In an era when restaurants are getting cozier and street food is the emerging city-wide trend (read: the economy took a hit), waterbar is a bit out of place.
Let's not kid ourselves here - much like any other restaurant on the Embarcadero, when you come here you're paying for the atmosphere. Kuleto's vision was grand indeed and deserves 4 stars, so, if you don't care much about how the food tastes and prefer to be surrounded by white tablecloths, glitzy railings, and aquariums, then this is the place for you. This place screams power lunch, and if setting the right mood and landing the deal was more important to me than how the food tastes, then this would be a solid choice. However, as we all know, my bottom line is the food, which is 2 stars tops.
That said, all of the oysters I tried were delicious. My fresh oysters were, well, perfectly fresh, and the baked oysters (truffled leek, and spinach & bacon) were creamy and flavorful. I think had we stuck to oysters ($1 oyster happy hour? heck yeah!), or a seafood platter where the quality of the food is really only dependent on the freshness and quality of the fish itself (read: no real prowess in the kitchen is required), lunch would've been solid. Unfortunately, we went beyond raw seafood.
The gnocchi was uninspired. There was nothing particularly bad or good about it, so there isn't much for me to say. The grilled calamari was all sorts of wrong - tough, under-seasoned, unnecessary. And, while I can't comment on all of the dishes my colleagues had, they were all relatively unimpressed.
The lobster roll was disappointing at best (although, having eaten the famous lobster roll from Pearl Oyster Bar in NYC, my standards are set high). They tried to reinvent it by putting it on brioche bread instead of the classic roll, and while I appreciate the idea, it's too bad they forgot the rest of the recipe - you're supposed to make a lobster salad and put that in a roll, not cook 1/4 c. of lobster, put it on some dry bread, and call it a day. My colleague said it best, "It's lobster, and I'm not inclined to finish it."
Finally, the warm chocolate pudding cake with mint ice cream was dry, and frankly, is on the menu and done better at many other restaurants in the city.
And the service did not help this place out at all. We came towards the end of the lunch rush, so there was no reason for why our water should've been so scattered. And honestly, if it's crowded and you're not as attentive as you should be, okay, I get it, it's hard. But when you're at the table, at least give me the time of day - don't bolt before making sure everyone's questions have been answered and orders placed.
Come wearing a suit, come to impress a client, come for the atmosphere, come for drinks and oysters. Just don't come for the rest of the menu.
399 The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94105