My wife and I recently ate at Aquavit and were utterly disappointed, much as we were by D'Amico Cucina which we tried earlier in the year.
Parts of the meal seemed nearly incompetent, most especially the waiter-recommended dessert called the "Arctic Circle," a frozen cylander of cream that was so heavily crystallized as to be unpleasant. Compounding the texture problem, the passionfruit filling and (I think) blackcurrent sorbet accompaniment made for a rough clash of acids. We only ate the thing so as not to hurt the feelings of our rather earnest and concerned waiter.
Another lowpoint was the smorgasbord platter, which was for the most part dismal and joyless, as symbolized by the entirely intact baked or boiled potato that sat in the middle of the plate looking like a bit of tree branch. Noteworthy among the several morsels was the bit of liver pate, which seemed to have gotten mangled in the cutting and was served beneath two sliced of pickled cucumber as if to hide the damage.
We also took exception to the repetitions among the garnishes. Pickled cucumber seemed to come with just about everything. There were also several repetitions of squid ink, guacamole, and pieces of Indian pappadam (strangely enough in the latter two cases). We had the sense that there was a limited imagination at work.
I should mention that we went for lunch. It might be argued that having lunch is not the best way to sample a restaurant, but it seems to me that a restaurant claiming to be first-rate should be at its best at all times.
The failings of Aqauvit were made especially clear as we had lunched (!) the week before at Le Manoir Aux Quatre Saisons, near Oxford, England. What a different universe of care and subtlety! I will always remember the morels stuffed with chicken mousse and served with gewurtztraminer cream sauce as the single most delicious thing I have ever eaten.
Hundreds of Raymond Blanc's recipes are available on-line by the way at www.petit-blanc.com, including the great morel recipe. It's one of the great hidden treasure troves of the Internet. Be sure to check it out.
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