When is a mini-chain not a chain? When the just-opened edition — Bluewater Grill, in the lovingly restored lighthouse building on Cabrillo Boulevard — is helmed by a chef who’s pals with the region’s most renowned uni diver. That’s the case at Bluewater, where Chef Chanel Ducharme chums around with fishing superstar Stephanie Mutz. They met when Ducharme was chef at The Hungry Cat on Chapala Street, and the cook even occasionally helped the fisherwoman sell her Santa Barbara Channel catch. “I’m really passionate about sustainability,” explained Ducharme, “so what she does is awesome.”
That makes Ducharme a perfect match for the Bluewater way, as she opens the chain’s eighth restaurant. (The flagship is in Newport Beach; the furthest inland is Phoenix.) “The first word is ‘fresh,’ the second is ‘sustainable practice,’” said GM Colin Lohenry of the restaurant’s ethos. The company even owns Pilikia, a swordfish harpoon boat, which Lohenry says is better than longline fishing. And all that seafood can be dressed up a lot of ways, whether grilled or served up in seasonal specials like the current tastes of Louisiana, with gumbo and chipotle blackened redfish. “Anything I personally can get from the harbor, I will,” pledged Ducharme.
The work with regional purveyors carries over to produce, grape, and grain, too: romanesco from Jimenez Family Farm, potatoes from Weiser Family Farms, and brussels sprouts from Life’s a Choke. “But the biggest difference at this location is our wine selection,” Lohenry explained, “because Santa Barbara has so much to offer — and our draft list, too, with beer from Ventura to Paso Robles.” The bar is also working with nearby distillers, especially with Ian Cutler just around the Funk Zone corner.
Still, food and drink are just one part of how they hope to connect. “Only the management team came from other locations,” Lohenry said. “It’s all about bringing in local people from the community to work here who have that rapport.” On the ramp up to their official opening day on March 12, Bluewater held some friends-and-family nights, but that meant inviting neighboring business owners, concierges, and GMs from hotels. “We wanted them to know firsthand what our quality is so they can feel legitimate when they recommend us,” said Lohenry.
It’s hard not to recommend the stunning view, especially from the second floor that Bluewater added. Perch at the bar and gaze beach-ward, or sit on the small but inviting outdoor patio, an instant hotspot for Fourth of July fireworks. Or just relax during the happy hour they’re still fine-tuning; it currently runs Monday to Thursday, but there’s talk of adding Sunday.
Ducharme knows all about that critical balance in Santa Barbara. “We definitely want to attract those tourists, but I know you need the locals to sustain yourself,” said Ducharme. “We want to be a community-driven restaurant. We want the customers to know the servers.”
15 E. Cabrillo Blvd., (805) 845-5121, bluewatergrill.com/locations/santa-barbara