Friday, November 23, 2012

Aqua On The Causeway

The Chef de Cuisine of the SOG City kitchen got the day off yesterday, and for that I am very thankful, for that chef is moi. It has become a tradition at Thanksgiving to let someone else do the cooking, either at someone else's home or at a restaurant.

No one else in the Tampa family seemed to be thrilled spending a day or two in the kitchen, so we decided to dine out. But, where? Some wanted a traditional Thanksgiving dinner while I (there is always one in every party) would rather eat a Mickey D's burger (oh, the horror) than cram 4500 calories (average per person intake) of stuff down my throat simply because it is "that" time of year.

After considering various options we all decided to head over to the Aqua Bar and Grill in the Weston on Courtney Campbell Causeway. The Aqua is conveniently located for all of us, and I had been interested in giving them a try since they closed the old Aquaknox to convert to the new Aqua.

For fear of sounding a bit gauche, I hesitate to mention that I can understand Aquaknox shutting down. That venue provided a less than spectacular culinary experience - on several visits. With the new Aqua Bar and Grill I had visions of a gastronomic phoenix arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

Truth be told, the new place didn't look much different than the old place. The decor was basically unchanged. That isn't a bad thing, the place is gorgeous.

Entering from the Weston lobby, one of the first things we spied was the bar area and since we were in need of a couple of medicinal Thanksgiving adult beverages we boot-scooted to the bar.

We had made reservations and after medicating ourselves we were escorted to our table in the dining room. On the way we passed the raw bar display and the open grill.

Once seated at our table we ordered beer and wine while looking over the Aqua regular menu and holiday menu. Somewhat disconcerting was the long delay in receiving our beverages, especially in light of the small number of people at the bar and in the dining room.

My dining companions began their traditional meal with a delightful bowl of Butternut Squash Soup - rich, creamy, and buttery with small chunks of squash adding texture.

From the regular menu I just had to begin with a dozen Blue Point Oysters on the half shell. I was assured that the Aqua shucker of these bivalves was a professional. I always ask, because so few in the Tampa area have a clue.

The Aqua shucker turned out to be one of those who hasn't a clue as to how to open an oyster - over half of my dozen were mangled. They should never have made it to the table. To add insult to injury, the oysters were placed on the slope of a veritable mountain of ice. All of that delicious oyster liquor drained away into the gutter of the platter. With a name like Aqua I would have expected better.

My dining partners fared much better with their tradition choices.

The combination of white and dark meat was juicy and flavorful, the mashed sweet potatoes were creamy and delicious with a savory gravy, the dressing was formed into a patty and fried on both sides to crispy goodness, and the cranberry compote had just the right amount of sweet and tart to compliment the rest of the Thanksgiving delights. Of course, there were the ubiquitous green beans.

When I was served my entrée I realized I too should have joined my compadres in ordering the Thanksgiving staples.

The Fruti di Mare just sounded so appealing with little neck clams, grouper, mussels, calamari, laughing bird shrimp, and spaghettini, floating in yellow pepper cioppino. There were a couple of clams, four mussels, a few cubes of fish, and what appeared to be a few tiny cocktail shrimp drowning in an unbelievably bland broth. There might have been a tablespoon of spaghettini - maybe.

Aqua served no bread with any of our entrées, so we asked if we might have some bread or rolls to sop up gravy and juices. "Of course," we were assured, and within a few moments we received our crust-less "Wonder Bread" with a dollop of butter atop a drizzle of honey.

How special!

Dessert turned out much better - a white chocolate cheesecake with raspberry sauce, and a pumpkin cheesecake with a dollop of whipped cream. 

I was asleep at the wheel for the pumpkin, but the white chocolate was a work of art.

Like their predecessor with an aquatic theme, Aqua Bar and Grill was inconsistent and disappointing. I don't envision a return visit. 

What a shame! I really had high hopes.

Aqua Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

Aquaknox on Foodio54

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