Once upon a time, when you went out to eat and asked for water, what you got was a glass of that clear liquid that comes running out of ordinary taps.
Not any more. Ask for water these days and the waiter is likely to recite a list that's longer than the daily specials. He will offer you water that comes from France, from Italy, from almost every spring and stream on the map. They sell the stuff with minerals; they sell it without salt. You can get water that sparkles plenty or the kind that just sits serenely in your glass. Beverly Hills has a water bar, and when you ask for the wine list in New York's hottest new restaurant, China Grill, they give you one for water as well.
But now there's a new tale in the water trade. Trend-setting Los Angeles restaurants are now putting their own labels on the table. Go to Citrus or Stanleys or Cha Cha Cha, ask for water and what you will be offered sports the same name as the restaurant. Designer water has hit Los Angeles.
And all of it comes from the same place--Continental Bottlers. "It's pretty much the same water," says Stanton Groman, who conceived the idea of private-label water about a year and a half ago, "although we can carbonate at different levels for different accounts. It's purified Los Angeles water, and it has the lowest salt content of any water you can get."
And that, it turns out, is a great part of its appeal. When asked why they were serving private-label water, many restaurateurs mentioned the fact that it was salt-free. Nicky Blair even explained that his water is much lower in salt than either Perrier or San Pellegrino (which the restaurant also serves).
Many popular waters are very high in sodium. According to "The Good Water Guide," which lists the contents of 150 of the world's best bottled waters, Vichy has 1,200 milligrams per liter, Ramlosa 240, Penafiel 160, Calistoga 150, Crystal Geyser 160 and San Pellegrino 46.5. But any water with less than 20 mg. of sodium per liter is considered suitable for a low-salt diet. And Perrier, at 14, falls into that category. So does Fiuggi, at 6. And Evian (a still water), with only .5 mg. of sodium per liter, is almost salt-free. Not quite as salt-free, however, as the sparkling new L.A. designer waters, which weigh in at a low .4.
But let's face it. We don't really need an excuse to be drinking water with fancy labels. We already march around conspicuously displaying our labels, with one man's name written on our shirts, another on our shorts and a third splashed across our sheets. Why order plain water when you can now go into a restaurant and simply say, "Pour me a Yank," or a Wave, or a Cha Cha Cha.
How much for that private-label bottle? According to Continental vice president Dugger Shore, all the restaurants pay about 35 cents per 10-ounce bottle for their water, which tastes plain and good the way water should. This is what it will cost you on the check:
Ambrosia (Costa Mesa): $2.
Bombay Palace: $1.
Cedar Creek in Palm Springs: $1.75.
Cha Cha Cha: $1.50.
Il Fornaio: $1.95.
Il Panino at MOCA: $1.50.
Ingleside Inn in Palm Springs: free to guests in their rooms.
La Famiglia: $1.75.
La Quinta in Palm Springs: $2.
Nicky Blair's: $2.
Santo Pietro: $1.50.
Stock Exchange: $2.25.