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Renewal {Aqua by El Gaucho}

June 20, 2012

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B and I have lived in our condo about two and a half years. A couple days after moving in, after pizza and Asian takeout, we were ready for something different. We struggled to find a restaurant in our immediate area. Sure, if we wanted to walk 5 or 6 blocks, there were plenty of options, but it was a cold November, we were tired from unpacking and just wanted some quick food. We eventually found Sport. It became a neighborhood favorite, but we were still missing diversity.

Over the past year, new restaurants have opened all around us. C.S. Finnegan’s, The Innkeeper, Henry & Oscar’s, Paddy Coyne’s, and Aqua by El Gaucho make it tough to choose on any given night. It’s a great problem to have.

B and I never visited Aqua back when it was the Waterfront Grill. We walked by it plenty of times, but it always looked a little bit… stuffy. After a few friends visited Aqua and said it was worth a trip, though, we added it to our list.

Tonight, we were looking for something close and new… or at least new to us. We decided on Aqua by El Gaucho. We had a bit of a surprise sunny day today and it was the perfect time for some seafood and a cocktail.

They have a great patio with plenty of seating, but we arrived just a little late to snag an outdoor table. No matter, they have a huge bar, so we found great seats right in the middle. Even before 6:00, they were pretty busy. Our bartender, Luke, definitely had his hands full, but he was managing the hectic pace gracefully and in good humor.

The décor is a little bit dated. It looks like they probably made some small updates with the rebranding effort, but overall, it looks like the ambiance may have stayed much the same for the past decade. While the bar is lacking handbag hooks (the first amenity I look for), the bar stools themselves are large and comfortable.

We stuck to the bar bites menu and started off with the Bar Fries (with black truffle aioli) and the Pancetta Wrapped Prawns (with golden raisin and scallion pesto). When the fries first arrived at the table, I remarked to B that they had a distinctive McDonald’s look to them. Fortunately, the similarities ended there. The fries were wonderfully light and crispy and the aioli had a fantastic truffle flavor without being overwhelming.

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The prawns were also nice. B isn’t one for garnish, but I enjoyed the scallion pesto and appreciated that they didn’t overdo it on the Pancetta. One thin layer wrapped around each prawn was just the right amount. Any more would have been overkill.

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We debated sharing a third large plate or choosing a small plate and dessert. The 4oz. Steak Frites were certainly appealing, but given we’d just consumed our own weight in fries, we steered clear. We finally agreed on the Crispy Fresh Calamari (with soy mustard aioli and sweet chili sauce).Aqua-4

The Calamari, admittedly, was not my favorite. It really wasn’t all that crispy. B loved it and wholeheartedly disagrees with this assessment. I’m pretty sure he just loved the sauce. The sauce was very good, but the batter was a little on the soft side for my taste. The best part of the Calamari? It left room for dessert.

I love Crème Brûlée. For all the fancy desserts one finds on menus these days, it often gets lost in the novelty, but it will always be one of my favorites. This was a great Crème Brûlée. I even ate the strawberries and strawberries are possibly the only fruit I don’t like.

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In between all of this food, I had a glass of red Sangria and white Sangria. Both were good, but the red was my definite favorite. Luke won B over with his excellent Blanton’s Old Fashioned. Given that the Old Fashioned is the only drink in my repertoire, I’m a little picky myself about what is passable. These were more than passable. They were outstanding without a piece of muddled fruit or a drop of soda water in sight.

We’ll be back to Aqua sooner than later. With excellent bartenders like Luke, fantastic bar bites and a killer view, we’d be crazy not to return. My only hope is that the weather gives us our fair share of sunny skies to visit under this summer.

 

Aqua by El Gaucho on Urbanspoon

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