Waterfront Seafood Market

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by Nana

I wish that i could give Waterfront two scores - one for service and one for the food. The seafood at Waterfront has always been the best in Des Moines - both in the market and the restaurant. The service however is unfortunately horrible. I was once a loyal patron but will never return after the service I received from Shawn Hanke, son of Ted the owner and the main man at the seafood counter. At 11 AM this morning, I walked in and asked for 1 lb of sushi grade salmon (as I have been doing for the past 5 years) and he said that there was someone in the back cutting it up and that it would be a minute. After 15 minutes I politely asked how much longer it would be and he said "he's back there cutting it up right now - do you want to watch him do it? You can come back here and do it yourself it you think you could do it faster." You know what Mr. Hanke - if that's the way you're going to treat your customers I'd rather not support your business and hope that others read this and will rethink their patronage. I walked out and will never return. And one more thing; as I was sitting there waiting for the salmon that never came, Shawn answered a phone call, said "Hello" and quickly handed the phone off to another employee saying - "Here - I can't understand her - she's some kind of Asian." Stay Classy Hanke's!

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by nathan

I'm not an expert by any means but the food served here is amazing. The gumbo is probably the best I've had at any place including coastal cities I've visited. The price is more than fair considering where we are located and how fresh it is. I'd recommend this place to any sushi lover. The only reason for the half star missing is the ambiance. There is work to be done in that department.

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by Cozi

Sushi! This is the place to go!

Boudin Sourdough Bread! I love this bread - best place to get my fix without ordering from San Francisco.

Clam Chowder - thick, creamy and full of clams. Great.

Regarding the rest of of the experience.....we have visited this restaurant 6 times in the past 7 months. Each and every time we have had bad service. Mostly consisting of long waits to get our order taken, long waits for the appetizer, another long wait for the salad...etc.... Not sure where or what the hold up is - but ticket timing needs to be improved upon.

Our empty water glasses sat at the edge of the table for over 15 minutes, our wine came after the appetizer, the server never checked back after our entrees arrived, nor did she pre-bus the appetizer plates, etc... so we were sitting with a table full of dirty plates in between us and juggling where to put our wine glasses, etc..

The first 3 visits we ordered off of the menu.

One visit was lunch and everyone in our party either had a lunch special - excellent fried fish/fry basket - or a bowl of chowder. Good experience except for lack of service.

The second visit we were there for dinner. The bbq shrimp appetizer was not hot, our salad was okay -nothing memorable. The entree was hot, but the fish was greasy and wet.
We tried dinner here again, ordered a different entree and had pretty much the same experience with the server and the timing of our courses. For example our salads were served just as our appetizer arrived at the table. I hate that. Again, our fish dinners were not that great.

From then on - we have dined there just for their sushi and have left feeling pleased (except for the service). In fact to save our frustration - we have decided not to dine in anymore and just order take out. It works. We get the sushi and do not have to deal with the staff.

The place is busy - it is one of those places in Des Moines that is filled with loyal customers - mostly older people.

They are building a new place in Ankeny - I think they will find it's a whole new customer base. We will see if they rest on the reputation they have in West Des Moines or will provide an experience that is worth going back for in Ankeny.

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by A and D

The Waterfront Restaurant
December 21, 2007

A and D regularly visit The Waterfront. Prior reviews on DesMoinesAlive cover the excellent sushi and their seafood dishes. In checking just five years of annual credit card history, A and D have visited the restaurant or purchased fresh seafood and sushi a total of 153 times, roughly 2.5 visits a month. With the average meal and drinks purchase of about $38 and a gratuity of about $8.00, for a per visit average of $46.00 and 1.5 visits a month, the five year restaurant dining spend is $4,140.00. The restaurant receives $3,420 and the wait staff receives $720. The fresh seafood market and sushi bar receives an average of $35 one-time a month, or a five-year total of $2,100. The total spent with The Waterfront is $6,240 over the five years, or an average of $1,248 a year. "A" is a professional chef, recipe developer and cookbook author who buys a lot of seafood from The Waterfront, often spending another $50-$75 a month that is not included in these totals; that could be another $3,600 over five years.

Ted Hanke, the owner, is a smart, solid restaurateur and has built a successful restaurant business and is building a new expansion venue in Ankeny. Ted has to decide whether that five-year customer total of $6,240 is worthwhile, historically as well as in the future. Customer retention is what drives the restaurant business. It is people who spend money in your store.

