Aquagrill's bright blue sign on the corner of Sixth Ave and Spring St is a sign of a long-time Soho standby when it comes to reliably delicious and fresh seafood. The restaurant has attracted numerous awards—best brunch, best patio, and best bar for a full meal—and for that, the tables, bar stools, and mini front lounge remain in a constant state of packed-ness.
The menu is full of tantalizing choices; especially as the exciting month of June rolls around and waters are jumping with fresh Holland herring, soft shell crabs, Mexican oysters, and spot prawns. Even so, Jeremy Marshall, executive chef and owner (with his wife Jennifer who heads up the restaurants wine program) keeps Aquagrill classics on the menu that are too delicious to rotate out.
The Marshall’s serve a block of tender tuna flanked with crispy taro chips for scooping up the delight. The tender pink fish perches on a cucumber carpaccio, sprinkled with flying fish roe, and liberally topped with ginger. The flavors work perfectly.
The same goes for the Bonito Sashimi, a current special appetizer of chunks of sesame-flecked mackerel that come with marinated eggplant and edamame in sweet Thai vinaigrette.
Don’t miss out on the Mexican oysters. I had the chance of eating a few varieties while in Zihuantanejo a few years ago and I’ve been dreaming about them since.
Mexican oysters are different than other oysters because of the unique waters in which they develop—a warm bay fed by a cold Alaskan current. The result is a super salty and simultaneously creamy oyster. The night I was dining, kumomotos and el cardons were available.
To show off the bounty of spring, a black sea bass with spring pea purée and asparagus took center stage. It came with flawless pockets of gnocchi, whose richness played off the subtleties of the flaky fish and the bright green purée.
However, the true showstopper was the soft shell crab entrée. Soft shell crabs arrive from Maryland with shells as thin as paper, making the crustacean completely edible. Aquagrill serves the delicacies in a tangy, refreshing mandarin orange sauce. Two crispy crabs balance atop one another on a bed of wilted spinach. The result of the melding flavors is an irresistible zing. I had to experiment with this one at home. I set up a few soft shells to fry up, but instead of the usual flour, egg, salt, and pepper combo, I added orange juice to the battering process. It wasn’t as good as Mr. Marshall’s version, but it was a good home version.
Even if I do end up perfecting the soft shell crab recipe, there are so many reasons to revisit Aquagrill this summer. I want to try a kumomoto sampler of oysters from Mexico, California and Washington and decide which I prefer. Spot Prawns, those bursting with ripe roe, will be on the menu shortly, served flash-roasted with a dash of sea salt and truffle butter. An heirloom tomato and crab salad will most definitely become a summertime favorite, as well as pilsner steamed clams. I’m always a sucker for the sea snail variety, available almost exclusively at Aquagrill. Where else can you get periwinkles, whelks, and conch almost nightly?
Thursday, June 21, 2007