Aqua Grill

by Susan on September 10, 2008

[Food:2.5/5]

Aqua Grill has been at the top of my “to-eat” list. Its all fish and seafood menu, its SoHo veteran status, and its casual coolness were as inviting as the deep blue building itself.

A couple of weeks ago five of us dined at the established fish-haven. Somehow, we all managed to get caught up in the Chef’s Specialties menu, a list of scrumptious sounding cooked fish dishes. But if more of our attention had been directed towards the Raw Bar, we would have left much happier.

Aqua Grill offers over two-dozen types of oysters; it is one of the most impressive raw bar selections in the city. The shellfish hail from points West and East. They’re arranged by price, starting at $1.95 (Blue Point) and ending at $3.15 (Raspberry Point). Little Neck and Cherrystone Clams hide at the bottom of the list despite their lower cost.

Each of us ordered our favorites, a “one of this, one of that, and one of those” type of mish mash. Our server didn’t flinch. He was also very adept at answering questions about the staggeringly (but fabulously) overwhelming list.

When the platter arrived and the first Kumomoto slid from its shell and into my mouth I began to wonder if we shouldn’t have ordered more of the slippery indulgences. Determined to give the gleaming platter all my attention, I put such thoughts from my head. My instincts (though realized too late) turned out to be correct. If there was ever a time I wanted to rewind an order, it was at Aqua Grill.

Aside from the Blowfish Tail Tempura, the appetizers we sampled weren’t bad or great. As the Warm Octopus Salad, Peekytoe Crab Napoleon, and Summer Gazpacho were passed around the table, everyone seemed to have the same reaction: a bite, a thoughtful pause, and then a shoulder shrug.

The Blowfish, on the other hand, was a unique menu item and a delicious one. It was served with a light soy dipping sauce and if you weren’t paying attention (or you over-dipped), you might have missed the fish’s flavor.

When we ordered our main dishes, our server made a large to-do about how each fish would be prepared. The Yellowfin Tuna would be rare. The Atlantic Salmon and the Diver Sea Scallops would be medium-rare. “Was this okay with us?” He asked. And of course it was, that’s exactly how we like it. A tablemate who ordered the Casco Bay Cod chimed in to make sure that his would also be prepared similarly. It was the server’s turn to say “Yes, of course.”

When our entrees finally arrived three out of the five were over-cooked. The tuna was medium. The salmon was medium. The cod was medium.

With the ill-prepared fish at their core, the dishes fell apart. The falafel-crusted salmon could have been a brilliant assembly of textures, but in our version the dusty encasement only accentuated the dry fish. The tuna, a sad gray color, had been robbed of its flavor. As for the cod, while its mushroom-themed sides were devoured, most of the fish was left untouched.

Only the Sea Scallops and Wild Alaskan White Salmon had escaped the heat. The scallops, however, met with their own demise. They were rendered obsolete by the good but overpowering Crabmeat Risotto that accompanied them.

The White Salmon was prepared perfectly (hoorah!) and the rich fish had a melt-in-your-mouth quality we all coveted.

We complained to our waiter and our plight was taken very seriously. The manager offered to have our entrees re-cooked, but it was nearing 11:30pm on Friday night and we just couldn’t muster the energy. As I mentioned in last week’s post, we were ultimately awarded with two free desserts to make up for the preparation miscues.

As the manager apologized to us, a large platter of shucked oysters passed behind her en route to another table. I licked my lips, trying to recall the delectable taste of the Martha’s Vineyard Oyster I had earlier. I vowed to return. But next time, I won’t let my food stop in the kitchen.

Aqua Grill
www.aquagrill.com
210 Spring Street
New York, NY 10013
212.274.0505

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