On this visit, arrogance and customer disdain have reared their ugly head. Both A and D ordered drinks and dinner. D ordered Walleye Pike, pan fried at $16.00. The dinner comes with two sides, either vegetables or a salad and one other, usually a potato. D asked for just vegetables and the salad. The server said that would be an extra $1.50. D could have a salad or vegetables and a potato, but if D wanted a salad and a vegetable (but no potato) it would be an extra $1.50. D protested, saying that was ludicrous.

At this point, any half-experienced server would say, "No problem" and go for the tip. Not this one. The manager was brought to the table. "It is an extra $1.50." D informed the manager that this was the way a good customer is lost. "Tell Ted." was the solution. Clearly, the 'manager' has zero authority or common sense. How this decision could go from a server to the supposed 'manager' and not have the problem solved to the customer's satisfaction boggles the mind. Look at the comparable economics:

A similar dish at Urbandale Grill (Orange Roughy, $15) comes with a large house salad. Two sides are included. Vegetables come with the dish, so two other sides are offered. D asked for a salad and vegetables (as was asked at The Waterfront) and the server responded, "Would you like double vegetables since they come with the fish?" The side dishes are also sold a la carte for $2.50 for vegetables and $2.50 for baked potato. D could have had vegetables and a baked potato and a salad for $15 at Urbandale Grill. At The Waterfront, the management refused to satisfy a customer at no economic expense to the restaurant.

The result: A and D paid for their drinks and left The Waterfront and went to Urbandale Grill. Actually, the salad at Urbandale Grill is fair superior to that at The Waterfront and the Orange Roughy dinner is superb. The servers are genuinely happy to see you and the management asks if they can do anything for you to make you happy.

But, back to The Waterfront.

Ted, you have reached that place in your restaurant's history where you have taken your focus off your customer. You are turning into a "formula" that fits only you; the message from your staff and from you is "it's your way or the highway." Don't be surprised if your long-time, loyal customers abandon you for an accommodating new restaurant. Most of your loyal customers will be dying off pretty soon anyway. You and your staff made a choice tonight: You chose to ignore a $1,248 a year customer. You chose to ignore future restaurant, fresh seafood and sushi business. Lose a customer at either place and you lose them at all three. Lose 25 similar customers because of your dumb "rules" that have no meaningful economic basis and you lose $31,200 a year; over five years that is $156,000.

All for a simple substitution - an economic exchange - of lettuce or vegetables that would have retained the customers.

You decide, Ted. A and D have decided. With their wallet. There are new places in Des Moines.

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by nevesis

The only decent seafood on the west side.

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by Bulldog

I grew up near Baltimore, so seafood is very important to me. Simply put: The Waterfront is equal to any (and better than a lot) of the fish places on the East Coast. I go there at least once a month and try something different each time. Have yet to be disappointed -- great ingredients, cooked correctly. The sushi is also excellent; maybe not as showy as some, it always has been fresh and tasty. I almost docked 1/2 a star due to the less-than-comfy waiting area. They know how busy they get, so there should be more seating while waiting. But that's no big deal ... and it's worth the wait!

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by A and D

April 24, 2007

A and D visit the Waterfront often. A enjoys fresh shrimp in almost any dish; D is a sushi lover. Most often, we go for dinner, but this time it was lunch. Even though it was Tuesday, the lunch crowd was as large as that in the evenings. The restaurant was packed; the sushi bar was filled; even the bar was filled. As usual, people were waiting at the door for tables.

The first thing that you realize, if you take the time to observe, is that the restaurant is clean. It has been maintained well over the years and remains bright, pleasant and in good repair. The equipment is shiny, the carpet clean, and furnishings spotless. That and the always present crowd of diners are the hallmarks of a good restaurant and a good business.

The bar is as much a part of the dining experience as the restaurant. The bar tenders are experienced, long-time employees and are as much wait staff as bar staff. They are excellent mixologists and also excellent servers. Eating at the bar is not only normal, it is encouraged and most of those in the bar are also having lunch or dinner. It is often the fastest way to have dinner in the evening, as waits for tables can be over an hour.

Some say an older customer base is an indication of a ‘blue hair’ restaurant. While there are older customers, there are also an equal number of middle age and younger customers. This place is popular not because of age, but because of overall quality of seafood, service and reasonable pricing. It is consistent and has been for years.

The wait staff are all pros. Most have been with the restaurant for years; even the newer staff are well-trained and seldom make errors. They hustle and make sure everything comes together, particularly if there are mixed seafood and sushi orders, which come from separate preparation areas.

