Aqua – San Francisco

252 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94111

First off, don’t go to Aqua on a Friday night, especially if you don’t know San Francisco well enough to maneuver through side streets. Traffic was just atrocious! And I’m guessing that if you go on a weeknight it won’t be as crowded and loud in the restaurant either; the acoustics can’t handle a couple of hundred voices at once. That being said, Aqua is hip. Read into that what you may but I was happy that I wore my cool sparkly skirt and suede boots so I didn’t feel frumpy next to all those hip city-folk.

Ok, food…that’s what I’m here for. I enjoyed the food, definitely, but mostly what I kept thinking was, “this is overkill” and “enough with the presentation already!”

The first thing served to us was a roasted tomato and basil soup in a little espresso cup. The flavor was amazing. It was such a wonderful balance of the smoky-roasted taste with the sweet tomato and the savory basil aftertaste. But what struck me more than anything was that we were being served tomato in January!

The wine list was quite elaborate but we finally settled on the 1998 Emanuel Rouget Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux. It had to be the best Burgundy I’ve ever experienced. It began with blackberries, had this acidic citrus feel in the middle and ended with cool mint.

Course one was Tartare of Ahi Tuna with Sesame Oil-infused with Scotch Bonnet Chilies. Scotch Bonnets?? Why?? Before I tried it I thought it would destroy my palate since they’re such “nukular” peppers. When I got the dish it wasn’t very hot at all so then I wondered why they chose Scotch Bonnets instead of a milder pepper. Oh well, no mind. It was still an amazing dish. The presentation of everything was a little much for me. I don’t mind over-the-top presentation on the plate but choreographed waiters just make me laugh: all the plates are set down simultaneously. With the Ahi they mixed together the ingredients on the plate for me: Ahi, sesame oil, quail egg, pine nuts and some spices. Then they shaped in back into a triangle to match the toast points on the plate. Anyway, after all that I enjoyed it very much. The pine nuts were a phenomenal addition. The texture and sweetness of the nuts added and interesting twist to the dish. Unfortunately though, the ahi was somewhat lost in all of the other flavors. They really get amazing fish at Aqua and the dishes combine so much with the fish that it is difficult to appreciate the quality.

Next we had Hamachi Parfait with a Crispy Rice Cake, Spicy Chili Aioli, and Shiitake Soy Coulis. Again, the fish was amazing and it was topped with a layer of wasabi tobiko so it was fun too (you know popping tobiko in your teeth is fun, admit it!). But there was something about the shiitake layer that I didn’t like. I couldn’t pinpoint what the flavor was but it didn’t mesh with me so I just ate the fish and tobiko off the top…fine with me!

The main course was the Turbot for Two (Pan Seared on the Bone) Shellfish Cioppino with Grilled Levain Bread. They bring the whole fish to the table (it’s that presentation thing again) then return it to the kitchen and mix it into a Cioppino. This was probably my fault because I felt a little ill in the middle of the meal that caused me to take a lot longer to eat my appetizers therefore delaying the delivery of the main course…but the Cioppino was overcooked. Most noticeably the prawns since overcooked prawns get gushy. But I’m sure it was because it had to sit covered in the kitchen until I started eating again. And it just wasn’t my dish anyway because I completely spaced the fact that Cioppino has bell peppers in it. The waiter described it as a Bouillabaisse which is pepper-free but the menu said Cioppino…oops. I’m a freak that way though so I was avoiding the soupy part…it was kind of a bummer dude.

Back to the wine list for dessert though: they server a 1990 Yquem by the glass! It was so tasty. It’s just starting to turn the corner into the caramel and vanilla realm so it’s still got the stone fruit but the mid-palate creaminess too. It was so good. We wanted the Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta that was on the tasting menu to go with it but unfortunately they weren’t serving that so the waiter suggested the Banana Tarte Tatin which didn’t go with the Yquem. Plus I tend to find banana desserts boring but we ate it and it was good but I wish we could have ended the meal on a more stellar note. We sadly drank the last sips of the Yquem, had our plate of candies: bittersweet truffle (yum!), passion fruit gel (I’m not a big passion fruit fan) and candied tangerine which I loved—I can eat bowls of candied citrus!

And we were off. Now I can say I’ve been to Aqua. It was a very good meal but not my scene. As far as fish fare goes, I’d choose the Farallon.