For 35 years, customers at Bluewater Grill could walk into its original location at 16th Street and Camelback Road and have their pick of some of the best cooked fish and seafood in the Valley, or fresh fish to take home from the in-house market. Or both.
If it’s been a while since you’ve visited Bluewater and are just discovering the handsome restaurant that opened a couple of years ago, in the former Z’Tejas up the road at the food-centric corner of Bethany Home Road and 16th Street, you won’t see that glass-fronted fresh fish counter.
But don’t despair. There’s still fish available to take home and cook. Just ask, says general manager and partner Jeff Martineau.
“You can still buy fish here, we just didn’t have space for a retail fish counter in the new building,” Martineau said. “We have a lot of long-time guests who have always bought fish from us, and we’re happy to sell it to them. The great thing about buying it here is that we have the restaurant to move the product every day rather than it sitting in the case.”
Clam chowders — New England and Manhattan styles — are sold in quarts and pints to go, Martineau said. “And our bread, of course, which is pretty well known. We still make our own clam chowder, and it’s phenomenal.”
It’s a good idea to call ahead to see what’s available.
Sit-down dining at Bluewater has its own charms, in addition to the flavorful dishes. The design features a sophisticated nautical theme, with shells in wire cages acting as chandeliers, and thick ropes intertwining as a screen between the restaurant and bar areas. Walls are in a deep, nautical blue, festooned with colorful photos of fishing and the seaside.
“It’s a terrific building, and we’re really happy to be here,” said Martineau, who oversaw the transition.
His own journey with Bluewater began in 1999, when he started serving tables at the market/restaurant — then called The Fish Market.
“When that was going to close, the son-in-law of the original owner stepped in and opened a restaurant in the same building, naming it Bluewater Grill in honor of his father-in-law who had built that building that was an iconic spot for 35 years,” Martineau said.
Today, Rick Staunton and his partner, Jim Ulcickas, own the restaurant, one of eight Bluewater Grills (seven of them are in California).
Chef Chris Smith joined Bluewater Grill when the new building opened.
“When I was young, I lived in Providence, Rhode Island, so seafood was a big thing for me. My grandfather and I would go to a restaurant where they’d catch crabs at the dock and boil them right there. Working at a restaurant with fish of this caliber has really been fun for me. It’s definitely been exciting to learn new things and put my own twist on things.
“I enjoy cooking, creating dishes — making people happy through food is really what it comes down to.”
One example of Smith’s creativity is the misoyaki black cod. “We marinate black cod in a reduced miso sauce for about 24 hours, then sear it, and serve it with eel sauce and rice cooked with ginger, coconut milk and chicken stock, and topped with green beans and kiaware (daikon) sprouts,” Smith said.
Other examples include Cajun grilled barramundi, served on coconut jasmine rice and topped with arugula and crab salad with jalapeno mango vinaigrette; and seared Eastern scallops with olive oil-poached shallots, spinach, oyster mushrooms and a citrus beurre blanc.
At the sushi bar, traditional sushi, sashimi and rolls are favorites, along with such specialties as the senorita roll (tempura shrimp, krab and avocado, topped with raw ahi, sriracha and eel sauce) and the spicy Avalon roll (yellowtail, cucumber and avocado, topped with jalapeno and crisp carrots).
“We always update dishes and find ways to do them better,” Martineau said, “though for the most part it’s a lot of the same staples. The seafood Louis salad, fish and chips, clam chowder, steamed shellfish baskets and items like that all have stayed the same. We’ll rotate seasonal specials and change our selection according to what’s available and the best quality.”
Martineau recommends people sign up for the restaurant’s loyalty program, to keep track of specials, and to learn about monthly tastings.
“We do a tasting the second Tuesday of each month,” Martineau said. “Typically, it’s a way to introduce a seasonal special that’s coming up. We pair some wine with the dish, and sometimes a salad or chowder.”
Sustainability is important, too, he said. “We rely on the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Marine Stewardship Council, who put out suggestions as to what types of fish are considered more sustainable, responsible choices for purchasing. An example would be Chilean sea bass. People enjoy it and we love it, too, but it’s not considered very sustainable, so we haven’t served it for years. We want to stay in business for many years to come.”
Bluewater Grill, at 1525 E. Bethany Home Road, is open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For reservations and information, call 602-277-3434 or visit www.bluewatergrill.com.