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Restaurants & Bars San Francisco Bay Area

Aqua Shocker!

Daniel Duane | | Oct 16, 2006 04:38 PM

What a joke this place is! Dinner for six last night, 6:30 reservation, and we get seated at a laughably bad table, a table no restaurant of such pretension should even have--a table literally shoehorned into the walkway between front and rear rooms, half over a carpet and half over the tile, DIRECTLY in front of the short hallway to the toilet (so that every single human who felt the call of nature had to brush our back to answer said call), and a table that crowded my father-in-law (who was generously picking up the tab, in celebration of my beloved mother-in-law's birthday) half into the protruding corner of a partition wall. Such a strong, cold draft running through, too, we all kept our sweaters/jackets on.

And that's just the table.

Service was slow, slow, slow, with the waitstaff clearly stretched too thin, running all over the place. The waiter kept calling my wife and my sister in law, both middle-aged mothers of two wearing wedding rings and in the company of their husbands, "miss." When my father in law asked to pay an additional fee to have a cheese course in addition to a dessert course, the waiter was openly ruffled and said that he'd still like to take our dessert orders right away to make sure that we kept up what he called an "expeditious pace" for the evening, and then he took fully twenty minutes to bring the cheese course in question. During that twenty minutes, the bus boy cleared our table, reset our table, and then so completely forgot that he'd reset our table that he set out butter plates and began offering us various kinds of bread rolls, as if we were a freshly seated table. A host figured out the mistake and stopped him and then cleared off the unnecessary butter and bread, but we were still waiting for somebody to slice a little cheese and set it on a plate and bring it to us when a six-runner procession, bringing dinner to some other table, lost three of its members to our table--three clueless runners who thought we were waiting for the main courses they were carrying.

And now for the food: amuse bouche offered as "free, courtesy of the chef." What sort of deluded pomposity is this in a room where you can see every person at every table getting the same amuse as part of their fixed price dinner? Amuse was fine: delicious little stuffed cherry tomato, perfectly passable cold asparagus soup, perfectly passable tuna croquette.

As for the starters and mains: beautiful presentation, as far as plating, very complicated in terms of architecture and technique and mixing of this and that (sturgeon medallions in Napa cabbage with mussels and smoked duck, ambitious ambitious), but I kid you not: luke warm and flavorless. No exaggeration. Beautiful food, beautifully presented, cooked just right, textures perfect, and zero flavor. Everything bland. Same went for the desserts. Our entire party agreed in ginger "so, what did you really think of the food...?" post-dinner emails. It was as if the chef were on vacation and his underlings had the moves down but absolutely no palate and no sense that food should appear on a table when it's hot, not after it's been sitting around for fifteen minutes.

I've never eaten in a Michelin 2 star before, but I'm feeling pretty confused. Most charitable interpretation: a disastrous night at an otherwise sensational restaurant. Only slightly less charitable: Once Aqua got those stars, mngmnt decided to ram as many people as possible through the place, with a minimum of expense, to milk this publicity before it fades. Neither charitable nor particularly vindictive: Michelin's reviewers got very, very special treatment at an otherwise ridiculous restaurant, and didn't go back often enough or anonymously enough to see through the veil. Most likely interpretation: something's screwy with Michelin.

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