As my husband and I drove down to Ventura from Santa Barbara on our way to dinner I gazed out the car window to see the glistening sun reflect off the beautiful and expansive ocean. As I viewed the beautiful scene I thought how I make this drive so often on the way down to LA and yet almost never stop in Ventura as I pass through. This time we were stopping; excited to see what our destined restaurant had to offer.
As we walked toward the Watermark I was impressed by the building which was located on the corner of the bustling Ventura Main street. Evidently they are housed in an historic building from the 1910‘s. As I approached the door my heart sank for a moment as I saw a sign declaring their dress code. “Oh no!” I thought, “Are we dressed up enough for this place?” I was wearing dark blue skinny jeans and my husband a button up blue shirt with gray jeans. We definitely looked respectable but as I saw the sign it reminded me of an embarrassing encounter we had once at a country club where Michael had to change out of his expensive designer t-shirt for a cheap Geoffrey Beene button up shirt. He was humiliated. I had been to the restaurants website but hadn’t seen any mention of a dress code. I figured we’d have to go in and find out if we were to be scoffed and turned away. As we approached the hostess desk we were greeted by a pretty and friendly hostess who led us immediately to our table. Phew. I guess we looked respectable enough for her to seat us. (I later looked up their dress code online and their only request is for men to wear a button up shirt). We were seated in a pleasant booth next to the window and very quickly were greeted by our waiter. He asked us if we wanted to order wine which we declined but gave him our appetizer order right away. He failed to remove the wine glasses (which I did’t really care about but having worked in the restaurant business for long enough noticed this as a small error). The ambiance was beautiful with the old and new colliding. The murals on the walls were spanish colonial as was the ceiling. You can tell the owners put a lot of thought and pride into the decor with big touches like their second story clock to the small touches such as the small “watermark” on the plates.
Our appetizers came out extremely fast and we dug in. Michael ordered the wedge salad with crispy pancetta, maytag blue cheese, tomato and maui onion. I ordered the lobster bisque. Michael felt his salad was good and delivered as you would expect any simple wedge salad to deliver. (What is there to get wrong?) However, the crispy pancetta was fairly sparse and chopped to the size of dust. The lettuce seemed a day too old and not as crisp as he would have liked. But satisfying nonetheless. My lobster bisque however was noticeably bland. I kept thinking to myself, am I missing something? Perhaps bisque is suppose to be more subtle in flavor and I’m being too picky. After running all the possible options in my mind I realized it was just bland. It definitely lacked seasoning and flavor. Even just a slightly heavier hand with the salt and pepper would have been an improvement. I’m still a little out of sorts with the soup. I looked up the definition of a bisque (thinking again that I might be missing something) and it mentions flavor and seasoning being its biggest contributing factors. Okay, so the bisque sucked. Moving on.
The next course was a raw bar that had mussel, oyster, crab claw, crab leg and shrimp. Being familiar with everything but the oyster I dove into the shrimp. Delish. I dipped it in the cocktail sauce and it was an easy score. Okay, onto the next. The mussel didn’t deliver as much as I was hoping it would. It had a slightly fishy taste that made me think it wasn’t the freshest product. The crab claw and leg were good and I enjoyed that with the horseradish they provided. Last but not least…the oyster…Perhaps its was the stories that I heard that oysters taste like fish snot going down your throat that has deterred me from trying them. Or the fact that you don’t really eat them, you swallow them whole. I was searching for a lemon wedge to squeeze on top but couldn’t find one. I resorted to the horseradish and took the plunge. At first I really just tasted horseradish. Then I tasted ocean. Hmmm. Tastes exactly like what you smell when your walking along the beach. Not bad. I could see getting use to this. Next time, I want a lemon wedge though….
