Aqua, San Francisco (October 2008)

After two days marred by mediocre lunches, I was counting on Aqua to deliver a top-notch meal, and that it did, allowing me to ascend into a state of reverie. Texturally and technically, this meal exemplifies immaculacy. In an effort to avoid overpowering the seafood’s subtlety, Chefs Manique and Boyd garnished plates with broths and vinaigrettes, flouting French sauces along the way. Deciphering each ingredient in a course, moreover, amounts to an Augean task, even for the most astute foodie. Aqua, I would submit, is a sine qua non for Bay Area foodies.

Sweet lobster wedges topped with an acidic vinaigrette inaugurated the meal.

Lobster amuse bouche
The sea urchin custard, when spooned with the broth, literally dissolved in my mouth, leaving not even the faintest trace. 
First course: Hon-Shimeji mushrooms, sea urchin, and caviar in a sea urchin custard
Insofar as this dish’s aesthetics, Chef Manrique allowed nature to be the true artist, sort of. As I stare at this dish, it vaguely resembles the scene one might find underneath a tree in the Berkeley Hills while mushroom hunting, save for the buttery potato puree ravioli and the risotto burrowed underneath.
Second course: Fried oyster mushrooms, kumamoto oyster, a celery ravioli filled with pomme purée, and pomegranate

I used the langoustine sushi as a mop, sopping up every last drop of the miso purée. 

Third course: Tempura-fried matsutake mushrooms, nori-wrapped langoustines, apple gelée, and pine oil.

No, that is not a horribly charred scallop. For my taste, however, it was overcooked–I prefer, not unreasonably, a warm, slightly rare interior. 
Fourth course: Black trumpet (black chanterelles) mushrooms, scallops, and braised beets
The cod constitutes one of the smallest main courses I have countenanced; nevertheless, the unctuous sunchoke and egg yolk made for satisfying fare.

Fifth course: Chanterelle and yellow foot mushrooms, cod topped with fennel, a slow-cooked egg yolk, and an almond crusted sunchoke, and an almond vinaigrette
The meal’s pièce de résistance–the black truffle. For all its pungency, the black truffle was not the best part of this dish; no, that would have to be the rich chocolate mousse. 

Sixth course: Shaved black truffle atop Honduran chocolate mousse, and a truffle cremeux in pomegranate tapioca

Petits fours
Pros: Knowledgeable servers, reasonably priced tasting menu, and memorable preparations

Cons: Infinitesimal portions, and a noisy dining room


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