The dining room at Bluewater Grill teems with a rich cross section of Newport Beach: well-heeled retirees, gaggles of polished gal pals, date-nighters, and salty, sun-bronzed locals arriving on foot. All flow into this waterside fish house with the nonchalance of regulars, happy to await their tables over drinks, or snag a stool at the bustling oyster bar.
Open since 1996, the seafood sprawler is clever about serving venerated favorites, such as rich chowder, grilled trout, and fried clams, alongside younger, more modern creations, many with a California accent: zesty cioppino, blackened swordfish tacos, and mahi-mahi sliders slick with jalapeño aioli. Executive chef Brian Hirsty’s confident crew shifts from icy platters of precisely shucked oysters so voluptuous they barely need saucing, to sizzling ginger-lime prawns over celery root slaw. Printed daily, the upgraded menu spotlights seasonal specials bursting with contemporary twists.
One night’s fresh halibut, cut to the size of a Rubik’s cube, is hot, juicy and not a bit overcooked in its crunchy, gold jacket of tempura batter studded with yam sticks. Sweet-spicy chili oil gives the snow-white meat some sass, but it also complements the tangle of cold glass noodles served alongside. It’s generations apart from the menu’s sauteed Wisconsin walleye or fried Ipswich clam bellies, American classics with old-timey allure. So bring your visiting Aunt Charlotte for fried smelt or your fussy co-worker for a luscious lobster roll, assured that you can delight yourself with the marvelous paella Valenciana. This seafooder is more than standing the test of time; it’s staying one step ahead of the game.
Best New Dish
Paella or Ginger-Lime Prawns
Free for two bottles. More than half of the wine list is less than $40 per bottle; fair prices include Cakebread at $60.
A waterfront sibling to open this summer in Avalon.
630 Lido Park Drive, Newport Beach, 949-675-3474
2409 Park Ave., Tustin, 714-258-3474; bluewatergrill.com
Photo by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue.