Water Works. Really.

Tonight, my sexier half and delightful dinner companion joined me for a meal at Water Works. Yes, that Water Works.

I was fully prepared to dislike it. Our normal pattern is he picks something, I agree to it thinking “I won’t hate this, but I won’t love it.”, then I walk out raving. (For example, I saw The Heart Of The Game at Ritz Five to cheer him up; I ended up on the edge of my seat, cheering and gasping. It was a great movie.) Another typical night.

First off, the architecture and history are great. Our server was well-versed in the history of the building, and part of the intro to your meal is- in theory- a history of the room you are dining in as well as a short bit about the building as a whole. It was short and sweet with little bursts of information so we weren’t left thinking “Shut up, shut up, shut up and get to the food.”

The entire restaurant is beautiful. A lot of the original architecture (including arches and windows and columns) was preserved and integrated into the design of the room. This is a bit of a downside if you are soft-spoken and like a quiet room because the room is loud. The wooden floors and high, smooth walls almost echo with conversation and bustle. The kitchen isn’t open, but there was an open doorway so we could watch some of the back of house hustle.

Everything in and about Water Works bustled; it reminded me of the falls (which is JUST outside the restaurant!) without overwhelming. The staff wasn’t moving in an intense or obtrusive way; I got the “People are getting food! We’re fulfilling requests! This is good, happy movement!” vibe rather than the “Eat as fast as you can and clear out so I can seat another table and get more money”. The servers were also intimate, which seems strange but wasn’t. Our server leaned in to speak to us instead of standing over or squatting down; she stood slightly over our shoulders and touched the back of the chair as she leaned in. It didn’t violate my personal space, yet it still felt intimate. And I often needed her to be closer as she spoke because of the natural volume of the room.

The food was amazing. I can’t describe it beyond that. Cory and I are both large folks who can really pack it in…and we thought the portions were just right. Another plus on the food side that I never really thought about was the pacing. Yes, Water Works does some slow-food style cooking (another slow-food restaurant in Philadelphia is FARMiCiA); but they also pace their meal in such a way that each course is enjoyed and conversation is encouraged with a pause for digestion and change in between. I enjoyed that pacing because we had a lot of food (two appetizer courses, soup/salad course, entreé, dessert) so letting things settle a bit was nice.

The food itself is rather unique for this city because there aren’t many Greek or Greek-inspired fine dining locals. (Yes, there is Estia and there are lots of little gyro places in Reading Terminal Market and on South Street, but those aren’t fine dining. Well, Estia is…but it’s only one restaurant.) The owners of Water Works are Greek, and the chef is Latino so the food is heavily Greek inspired (mostly with the use of good olives, lots of fish, fantastic olive oil touches, and a judicious use of amazing feta) with a Latin spin. That alone was enough to get me to try things I normally would hesitate in ordering, mostly due to quality concerns. “Is this feta going to be too salty or too over-the-top?” never entered my head.

So my complaints. There are only two. One is that my Manhattan wasn’t strong enough, which doesn’t bother me too much because I didn’t order it extra dry. Oops. The other issue was the kitchen was out of their market fish of the day (red snapper) so I ended up with salmon. But damn how I wanted that red snapper!

Aside from that, I don’t regret the chunk of change I spent there tonight. It was a fantastic choice and really celebrates all that is Philadelphia. Put this one on your list for romantic dates or fancy nights out, keeping in mind that reservations are a good idea here. It was packed tonight at 7.30p so I was glad for our reservations.

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