Eat and Drink This Now: Water Grill’s Raw Bar and a Pimm’s Cup Riff

Gettin’ raw at Water Grill. Photo by Greg Nagel

When a restaurant has multiple bars to choose from, it can be a game of being that awkward teenager trying to find the cool table to sit at. At Water Grill, across from South Coast Plaza, my choice of bar neighbors consists of various cellphone-blabbing businessmen, a current-age stunt-double cast of Sex and the City, and various makeup-counter girls venting about their unintentional Bob Ross-inspired mall-facial lifestyle.

On the way in, the raw bar was quick to set my slickery seafood mood. Bivalves are tucked snugly in blankets of ice, cozy and unaware of their deliciousness. Little do they know, I’m hungry for a sampler, with half a dozen knocking me back around $17. My first choice of bar, which I call “the Old Gregg” (because of its scaly, manfish colors), is usually my first choice to belly up to, but it’s unfortunately full.

Half a dozen oysters with some fresh lemon, horseradish, mignonette and cocktail sauce. Photo by Greg Nagel

“Is this seat taken?” I ask the MAC girls seated at the back copper bar.

Their dramatic eyebrows are locked into a display of surprise. “It’s all yours,” one says, putting down her pink-liquid-filled coupe cocktail glass kissed with purple lipstick.

“I’ll start off with a Cocchi Americano,” I say to the bartender, who deals me a cocktail napkin like a blackjack dealer.

Now in my proverbial happy place—at a gorgeous bar with hilarious barflies and an eager staff—I go for a whim. “What cocktail pairs best with oysters?”

Andrew Paniagua, one of the head bartenders, offers an off-menu solution to my mothershucking problem: “Here’s our Picadilly Circus, with Pimm’s No. 1, Aperol, lemon, simple syrup, and a charge of tonic water, garnished with cucumber.”

The off-menu Piccadilly Circus pairs great with delicate oysters. Photo by Greg Nagel

The drink is sort of a riff on a traditional Pimm’s Cup, but with Aperol and tonic water instead of lemon-lime soda. On its own, Pimm’s No. 1 is somewhat a sessionable booze at only 25 percent ABV and was put together by James Pimm in 1823, mainly as a digestif. At the time, he also happened to own an oyster bar in London, one not too far from Piccadilly Circus, which is a street connection where various tourists and locals congregate to this day.

The beautiful thing about the Piccadilly Circus cocktail isn’t just the Pimm’s oyster-bar tie-in, but also that the drink is soft and delicate. The cucumber finish enhances the natural melon-like brine that some oyster species exude. On my sampler platter, my fave was easily the Sandstone, which, according to the farmer, is bagged on a beach in Washington, where the waters are cool. It’s briny on the start, with a melon-like sweetness on the finish. Be sure to grab this summertime combo while it lasts!

Water Grill, 3300 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (949) 208-7060;

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