For Tulsans who have been around a while, it's been quite a ride. A few of us remember back to the days when you could count the restaurant options on one hand: The Fountains, Razor Clam, Celebrity Club and a couple of others were all we had to choose from. Now, it seems, the excellent restaurants abound.
And if you haven't yet been, you can add another excellent dining experience to the list -- The Waterfront Grill.
A pleasant drive along the Riverside Parkway or along the Creek Turnpike reminds us that while we can certainly find things to complain about like those anywhere can, we really do live in a beautiful city.
By the time you enter the east end of the bridge to Jenks, you can already see the Waterfront Grill. The restaurant is well situated on the bank of the Arkansas River, right next to the Oklahoma Aquarium.
As we entered, we were struck by the rich, elegant feel of the Waterfront Grill, but the most impressive feature was the restaurant's size. A capacity sign by the door says it can accommodate 300, and it felt every bit that big. One end of the room was mirrored -- an old decorator's trick used to make a space feel larger than it is. It wasn't until we were seated near the mirrors that we realized the restaurant was smaller than it first appeared. Nice effect.
Upon entering, customers are greeted by a team of hosts, black-clad young ladies and gentlemen who control a steady influx of diners and funnel folks to either the bar area, or the patio, or add your name to a list for a booth in the main dining room.
One of the most interesting characteristics about Waterfront Grill is the fact that its ambiance is directly linked to where you're seated. In fact, the restaurant could really be described as offering three different dining experiences.
To the far left is a huge patio area and according to the greeters, customers are seated in that area on a first come, first served basis and dine from a limited menu. Although I must say, after looking at the patio menu, it was pretty comprehensive for a limited selection.
The entire patio area has a first class view of the river. The night we were there the river was full and flowing and visible from every one of patio tables. It's a very casual area, and we saw lots of diners in shorts and sneakers enjoying appetizers and grill items along with drinks from the bar.
The second distinct area, which has a completely different feel, was the bar area itself.
The bar is a large rectangle that's every bit of 25 feet by 12 feet, with six or seven bartenders stationed behind it. Light and airy, the bar is rimmed on one side by the patio, the opposite side by a bank of small booths that look out through a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass, which affords bar patrons the same views and natural lighting as those on the patio.
The bar area is busy, has an expectedly high noise level, and is filled with people either waiting for a table, enjoying friends and family over beautifully crafted cocktails, or eating dinner at the bar.
We ordered an appetizer from the bar menu -- a select number of items from the main menu we were told -- that was still several pages long and offered a nice variety.
Toast of the Town.
Simply titled cheese toast, our appetizer was under-glamorized to say the least. It was really, really good. The toast was worth going back for, and combined perfectly with either a glass of pinot grigio or a cold import. I'm having taste bud flashbacks just writing about it. It was a combination of Vermont white and Tillamook cheddars and parmigiano-reggiano, melted brown and creamy on thick slices of a yeasty baguette. We could have easily sat there all night, eating order after order of the cheesy goodness and looking out at a wonderful spring evening.
Fortunately, we were saved from ourselves by the call that our table was ready.
We were led through the dining room, past a large open kitchen and grill area, where at least a dozen line cooks were preparing meals for a full house. The line was running smoothly, with the help of someone I assume was the manager, (or a very pushy customer) making sure everything was running perfectly as he leaned over the dividing wall to give occasional instruction to the cooks.
We were seated at the back of the restaurant in a small two-seater booth, across the aisle from several larger, inviting, elevated booths that could easily seat eight. It was a romantic setting and the third time we felt like we were in a different restaurant. We passed rows and rows of these booths, mostly two and four-tops, filled with couples and families out for a nice evening. With the exception of a small child two tables over whose parents chose not to silence him, it was a low-volume spot despite the crowd.
High dividing walls between the rows absorb sound, block unwanted views of the people at the next table and give diners an intimate setting for a date or quiet meal with spouse or friend.
Our server was efficient, but we felt she was a bit casual for the setting. A certain amount of familiarity is fine, but we felt she crossed the line just a tad. Maybe a sign of the times, but considering the menu prices, we wanted a bit more. Having said that, our server was attentive, and in no way but a damper on the evening.
A tempura shrimp sushi roll started this part of the evening and was excellent. The rice had a perfect blend of vinegar, sugar and salt, and surrounded plump shrimp, which was all then wrapped in nori, the pressed roasted seaweed sheets used in sushi construction, dipped in Japanese tempura -- a light batter -- and flash-fried. Very nicely done.
Salads were fresh and crisp and set us up for the excellent entrees to come.
I had heard about the beef at Waterfront Grill and wanted to find out for myself, so I went for a 16-ounce, bone-in rib eye steak. It was an excellent piece of meat, rich in flavor and well marbled. The steak was served with a pile of cheddar-jalapeno mashers that were the perfect compliment. My steak, ordered medium rare, was just the slightest bit underdone, but it was tender and delicious anyway. A real winner in my book.
Katie chose the salmon. A plump moist piece of Atlantic salmon in an gingery Asian-inspired of glaze with a nice selection of stir-fried vegetables with Eastern undertones -- a very nice dish.
Overall, the Waterfront Grill was a very nice experience. From start to finish, this is one of those places I'll recommend when people ask me for my favorite places to go. So, if you're asking, I'm definitely recommending.
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