"You can't beat the view, but you can eat far more seriously elsewhere."
The Water Club
East River at 30th Street, New York NY 10016 (map); 212-683-3333; thewaterclub.com
Service: Classic old school waitering
Setting: A wonderful view of the East River
Compare to: Oyster Bar in Grand Central
Cost: "Famous" lobster lunch, $32
"I haven't been to The Water Club in years," exclaimed my cabbie when I told him where I was heading. I don't think he meant as a customer—I think he meant that he hasn't had to drive a fare there in years. The American seafood restaurant located on a barge on the East River has certainly attained venerable status in the pantheon of the city's restaurants, but it doesn't seem to garner much attention from serious eaters these days. I ventured to the edge of the island to try their "famous" lobster lunch recently to see how it stacks up against the other lunch deals out there.
A barge with a view.
The lobster bisque, poured table-side, comes in a huge, steaming portion. It laps up to the very edge of the bowl like the East River at high tide; generously stocked with hunks of lobster, it has a pleasing if mild flavor. The stock is a tad watery; I would gladly settled for less thicker soup and a stronger concentration of flavors.
The 1 1/4 lb lobster is offered either broiled or steamed, and the waiters will effortlessly harvest the meat for you if you desire. The lobster is served simply with half a lemon and a warmed lemon butter—a viscous concoction that tastes little of either of its components. I far prefer a simple clarified butter.
The lobster itself was just fine, perhaps cooked a little more than ideal, but still within the realm of acceptability. It had a familiar, comforting flavor but for the price and quantity, I wonder if you would not be better off at a downtown seafood shack. It won't have the view or the service, but if lobster is what you are after, it will be more rewarding.
The lobster comes with a heaping bowl of mashed potatoes loaded with butter, scallions, and crushed black pepper. Eating the potatoes alone tastes suspiciously like prefab spuds; not so much when loaded with the toppings.
To pack in as many possible calories, go for the dense slab of chocolate cake served with a dollop of coffee cream and a halo of hazelnuts strewn with candied orange peel. It was probably great when it was fresh, but the one I sampled had a slightly stale character, as if it had been prepared ahead of time and sat in a walk-in.
The Water Club has seen better days. The kitchen seems to be on autopilot, or to be nautically correct, cruise control—which is to say it has a vague catering hall feel to it. The location and view are the principle draw. Culinarily speaking, The Water Club has been usurped at the high end by the likes of Marea and Le Bernardin and at the low end by all those wonderful downtown seafood shacks. You can't beat the view, but you can eat far more seriously elsewhere, for less money.