It amazes me that Aquagrill, the now 15-year old Soho seafood restaurant, continues to turn out some of the best seafood and shellfish in the city. Where other Soho seafooders turn out inconsistent dishes to clientele who could care less, Aquagrill has remained consistently excellent over the years while retaining its neighborhood restaurant feel.
For starters, Aquagrill has an unrivaled raw bar. Changing daily, the menu includes over two dozen oyster varieties as well as clams, shrimp, lobster, and often whelks and periwinkles. All are served with traditional house-made cocktail and minuet sauces. On a recent visit, I had two large oysters (Goose Point), two medium sized ones (Beaver Tail), and two small ones (the ever popular Kumamotos). The Beaver Tail oysters, from Rhode Island, were especially good that night — they had the familiar clean, slightly briny taste. Interestingly, while most restaurants these days charge a flat $3 per oyster regardless of the type or quality of the oyster, Aquagrill alters the prices considerably, from around $2 for the cheaper blue points, to closer to $4 for canoe lagoon oysters from Alaska. Even some high-end restaurants known for their raw bars are sticking with flat-price oysters, despite a wide variety in the quality of their offerings.
Other good appetizers abound as well. The tuna carpaccio ($13.50), which consists of peppered raw tuna with pickled shallots, avocado, and some citrus, is a refreshing beginning to the meal. The shallots, which look a terrible purple/gray are actually quite tasty. The saffron-cream mussel soup ($8) is another highlight, as well as (for the spendy folk) the lobster salad (usually around $25) with almost an entire lobster placed on top of greens, avocado, and slices of grapefruit.
For a first timer don’t miss the imaginative falafel-crusted salmon with lemon-coriander vinaigrette ($24.50)– just as they served it when the restaurant opened in 1996. The salmon appears to be lightly fried on both sides and then broiled on one side crisping the falafel crust, while keeping the fillet medium-rare. The hummus rivals some of the best in the city.
The scallops seared with dungeness crab risotto and tomato-shellfish emulsion ($27) shouldn’t be missed as well. They’re quickly seared on one side and placed in a slightly rich sauce with fish stock, cream, and what tasted like saffron. The same scallops are also excellent simply grilled ($20.50) perhaps with a side of spinach or yellow finish potato hash ($6). Other main course highlights are the miso glazed sea bass with green kimchi and wasabi-miso sauce ($29) and the truffle crusted cod ($27). Miso glaze is normally served on cod, but it works well on sea bass as well, and the green kimchi is less spicy than the red variety. The hen of the woods mushrooms are the best part of the cod dish, their earthiness make a great complement to the cod.
For dessert, try the pear tatin ($10) or the warm apple tart ($10).
Aqugrill has a full bar, cocktails, sake, and wine. Perhaps keeping with their neighborhood restaurant idea, they have bottles of wine for as low as the high $20s, though of course, they have bottles into the three digits as well. Since many people order the cheapest bottle on the menu, it’s surprising they have bottles for that cheap — and the wines aren’t bad either.