Perhaps the chief reason for great quality at Waterfront is the adjoining fresh seafood market. Shipments arrive daily, sometimes several times a day and you are assured of the freshest possible seafood. The variety of seafood available is also excellent, certainly the most choices available in Des Moines.

The kitchen turns out solid dishes with weekly Special Nights for selected fish and seafood specials. Every so often, Waterfront has a frog legs night and serve the biggest, plumpest, most succulent frog legs D has ever had anywhere. Other special nights include lobsters, oysters, crab, and a variety of fish nights.

At Waterfront, the fresh fish and seafood is the centerpiece of the dining experience; side dishes are simple: french fries (really great), cole slaw, a mixed vegetable dish nightly, etc. Fish is grilled, baked, broiled or fried. All dishes are prepared well and portions are perfectly sized and fair for the prices which are moderate. The peel and eat steamed shrimp, A's favorite, are a perfect appetizer or, in the one-pound bucket, a satisfying entrée.

Ah, the sushi. For D, there is no better sushi prepared and served in Des Moines. The salads include an incredible seaweed salad at $4.95 that is ethereal; the octopus salad is a taste delight and the spicy octopus salad is out of this world . . . and spicy.

The 4-piece dishes of sashimi are fresh, fresh, fresh and good, particularly the tuna which is deep red, smells of salt water and melts in the mouth. The octopus and yellowtail sashimi is equally good. Prices are right at $6.25-$7.25.

The nigiri sushi selection includes tuna, yellowtail, salmon, scallop, squid, eel, mackerel, crab and shrimp. All are delightful and miniature works of art and fill the mouth with the tastes of freshness and the sea.

Where D feels the sushi chefs shine is in the large selection of sushi rolls. The fried soft shell crab, the Spider Roll, is an exquisite sculpture on the plate and absolutely delicious, perfectly prepared and styled. The California Roll, Waterfront Roll, King Crab Roll, or any of the Futomaki are all superb. All of the rolls come as 6 or 8 pieces and prices range from $3.95 to $14.95 with most at the $6.95 to $7.95 price point.

For those who love caviar and roe, try the Battleship Nigiri dishes, such as Flying Fish Roe, Salmon Roe, Smelt Roe, or the elegant Negi Hamachi with scallions and yellowtail roe.

The sushi chefs are experienced and very talented. The rice is perfection; not too sticky; not too sweet; just right. It holds together perfectly for dipping in soy and the rolls have just the right ‘compression’ to assure easy eating with the ohashi (chopsticks) or with the fingers. With a bottle of Kirin beer, life is never better than when eating Waterfront sushi.

This restaurant is clearly a gold mine for the owner. And it should be because it is well run, has excellent staff, serves top quality product, and understands what its customers want. Plus, the sushi stands up to any D has eaten in Japan. Des Moines has a treasure in Waterfront Seafood Market; not just fresh seafood to purchase, but great seafood dining.

Food: 4.5 stars
Sushi: 5 stars
Service: 4.5 stars
Ambiance: 4.5 stars
Bar: 5 stars
Overall: 5 stars
Recommended: Absolutely!

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by MG

Great sushi option. Couple of weeks ago sat at the sushi bar and was very pleased by the food and the service. The sushi menu is probably not as long as some other places, but it appears that everything that is on that menu is very well done. The fish quality was excellent. The rolls were simple, wider and thinner cut than I am used to, but quite tasty. Sashimi was had great flavor and texture. The service was very friendly and prompt. I can't remember the last time I was at the sushi bar talking to the chef(s). It was a great experience and I will be happy to go there again.

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by AmandaLynn0220

My favorite restaurant, period. The clam chowder is perfect and so are the captain crunch sushi rolls. The staff is great (especially at the fish counter) and the food is ALWAYS wonderful. I don't know how anyone could have a foul word to say about this place.....

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by roger evans

Waterfront has the best seafood in town. Since it is part fish market, the fish is always fresh and it is exellently prepared. It is certainly not a fancy place. The service is good and the seafood gumbo is great. I eat lunch here often and always get gumbo to start my meal. I come only for the fresh seafood as that is what they do and they do it well. And it is a very good value.

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by jess

The negative: the side choices are terrible, and the "ambience" is nothing special. However, the seafood and fish are wonderful. The specials are usually awesome, and tasty sushi. Fish is always beautifully cooked. Love the crab cakes too. Nice drinks at the bar, the jumbo shrimp in the bloody mary is a nice touch. I dearly wish they would make some upgrades to the interior, I don't think there's anything wrong with being casual, it just doesn't have to feel like a strip mall. And side options besides french fries, boring baked potato and rice out of a box would be huge!