For our entree’s I ordered the rib eye and Michael the filet mignon. I was going to order the duck but since I had a disappointing first course I decided to go with a standard that know I like. Duck isn’t something I’ve had outside of chinese restaurants (and not often even then) so I’m not as familiar with the flavor. Michael encouraged me to be safe because I was more adventurous for the appetizers and I think he wanted me to enjoy myself. I ordered my rib eye medium rare but not bloody and Michael did the same for his filet. My rib eye was cooked exactly as I requested. The cut of meat, however, had a fair amount of gristle. I am aware that rib eye is a fattier cut of meat, but having cooked this a few times I know that the key is a good quality product. Since I’ve had better rib eye that I’ve made a home it was slightly disappointing for a $38 plate of food. But I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it nonetheless. I mean, it is steak after all. It came with a garlic potato puree that was flavorful and a variety of steamed vegetables. The sauce was a rosemary demi and had some wild mushrooms and roasted tomatoes as a garnish. The sauce was okay as were the mushrooms. I could take it or leave it.The tomatoes were actually packed with flavor and seemed to have been roasted with basil. Overall, it was a satisfying meal but certainly wasn’t something that I would crave or feel like I needed to have again. Maybe I should have tried the duck…
Michael’s filet was cooked unevenly but was close to the medium rare he ordered. The meat was tender and flavorful. It came with Yukon potatoes, parsnips and had a huckleberry and red onion confit. The confit was very thin so it was hard to taste it at all. The parsnip puree was topped with the potatoes diced small and was delicious. It was a very smart was to served the starch and the marrying of the parsnips and potato in this way not only brought out a lot of flavor but also texture. The plate came with fresh steamed vegetables as well which were a great accompaniment. The plating for both entree’s seemed fairly standard without a lot of thought put into the presentation.
Finally, dessert! Michael HAD to have the chocolate dipped strawberries stuffed with cheesecake and I tried the chocolate carmel tart. Let’s start with my tart…
The descriptions advertised a buttery chocolate crust, creamy caramel, chocolate ganache and grey sea salt. The biggest flaw with this dessert is that the sea salt was sprinkled on top of the tart so that every bite had a different amount of salt and therefore ran the risk of being a salt lick. It completely overpowered the other components and made the dessert pretty much inedible. Also, the caramel was masked by the large proportion of chocolate on top giving a sickly sweet taste to the chocolate. And the crust wasn’t chocolate as advertised but probably graham cracker. In the end, the dessert should have been advertised as, “Overly Sweet Chocolate Tart with a Sea Salt Lick.” The sea salt should have been incorporated into the caramel itself so that the proportion was perfect. You just can’t leave things like inconsistency in sprinkled salt to chance. It just doesn’t work.
Michael’s strawberries, on the other hand, were heavenly. It was actually an awesome dessert to have after a large meal because the proportion of half fruit half cheesecake is the perfect blend of refreshing and indulgent. Mostly fruit with that creamy bit of cheesecake topped with chocolate was delectable. Michael felt the quality of the strawberry was superb however the cheesecake wasn’t the best he’s tasted. Having said that, this is a recipe I’m going to definitely attempt to make at home. Michael was being nice to share with me since my dessert wasn’t that great but I could tell it was with great effort. Our only complaint was that there wasn’t more. Two strawberries didn’t quite seem enough for some reason…The plating seemed odd as well with one rogue raspberry set to the side. We didn’t get it. It seemed a little lonesome. But that was our only comment and wished they had a back window that they just sold these’s little bites of heaven out of.
All in all, the meal was a bit underwhelming. There was promise in the dishes but they weren’t perfect. Watermark wouldn’t be the first place I think of for an upcoming birthday dinner or special occasion and thats a shame because it has a tremendous amount going for it. Some screws still need to be tightened.
As we left I heard a random gentleman talking to the doorman, afraid to go in because he wasn’t sure if he was dressed appropriately. It would probably behoove the restaurant to drop their dress code. It seems to be scaring paying customers away and their standards aren’t that stringent anyway. Perhaps an inviting but upscale approach would be best.
Wedge Salad – B
Lobster Bisque – C
Rib Eye – C+
Garlic Potato Puree – B+
Filet Mignon – B
Parsnips and Potato – A
Chocolate Caramel Tart – D
Chocolate Cheesecake Strawberries – A-