Friday, February 01, 2008

Aqua (San Francisco, CA)

252 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111
Fri 02/01/2008, 06:30p-08:10p

On my most recent trip to San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to be staying at the Ritz Carlton. Now since I had previously blogged about my experience at the hotel's Dining Room, I thought it'd be a good idea to try something new. Michelin two-star Aqua is where Michael Mina first made a new for himself, before he opened his eponymous eatery at the Westin St. Francis. Set near the Financial District, the restaurant has a reputation for being the place for power lunching.

Aqua offers either a three-course prix fix, or a seven-course tasting menu with optional wine pairing (shown). Unfortunately, Executive Chef Laurent Manrique wasn't in this particular night, so no signature. Click for larger version.

Three types of bread were available: olive (pictured), sourdough, and multi-grain. The two varieties of butter were cow's milk and goat's milk with sea salt.

Amuse Bouche 1: Roulade of House-Cured Salmon
NV Cava D'Abbatis, Penedés Brut
Daikon, Grapefruit, Black Truffle Vinaigrette. The amalgam of the salmon and daikon made for an interesting pair, with the radish's slightly bitter crunch balancing the delicateness of the fish. The grapefruit and truffle vinaigrette in turn added contrasting sour and earthy flavors. The amuse was served with a complementary glass of Cava, which was a nice touch.

Amuse Bouche 2: Caviar
NV Champagne Delamotte Brut Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
Caramelized Onion Tart with Caviar and Crème Fraîche, Caviar Cannoli with Smoked Sturgeon Crème Fraîche, Black Pepper and Citrus Condiment. Champagne and caviar: the wine's crisp acidity complements the roe's delicate flavors and textures, what a classic combination! The cannoli was a pretty standard pairing of crème fraîche and caviar; it worked but wasn't particularly imaginative. But the addition of the onion tart to the equation added a sweet/smoky element and took the dish to another level. A heavenly bite!

1: Scallop & California Osetra Caviar
NV Champagne Delamotte Brut Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
Bacalao, White Bean, Watercress, Arugula Foam. The scallop was only the slightest bit cooked, and thus had a great raw texture and briny flavor that went wonderfully with the generous dollop of caviar. I loved the presentation of the scallop in its shell as well. I must say that the foam was a bit odd though; I'm not sure it added much to the dish. Again, the Champagne, from the previous course, was a fantastic pairing.

2: Dungeness Crab Salad
2006 Grüner Veltliner "Kammern Heiligenstein" Hirsch Kamptal
Meyer Lemon Cucumber Caviar, Curry Poppy Seed Vinaigrette. Another course with "caviar." The crab itself was crisp and fresh, with the cucumber adding an additional refreshing crunch. However, the vinaigrette overpowered the delicate nuances of the crab, and dominated the dish with its tart flavors. The paired Grüner was quite delicious, with citrus and stone fruit notes presiding over a medium body and slightly spicy finish. I think Grüner Veltliner may be becoming one of my favorite white varietals!

3: "Pot Au Pho"
Ginjo Saké Mukune "Root of Innocence" Osaka Prefecture
Foie Gras, Shellfish, Winter Vegetables, Cardamom. This faux Vietnamese play on the traditional French "Pot-au-feu" contained shrimp, scallops, as well as foie gras in a delectable duck and beef consommé. It actually was a pretty convincing rendition of pho! The sake did justice to this very Asian-inspired dish.

4: Parmesan-Black Pepper Soufflé
2006 Chablis "Saint Martin" Domaine Laroche
Maine Lobster, Sea Urchin Roe, Chive Butter. I'm usually not a fan of soufflés, but I thought this was wonderful. The ridiculously rich mixture of lobster, uni, and butter added depth and substance to the hot, cheesy soufflé, which was already quite good on its own! The black pepper provided a spicy finish to each bite. The Chablis was a great accompaniment, showing melon and honey flavors around a medium body and smooth finish.

5: Chamomille Scented Hawaiian Walu
2005 Bourgogne N. Rossignol "Cuvée L'Héritière"
Zucchini Carpaccio, Frisée & Foie Gras Salad, Licorice. This was the weakest course of the night for me. I didn't particularly care for the texture of the walu, nor its taste, which was absent. The grape stock with foie gras dabbled on top didn't really sit well with me either; it just seemed a bit odd and excessive. The pairing of a red Burgundy was a bit surprising, but I suppose it makes sense given the richness of the foie gras sauce.

6: White Sturgeon & Veal Cheek "Bourguignon"
2003 Nebbiolo d'Alba Pio Cesare
Celery Root, Parsnip, Bacon & Truffle Jus, Cipollini Onion. The veal was incredibly rich and tender, actually too much so for my tastes. The sturgeon, on the other hand, showed good balance and a great, firm texture. It really stood up well to the other elements of the dish, as well as the paired Nebbiolo. The Pio Cesare was quite easy drinking, with big fruit and spice, moderate tannins, and a medium body.

Pre-Dessert: Pineapple and Passionfruit Ice
Coconut Sorbet, Chocolate Tuile. Very fruity and refreshing, with the sorbet moderating the tartness of the pineapple/passionfruit ice. A breath of fresh air given the heavy course preceding it.

7: Valrhona Taïnori Cube
2003 Tokaji Aszú Royal Tokaji Wine Co. Hungary
White Chocolate Pot de Créme, Tangerine Pearls, Walnut Crisp. I loved the way the tangerine "caviar" cut the richness of the chocolate, but my favorite part of the dish was the walnut crisp atop white chocolate, which actually reminded me of a granola-yogurt parfait! The Tokaji did an admirable job here, demonstrating typical citrus, spice, and chocolate notes, leading to a slightly acidic, lingering finish.

Every piece was quite delicious. A great way to end the meal!

Although there were some definite misses for me this night, I give Chef Manrique and company credit for a strong effort. The food isn't exactly on the bleeding edge, but I did appreciate the inventiveness and attempts at innovation I witnessed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was thinking of lunch at Aqua with their lunch tasting menu. Is there any place else is San Francisco (specifically for lunch) that you recommend over Aqua. I know some places better for dinner, but not all places serve lunch. Being a mainly SoCal eater, I have limited NorCal knowledge.

Saturday, December 20, 2008 2:35:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Unfortunately, I've never done lunch before in the City, but in general, I'd recommend Coi, Dining Room, Gary Danko, Masa's, and Michael Mina.

Sunday, December 21, 2008 10:19:00 PM  
Anonymous foodie said...

Aqua has lost their good chef (big fight with the owners.) Food has taken a huge down turn. Very sad. Can not recommend it at this point.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Manrique's out? What happened?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 4:43:00 PM  
Blogger suzn924 said...

For a more chill seafood place. Have you tried Hog's island by the Ferry Building. I love the oyster, especially Sweet water and pacific. If Chinese or Vietnamese style in SF, R and G Lounge crab batttered is unique and very good. My friend had PPQ he said great also. But for Seafood in OC, Newport Tang Cang Santa Ana call ahead for the Alaskan King Crab $250/8 pounds crab but its very big served two ways house special body and steamed legs with noodles..delish. Tamarine style lobster or lobster served two ways sashimi and house special delish as well. Cheaper lobster sashimi alternative Seafood World $8/pound.

Monday, July 18, 2011 8:19:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Thanks for the tips. Nope, I haven't been to Hog Island, but I've heard plenty about it. I've been to the Newport Seafood in San Gabriel, but not the one in Santa Ana (which is the original).

BTW, Aqua is no longer open. It was shut down and replaced by Michael Mina. ;)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 4:37:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home