To start off our last month in town before the big transplant, loyal reader, my beloved wife and I decided to have a little dinner date at a new restaurant. After going over the list of places still on our radar, we set out sights on Aqua, a Water Street casual fine dining restaurant, based on their menu, which had a few interesting items.
We arrived at quarter to seven and the dining room was about half full, mostly with couples at little tables. The decor was elegant, almost minimalist. Walls are painted white and, well, aqua with sparingly-used ornaments such as a large metal silhouette of a fish from behind which some soft lighting glowed, as well as a row of multicoloured squares along the longest wall. It’s a good design for the restaurant, one that makes it feel comfortably roomy.
A well-dressed gentleman brought us to our table and promptly our friendly server Holly brought us the wine list and menus.
A word about the service we received. Holly was a model server. Always smiling, welcoming, friendly but never unprofessionally so. She answered my wife’s questions about the wine and complimented our choice of dishes. We’ve had our fair share of great service but I think Holly was second only to Norman (from Asian Taste).
After consulting the menu, we chose our wines and selected a pear and rocket salad appetizer for Erica and a charcuterie board for myself. For our entrees my wife chose a seared sea scallops and king prawns dish and I went for the dish that attracted me to the place, the lobster poutine.
Along with our wines, Holly brought us a wooden board with four slices of their homemade focaccia bread and a little bowl of sun-dried tomato, vinegar and olive oil dip. What a treat that was! The bread was soft and fresh and the dip was nicely acidic. We were off to a good start.
After we were done with the bread, Holly cleared it from our table and came back with an amuse-bouche from the kitchen: a coconut-crusted fried mussel with some tomato and pea shot. That was also quite tasty, especially the fresh pea shoot. Again, we were being spoiled!
Very shortly after our amuse-bouche, our appetizers arrived, including probably the most beautiful plate I ever gazed upon: my charcuterie board! Feast your eyes on the picture above, loyal reader! That’s homemade rabbit terrine, rustic salami and cold smoked speckled ham, with fresh olives, tomato chutney, dill pickle, local peppercorn cheese and grainy mustard, all on a beautiful rustic wooden plate. I seriously wanted to take that dish and mount it on my wall. By far the most presentational plate that has ever been put in front of me!
And it wasn’t only my sense of sight that was aroused! The speckled ham had a nice smoky aroma. I had never had rabbit or terrine before so I started with that. It was delicious. There was an earthiness to it, not gamey but very old-timey in a comforting way. The salami was great (you can’t go wrong with salami!) but the star for me was the speckled ham. It had the smokey flavour and the texture of cold smoked salmon (or lox) but with a porky flavour. The rest of the elements were good, although I skipped the olives. The only disappointment was the cheese, which was way too peppery, so much so that you couldn’t taste the actual cheese. Still, the charcuterie board is still a meat lover’s delight! It made me feel like I was a old European farmer from decades ago, eating a rustic lunch from the land.
Erica’s pear and rocket salad was also excellent. It had red onion, candied walnuts, crumbled blue cheese and a honey curry sauce. I’m not a salad guy but the sample I took was very nice with the sweetness of the walnuts brightening up the dish.
After those great apps, we didn’t have to wait long for our entrees. Although I did go to the washroom to wash my hands. I like going to restaurant washrooms. Their quality says a lot about the staff’s pride in their establishment. Aqua‘s bathroom was lovely and clean with two cute elements: one was a large fish in a big fishbowl and the other was a lack of paper towels or air dryer. Instead, a basket of rolled-up washcloths sits next to the sink do you can dry your hands in soft fabric. You then drop your used cloth in another basket under the table. It’s different and makes you feel like you’re in a home.
When I returned to our table, we waited a few minutes for our entrees, which gave us time to enjoy the musical selection playing not-too-loudly, with songs from Leonard Cohen and Michael Buble among others. I learned later from Holly that the staff actually bring their iPods and hook them up to the sound system and their playlists dictate the ambience. That’s a neat personal touch and must really give employees a sense of ownership and pride in their restaurant. Another great idea.
Our entrees arrived and we were wowed once again. Erica’s scallops and prawns were sitting on a bed of handmade papardella pasta and tender pieces of veal in a light tomato sauce. From my taste, the veal melted in your mouth and the scallops were not grainy at all. Cooked to perfection, actually. Erica was in heaven.
As for the main event, my lobster poutine was colossal! In addition to fries, gravy, Quebec Bergeron cheese and of course, lobster, I was pleasantly surprised to find chunks of Italian sausage and two spears of asparagus. It was very rich, definitely not haute cuisine but oh so comforting! I believe it would be even better with some cheese curds, but it was still the best poutine I enjoyed in over 15 years. Just don’t plan any activity for a couple of hours after eating that bad boy. After that and the charcuterie board, I was absolutely stuffed!
After clearing our empty plates (both Erica and I polished off our meals), Holly suggested we had a look at the dessert menu. It did look inviting (especially the banana split), but we were both just too full and had to pass.
Finally, we were happy to see that the whole evening only set us back $117. That’s good for two generous apps, two filling entrees and two glasses of wine, especially considering the freshness of the ingredients and the uniqueness of the dishes. Because she had been so outstanding, a $25 tip to Holly brought us to a total of $142. Money very well spent!
Overall, Aqua Kitchen & Bar catapulted itself to be among the top restaurants we have discovered in our fair city. For a great evening out, I definitely recommend that you do not miss this jewel in our culinary crown!