Watermark on Main
598 E. Main St.

Just a little over a year ago, Ventura was treated to a splashy celebrity soft opening of a renovated landmark building on the corner of Chestnut and Main. To celebrate the opening of his new movie Swing Vote, Kevin Costner and his band played in an outdoor block party open to all, and the building and restaurant now known as Watermark (W2O is the third-floor bar) opened its doors to the public for the first time. Such an amazing launch (with spectacular hors d’oeuvres and drinks) made many of us wonder if this magic would truly last. It is now one year later, and I am able to write that, if anything, this excellent dining experience has simply gotten better and better.

It would be easy to devote much of this article to the glories of the restored building (embossed copper in the travertine floors, the gold onyx bar, the abalone shells in the granite walls of the third-floor men’s room, etc., etc.) — the endless list of architectural wonders and marvels. However, this is a food review, and as blown away as one is by the details of the design, the food and service are quite simply extraordinary. I almost always start with a shrimp appetizer: either the chili-dusted prawns literally floating in butter and roasted garlic, or the Santa Barbara prawn sopes (charred corn hash, chorizo, ancho chile mole and avocado cream surrounding grilled prawns). Both dishes are out of this world and tease one’s appetite for countless delights yet to come.

It is easy to fill up too early at Watermark. The scrumptious bread (from nearby My Florist) can be enhanced with the accompanying olive tapenade, the sun-dried tomato aioli or the garlic and rosemary butter. The tapenade is particularly fresh tasting, with exploding bursts of caper, garlic, olive oil and kalamata olives. The artichoke bruschetta (with tomatoes, basil and lemon) is also extraordinary, yet another example of the fine details of food preparation mirroring the fine details of the décor.

A friend of mine always orders the grilled mahi mahi. She is one of those diners who finds a particular dish that is perfect for her palate, and keeps continuity in her ordering at specific restaurants. The other day we dined at Watermark, and she was looking forward to her customary fish. Alas, no mahi mahi that night; it was substituted with some very fresh local halibut. The preparation was the same, though (lightly grilled, drizzled with a coconut curry sauce, served over mango sticky rice and accompanied by the daily fresh vegetables). I found the fish substitution exceptional, the sturdiness of the halibut being a great change from the more subtle mahi mahi. My companion preferred the mahi mahi, but the mango sweetness with the full-bodied taste of the halibut, to me, was a perfect match. I often opt for the signature artichoke ravioli: tender pasta sheets stuffed with artichoke, garlic and muenster cheese, topped with a black-truffle butter sauce.

However, I had another delight waiting for me, which I will save for the last part of this review.

On several occasions at Watermark, I’ve opted for either the filet mignon or the New York steak. Both are grilled exactly as ordered (medium rare is perfect here). The filet is served with Parmesan risotto cakes and covered in a cracked pepper demiglace; the New York, dusted with Kona sea salt and served with red russet garlic mashed potatoes. When I am feeling carnivorous, though, my favorite dish is the herb-roasted rack of lamb, grilled to perfection and topped with a veal demiglace and a mint béarnaise and served with crispy rosemary potatoes. A truly five-star dish.

If you go to Watermark for Sunday brunch, wear loose clothing: you will overeat, and you will be amazed. Crab benedict is superb. Huevos rancheros with black beans are light and full of hearty flavor with the traditional style Jalisco posole that is spicy and oh so flavorful, But the star attraction for me is the stuffed French toast; fresh brioche bread stuffed with mascarpone and topped with mixed berry sauce and whipped cream, then smothered in a perfect maple syrup.

I haven’t even mentioned the spectacular wine list and the signature cocktails. There is just too much at this restaurant to review in one small article. And I have saved my favorite item for last. Last week I was hoping a Watermark signature dish had stayed as good as I remembered it from many months ago. To my palate, the most divine item on the menu is the lobster pot pie. Chunks and chunks and chunks of Maine lobster and seasonal vegetables, large pieces of Portobello mushrooms, covered by a flaky, buttery puff pastry crust seasoned with parsley and black truffle brandy sauce, and baked in a clay pot. To me, this is a perfect dish. And it has gotten better, although I did not think that was possible.

Watermark is not too inexpensive. Appetizers and shared plates range from $12 to $18, soups and salads $8-10. Most entrees are between $24 and $39, and the lobster pot pie is $45 (and large enough to share with several others). However, pricey though it may seem, it is worth every penny. And if you just want to watch the sunset over the ocean with the unbelievable view from the terrace on the roof, enjoy. Many, many, many do, and all seem very happy to be there. I know I am, and I can’t wait to go back.