentious. The same Chinese gentleman has been working behind that bar six-day weeks, two shifts a day, for the past thirteen years. He's an amazing guy. Mandarin speakers: although his English is impeccable, he'll be your best friend for life if you ask him, in Mandarin, about his son's restaurant in Connecticut.

The cocktails are generous and fairly priced. The Water Club's wine list is also quite fairly priced (as Manhattan wine lists go). In the evenings the house pianist, Dom Salvador, holds court at the baby grand in a jazzy fashion, his repertoire mostly standards. Salvador's piano, the utterly charming surroundings, the view and the graciousness of it all brings to mind a scene from a Woody Allen movie.

Menu

Starters of note include the crabcake remoulade, half-shell clams and oysters, and the gargantuan chilled seafood platter (enough for four diners as an appetizer). Quickly fried squid was not chewy but delightfully tender. The see-through thin crispy coating reminded us of the Chinese "salt and pepper shrimp."

The food is impeccably fresh, and elegant in its simplicity. Brand-new chef Kevin Reilly has a curriculum vitae that's impressive. His menu is all about elegance and comfort. For example, a salmon fillet was served leaning against a whimsical potato "blintz." The accompanying mushrooms in sherry vinegar sauce added sophistication. The filet mignon in wine reduction sauce is accompanied by an amazing timbale of new potatoes. It's a downright shame they don't offer them as a side dish.

Side dishes are simple and delightfully prepared. The creamed spinach is on par with that of New York's renowned steak houses (and in some cases, better). Mashed potatoes arrive buttery and hot, on their own warmer.

Caramelized sea scallops were just that; crispy outside and cooked to-a-turn inside. The rich scallops were perfectly framed by a lightly-dressed mesclun salad. The grilled orange and grapefruit sections that garnished this dish paired well with the sweet scallops. Red Snapper, pan-seared, rested on escarole in a soy dressing (this is the kitchen going overboard with its creativity; but it works).

Yes, lobster is a pricey proposition at dinnertime. However, lunch guests can feast on lobster bisque, lobster any style, mashed potatoes, and a choice of desserts for a fixed price of $35.

Desserts are all homemade, and are humble and comforting. Best were the sorbet and the double chocolate "cake" that comes with a decadent cream-caramel sauce and peanut brittle pieces. An economical trick to ending the meal: make sure the busboys don't take away the breadbasket. Inside are pecan scones and yellow-raisin walnut bread. Slathered with Water Club's good butter, these make a wonderful accompaniment to coffee should sugar (or dessert prices) be of concern.

Other Reviews

Customer feedback about the restaurant on New York's entertainment websites is decidedly mixed. On no visit, however, have we been disappointed. The servers and the captains are so professional, we'd hazard a guess they'd make any wrongdoing right, and in a hurry. The New York Times' review was lackluster but the place garnered two stars (Very Good). Although the Times classified the prices as "$$$$" (Very) there are poor restaurants that get away with charging far more. The value should be looked at, and the value here is quite good.

SOURCES:

  • http://events.nytimes.com/gst/nycguide.html?detail=restaurants&id=1002207995463
  • http://www.openlist.com/restaurants-view-2126833333-the_water_club-new_york-ny.htm
  • http://www.gayot.com/restaurantpages/NewYorkInfo.php?tag=NYRES021562&code=NY
  • http://www.thewaterclub.com/main.html
  • http://newyork.citysearch.com/review/7119290

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