Sunday, January 3, 2010
Aqualis Grill is a new Mediterranean restaurant that arrived back in July, and the other day I finally had an opportunity to stop in for lunch. I'd tried once before for brunch on a Sunday, but they don't open until noon and I was a couple of hours early.
The space is really simple and charming, and while I'd be concerned about crowding if it were full, that wasn't an issue when I was there, as we were the only customers in the restaurant for the couple of hours we were there. It felt a bit odd, but on the other hand, the service was superb since they only had to worry about one table.
The menu isn't very expansive, which certainly isn't a bad thing, and it's delightfully heavy on the seafood. If you're in the mood for fish, I'm not sure you can go wrong with Aqualis.
Before we started ordering, we got a customary bowl of bread. Usually I wouldn't mention it, but the bread at Aqualis is so good that it's worth making a point of. It's warm, soft, toasted bread with plenty of olive oil and rosemary, and I couldn't help but have more than a few pieces while we mulled over the menu. You also get a small plate of seasoned olives and il to go along with it.
To start, we got an order of fritto misto (fried calamari) and the sardines, which are grilled with herbs and olive oil. The calamari was really fantastic, and might be the best example of fried calamari I can remember having in the area. The batter is subtle, the pieces of calamari are huge, the dipping sauce is interesting and spicy, and the portion is massive. Now, I wonder a bit whether we got so many because we were the only ones there, but if this is a typical order, it's an incredible value. It's more than enough for two people as a starter.
The sardines were a little disappointing, but I'm not sure what I expected, really. For some reason, seeing sardines on the menu made me think of sauteed fresh anchovies (which are great), so I decided to order them. Of course, grilled sardines are nothing at all like sauteed fresh anchovies, so it's really my own fault for being disappointed. You get four large, whole sardines that have been grilled with the head, tail, and bones still in there. Getting to the meat of the fish meant some delicate surgery to remove the bones, and in the end I wasn't all that thrilled with what I got for the effort. It's not a bad dish, but I wish I'd ordered the calamari.
On the recommendation of our waiter, I ordered the cod filet with sauteed spinach and golden beets. Now, they did have Mediterranean sea bass on the menu, which was very tempting, but at $25 it was about double the price of everything else and I decided to pass. The cod was great, so there were no regrets. The spinach and beets provided an interesting contrast to the sauteed fish, which was decently sized and seasoned well.
The skirt steak was also good, though it was accompanied only by greens. You can definitely find a better steak in the neighborhood, so if that's what you're after, I'm not sure Aqualis would be your first choice. That said, it certainly wasn't bad, but you get the feeling that these guys really wish that every dish was seafood.
We didn't order any dessert, but the staff was kind enough to provide us with some anyway - two orders of Greek yogurt with nuts and honey. Very good, and very welcome.
Aqualis certainly has a lot of competition in the area, being steps from the great No. 7 and a stone's throw from Pequena, Stone Home, the Smoke Joint, etc - there are a lot of ways to spend money on good food nearby. Still, if you're in the mood for reasonably-priced seafood, you'd be hard pressed to find a better choice than Aqualis Grill. I'll certainly be back, if only from the amazing fried calamari.
773 Fulton St