Jenks has a new mid to high-end southwest themed restaurant call The Waterfront Grill, located next to the Oklahoma Aquarium on the opposite side from the more famous Jenks Riverwalk. Saturday March 5th, my wife and I enjoyed a complementary sneak preview of the newly established venue.
Arriving at the restaurant, diners are greeted by a pleasant and friendly hostess staff. Upon entering the dining room you will notice an open kitchen and a bright welcoming atmosphere. Copper accents, statuettes, hardwood floors, and leather-clad booths are just some of the decorative touches that add to the overall modern meets west ambiance.
The Dining Room was arranged with most of the area emphasizing the bar and patio. Music played from an overhead system gave a club, or hip feel at a volume that was not completely distracting, but could have been quieter. Overall the impression given was a singles, or date-night out experience that while not un-friendly to families with teenage children; it would be too distracting for younger kids.
My wife and I were seated quickly but gracefully in a booth that was well cleaned, neatly arranged and decorated with a small personal lamp, silver covered sugar tray and dark thick hardwood table that would be romantic in almost any lighting. The tables were promptly bussed after patrons left, however he floors around the bar area were black, which caused debris around the bar stand out and call for more sweeping.
The hostess asked if we had any questions and courteously explained that the preview’s purpose was to test the staff to help them work out any bugs or mistakes. She then provided us an abbreviated menu of appetizers, soups and salads, and entrées.
Shortly after being seated we were greeted by our server Richard who was friendly, smiling and put us at ease instantly. He stated he was from a missionary family who lived most of his childhood in France, is fluent in French, Spanish, as well as English only without a heavy or noticeable accent. Richard made suggestions for our order once we told him what we were looking for. During the entire service he was astute, polite, and eager to serve. The only minor criticisms I have are that he was not as knowledgeable about the appetizers or the non-wine alcohols that were available. However, in his defense, when we questioned about the calamari he was swift to get the Executive Chef Noah Miller.
The calamari is shipped flash-frozen, let to sit in buttermilk and then battered and fried. Plating was organized and colorful, although lacking in originality and missing silverware for the side sauces. Coming in two components, tentacles and rings, the overall taste was bland and obviously not fresh. Because the batter was almost flavorless, the dish relied heavily on the marinara and lemon aioli sauce. The lemon aioli sauce was light and tangy and came with a small lemon half in cheesecloth to filter the seeds from the juice. The marinara sauce was again bland and most reminiscent of tomato puree, rather than a freshly made marinara that the menu described. The rings were tender and not chewy while the tentacles were hard, rubbery, and burnt at the ends, which almost flew off the plate when I cut the base off to try to eat them. Overall, the calamari needs a lot of work to be mid-range appetizer of an upscale modern venue instead of over breaded pub fare.
Main course menu selections were also limited and did not include any of the Hickory Wood Grilled Steaks, flatbread pizzas, or anything that needed to be grilled which I found to be strange since the name of the restaurant includes with word grill. Given the choices available, my wife chose the most expensive and only sushi offering The Firecracker Roll. I on the other hand chose the Penne with Sausage listed as a “Waterfront Classic”.
The Firecracker Roll is spicy tuna, and avocado with wasabi and habanero sauce. The presentation is on a plate where the roll is wrapped in a foil pocket that is lit on fire to warm the eel sauce as it comes out. Unfortunately, the fire went out as it came out of the kitchen and since the wait staff did not have a means of relighting it, we received what looked like a sushi roll wrapped in foil and the entire effect was lost. The Firecracker Roll was crisp, and brightly colored. Aside from the fire effect, the rest of the plating was complete and thorough, including a clean-cut from each piece and a sauce that did not cause the rice to clump and stick the pieces together. Both my wife and I were more than impressed with the taste of the roll. Smoky, sweet, smooth, and crunchy the rolls flavors were a complement to the tuna in the center of the roll, which was perfectly cut while the tuna on top of the roll was sweet and tender. Also, the avocado was creamy and perfectly ripe without being over ripe and slimy or under ripe and hard. As a rule, habaneros can tend to overwhelm the delicate taste of sushi, and are not among my favorite ingredients for the dish; in this roll, that is certainly not the case. The Firecracker Roll has great taste and even though it is not the most expensive roll, it is certainly worth the cost.
My main entrée was the Penne with Sausage. Richard explained the sausage was a brand called Syracuse Sausage. Again, the plating was acceptable, while a little out of place for the rest of the décor. Bright and fresh looking the dish was inviting and aromatic. I ordered the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on the side, as I am lactose intolerant, so that my wife could taste the dish as the Chef originally intended; however it was late and Richard had to get it from the kitchen. The sausage was juicy and savory with perfect amount of pop from the casing and tenderness from the meat. Sweet, and salty, and spicy all collided together to form a taste I haven’t had since my Grandfather’s; who grew up on the streets of New York and learned good sausage from his Sicilian neighbors. I was immediately transported back to when I would go over for a visit and he would make us sausages and pasta. While as thrilling as the sausage was, the penne was just the opposite. Over cooked, mushy, and bland; the pasta was not helped out by the still poor taste of the marinara sauce; which was the same from the calamari. As a result, I finished all the sausage, and left almost all the penne. Before I devoured the last piece of sausage, I had my wife taste the penne with the cheese and she agreed that it did not help the overall flavor because the sauce was simply unimpressive.
After the entrées; we asked to see a desert menu, however, because they were previewing and not fully open, Richard informed us they would not be ready until Monday. He did inform us that on Monday one of the choices would be cheesecake flown in from New York. As a young an inexperienced waiter, I could see how that would seem like a good thing; although it is not. Before developing LI, I can tell you my love of cheesecake was so complete that I married a woman who can bake over 12 varieties of it. A frozen, flown-in, pre-prepared cheesecake will never be as good as a locally made one even if it comes from a city that my entire family grew up in. I would suggest with all the bakeries in town that the Waterfront focus less on being hip and east-coast and more on being fresh; which would mean getting a local supplier.
When our meals finished and our drinks completed, we decided to visit the facilities. This is where the Waterfront scored the lowest on my assessment. The bathrooms were very well decorated, and modern but lacked in sanitation and comfort. The men’s urinal is a non-flushing urinal with no spout for water flow. I know because I asked a member of the bus staff after walking to and away from the urinal several times to see if it was a “hidden water” flow. He said he didn’t understand why, but that it was a non-flushing unit. A waterless unit may be a cool thing on the coast, but to me it seemed unclean; especially since there was wet in front and around the unit; which if it has no water could only be one thing. As for the ladies room, the doors on the stalls are slatted; which allows the occupant to see out and causes a less than private place for a private activity. Secondly, there was no full-length mirror for making sure your date sees you as you want. Both restrooms were equipped with little or no towels and instead had a Dyson Hand-Blade air drying system, in which the air blows up and I felt the moisture from my hands on my face to my horror. Once again, overly hip, overly stylized choices made for poor performance and said that this was not a place for the over twenty-five crowd who actually washes hands and checks make-up.
The Waterfront Grill sneak preview showed a restaurant with lots of potential. Jenks newest venture is pleasant to look at, with comfortable seating, good; while not great, food, and a promising future. Most of the issues can be solved with minor tweaks here and there. I look forward to trying out the restaurant in the future after a couple of months to see if any improvements have been made. All in all I would give a score of 3 out of 4 with one caveat; Executive Chef Noah Miller who agreed with me that the calamari should be tempura, and the sauce could be better; should get more support from the ownership to do what needs to be done as he seems skilled and friendly, but held back by a vision of the management that while new and fresh, lacks in practical real-world application.
The Waterfront Grill
120 Aquarium Dr.
Jim Blacketer Sr.
Jim (“Jimmy”) Balcketer Jr.
Executive Chef: Noah Miller
Scores (out of 4 possible):
Dining Room/Patio: 3.75
Firecracker Roll: 3
Penne with Sausage: 3.25
Review and food photos by Aaron Sheppard