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Water Street Seafood Company claims to serve the best seafood in the area. But I developed grave doubts about this bold assertion after I was served my first Water Street Bloody Mary. Not that the drink was bad. On the contrary, it was among the best Bloody Marys I've had in quite a while. It had a rich tomato taste and a good spice kick, and it wasn't tortured by an overzealous application of Worcestershire sauce.

It was the accessories that had me perplexed. Not only did this bright red drink hold a long stalk of celery, it had a cocktail pick piercing a single shrimp with, of all things, a maraschino cherry.

Now my palate may have undergone irreversible damage over the years from various forms of culinary abuse. But for the life of me, I fail to see where workable complementary or contrasting flavors exist between a maraschino cherry and a Bloody Mary, let alone a peel-and-eat shrimp. I admit, however, that I could be blind to the potent harmonizing forces inherent in a good splash of vodka. In days when I used to sample these cherries from glasses of spent highballs the morning after my parents hosted a party, I thought these loudly colored fruits were fabricated by the same people who made Pez candy.

Fortunately, this is the only recipe on the Water Street menu that seems to call for little red cocktail bombs. The rest is standard corporate (this Corpus Christi-based firm has nine locations, all in Texas) water fare. Not that a fair bit of it isn't good. The gulf oysters were fresh and supple. But one order was void of rich sea flavor, while another was swimming in fresh taste. Not that this is much of a complaint. The things are so cheap ($3.25 for a half-dozen), it's no big deal to play hit-and-miss with flavors.

The fried calamari, however, was a complete non-starter starter. With a bland, doughy deep-fried coating, these bits of squid had pepper heat but little else. A red horseradish dip made from sour cream, red bell pepper, and cayenne did little to rescue this plate of tentacled eats.

Caldo Xochitl, a Mexican chicken soup, proved a heartily spectacular starter, however. With rice, tomato, carrot, celery, onion, avocado, garbanzo beans, and shredded and chunked chicken, topped with pico de gallo, this lushly rich soup had a clean Southwestern flavor deftly polished with fresh basil and cilantro.

Water Street's fish selections carry through with clean, fresh flavors. Mesquite grilled mahi-mahi was flaky, moist, and supple, with a refreshing mild taste left to fend for itself because of a sparse preparation that allowed the sea flavors to peek through. In addition to mesquite grilling, Water Street's fish can be ordered sauteed, blackened, broiled, or fried.

Crawfish-stuffed chicken, however, sank under the weight of its own recipe. Stuffed with pepper jack cheese, a blend of peppers, fresh basil, bacon, and crawfish tails, this juicy, tender breast of chicken topped with a heavy cream cilantro sauce laced with pecans was irreparably muddled by the roster of rich flavors competing for palate space. This collection of tastes and textures didn't necessarily clash; it just didn't meld. It's one of those preparations that could benefit from a rule applicable to almost any creative endeavor: "when in doubt, white out."

Other than the fresh fish, the best item tried was Water Street's shrimp enchilada--a red corn tortilla filled with Monterey Jack and pepper Jack cheeses and topped with diced tomato, black olive, red onion, scallions, white onion, and a cumin-infused green chili "special sauce." This Mexican specialty was loaded with sweet shrimp and full, savory flavors brandishing a sound pepper kick. But a side of penne pasta was pasted with a pepper cream sauce that deadened the palate with a filmy viscosity.

The shrimp sandwich was another droll number. A tall scoop of shrimp, bound with a lemon mustard cream sauce, was plopped on a thin onion roll. Nothing cut through; every bite was a watery wonder.

Water Street's decor is an odd combination of cool colors, industrial touches, and plastic sea things done in terrifying casino hues. Anchored by a terra cotta concrete floor, the dining areas are divided by mauve cinder block walls holding frosted glass murals with fish silhouettes. Plastic replicas of salmon, tuna, and other fish dangle in spaces created by the brickwork. From the black ceiling with exposed insulation and steel beams hang these aqua fish with red and yellow swirling stripes and flowing fins. Bright bottom fish cling to the salmon colored acoustical tile bar ceiling like psychedelic slugs.

This Lewisville location is the second Water Street in the metroplex (Fort Worth opened in 1991), and the third in the chain--owned by San Antonio native Brad Loam--to open in partnership with Luby's Cafeterias after the companies merged in 1996. An Austin location opened just this week.

Water Street won't knock your sea socks off. But if you take it for what it is--a casual place to get a fresh, often tasty plate of food--you'll be in for more than a few pleasant surprises, maraschino cherries excepted.

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