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by Sparky

The clients tell is definately more "experienced" in age. We sat in the bar. The ambiance is nothing to write home about and I probably won't go back again. The Crab Cakes are exceptional while the sushi tasted like it had been made that morning. It was less than stellar and I don't reccommend it to anyone. I would maybe stick to the entree's and go to Taki for sushi. The waitstaff could have cared less if we were there and I don't know if they get their water out of a fish pond but GROSS...I know it's WDSM but this was worse than ever.
I'm glad this restaurant has their regulars, b/c I will never be one....I'm guessing the 10% senior discount drives their clientele.

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by Heidi

This rating is for the sushi only, I have yet to try anything off Waterfront's regular menu.

I am surprised that there isn't a great place for sushi in this town. Iowa City has three excellent sushi restaurants (Sushi Popo, Takanami, and the restaurant located in the newly finished hotel vitro).

The Waterfront boats the best sushi in Des Moines, not quite on par with what you can get in Miami or even Iowa City, but the fish is very fresh and the chef gets the texture of the rice just right.

I wouldn't call the atmosphere at Waterfront romantic or upscale, but what it lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in quality. If you're a sushi lover, it's the best this city has to offer.

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by Jimbo

Once you get past the host stand the Waterfront delivers good service & great food at a decent price.

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by Former Iowan

Excellent seafood. Always fresh. A casual place to dine -- although the wait can be long. The quality of seafood is probably the best around. Wednesday night specials are usually excellent. (Not in price, but in quality of seafood.)

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by Lady Sehkmet

I had my first sushi here and have been back often ever since (sushi is now my favorite food-which should say something for the quality of the sushi). I have had sushi in many different places since then (San Fransico, New Orleans, and Denver) and the Waterfront does hold up well in comparison. The rest of the menu is very good too, although the deserts are somewhat ordinary-which is one reason I docked it a little.
The other reason is the last time we went to it on a Saturday afternoon (around 2 pm), we ordered sushi to go and waited an hour for it to be prepared. The sushi chef actually said that he wasn't a machine, so what could we expect-while he joked around with other customers more than he prepared the food. This lack of customer service put a great ding on my sparkely image of this restaurant.
The sushi is great, the seafood is great, the deserts so-so, and the service hit and miss. But definately try the sushi!

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by Tom Brazelton

My family has been coming here for lunch almost every Saturday for as long as I can remember.

Lunch is really the best time to go. Dinner prices are unusually higher.

Friendly and extremely compitent servers. I like a place where you recognize your wait staff and they recognize you. After I got married, it became a place my wife and I would meet my parents and catch up. If we ever went by ourselves, the hostess would recognize us and let us know if my parents were there or not. Little things like that.

Crowd skews a little geriatric, but it's not a big deal. Just something you notice.

Some of the best seafood in town. I can't think if a single dish on the menu that fails.

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by Shane

Been there two times, and I doubt I will go again. For the price you pay, I would like to see a lot more interesting atmosphere. Also, the wait has always been over an hour, and there is no place to hang out. I did not have any problem with the food or service. They also have a sushi bar. The fact that they are always busy says more than my medocre 3 star rating. The bill for two has been in the $60 range. If you have a waitress friend, tell them to get a job at waterfront. I don't see how it could be any different than any other restaurant except that the tips have to be much higher due to big bills, plus they are always busy and have casual dress.

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Tips for Waterfront Seafood Market from foursquare users

Andrew C.

For a great, economical option for lunch, order a simple bowl of Clam Chowder. So hearty... So warm and tasty on a cold day...

3 people have done this

Tom B.

Rock shrimp basket is the best!

2 people have done this and 1 other wants to

Megan P.

Just finished lunch where a waitress called a patron "white trash" when said patron complained that they were sitting in their booth for 20 min without said waitress stopping by to take their order!

1 person has done this and 1 other wants to

Bridgette B.

Amazing, amazing sushi. Love the Chuck Norris and tuna tempura rolls. Super friendly people, too.

1 person has done this

DSM:SushiBomb w.

Can't get enough Waterfront sushi? Check them out at the DSM: SUSHIBOMB

1 person has done this

Tai B.

Amazing clam chowder

1 person has done this

Luc B.

The oysters are awesome and 1/2 on saturday lunch menu. The sushi is really good these days!

1 person has done this

Alexandrea C.

If you have never tried a soft shell crab it is quite an experience. I suggest you go for it!!!

1 person has done this

Michael S.

Shrimp Po'Boy was good, but from what I hear everything is

1 person has done this