July 01, 2004
Maybe it's the cool ocean breezes, the steep hills or all the sightseeing,
but hanging out in San Francisco always gives me an appetite. Of course
having dozens of great neighborhood restaurants-the kind of moderately
priced, locally run, establishments that we lack, doesn't hurt either. And I
could wax poetic about my meal at Aqua, AND all the cool food stalls in the
newly renovated Ferry Building ..... So I think I will.....
Imagine a beautiful old building, a visual treat in its own right, housing
everything from gelato makers to bread bakers, a fish and meat market,
greengrocers, and the Cowgirl Creamery (the best cheese store I've seen
outside New York).... And lest you think this retail food extravaganza is
the exclusive province of pretentious foodies; I saw families of all sizes
and persuasions loading up on all of it...although it takes a certain
perversity to spend an entire afternoon overlooking the Bay, sipping one
great wine after another (some of which were even Californian), while
shuffling from cheese store to boulangerie, french rotisserie to nouveau
Vietnamese, and sushi bar to chocolatier, all to get a taste of everything.
And I bet you don't know WHO I'm referring to.....
What made my afternoon of gluttony all the more amazing was that it occurred
right after lunch...at the original Aqua no less. In the spirit of my
gourmet challenge---you remember: the one where I said all of our celebrity
joints are just chefs cashing in with their retreads....I decided to put my
dinero where my pie hole is, and see for myself.
I wanted to judge if, after two recent dinners at Aqua in the Bellagio, the
mothership was, in fact, better. At the Vegas Aqua, I dined from a menu that
has hardly changed since I first ate there five years ago. Was the tuna
tartare good...yeah...but it wasn't great. And that Forty Six dollar dover
sole was big enough to feed three, and boring enough to be a steakhouse
special. The proscuitto wrapped halibut tasted of turf not surf, and where
the truffles in the spuds were, I'll never know.
In San Fran, at the original Aqua, chef Laurent Manrique, to put it
mild-lay, blew me away with Alaskan black cod swimming in an intense fish
reduction, a trio of foie gras that was like swabbing your arteries with
fat-In a good way of course--, and melt-in-your-mouth smoked salmon that
shamed the same old same old version we get down here. Does it hurt me to
say these things? You betcha, but at the stratospheric prices charged at the
Bellagio they oughta be doing more than going through the motions. After two
dinners there in two weeks, I doubt I'll return for another five years, and
after lunch at the original Aqua, I was so inspired that I just had to keep
See discussion rules
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