I ventured into Aqua on Friday night for the debut of their new winter menu. I’ve been a devout fan of the place ever since Mark McCrowe took it over in October of 2009. His unique style of culinary creativity keeps me coming back for more, and his latest menu is bound to be no exception in that regard.
Mark has a penchant for pairing the ordinary with the extraordinary. Foie gras with pb and j (yes, that pb and j), bloody mary ketchup, Tetley tea and Carnation crème brulée… He has a way of taking that familiar neighbour you grew up with and marrying them with the flamboyant playboy you read about in all the magazines, to much adulation and a future filled with beautiful grandchildren.
There’s also an air of nostalgia to Mark’s creations. Remember how good the milk used to taste at the end of your bowl of Captain Crunch? How you’d pick that bowl up and slurp back every last drop? Mark sure does, and he wants to take you back there with his desert menu’s warm chocolate chip cookies served with a Captain Crunch milk and ice cream float.
For those of you with a strictly grown up pallet, Mark doesn’t disappoint. Nestled between the Small Plates and Soups/Apps lists on the menu, for example, is the Raw Bar, where you’ll find oysters, scallops, salmon and tuna. I had the salmon sashimi for my starter, which Mark intriguingly refers to as a deconstructed sushi roll.
If you weren’t paying attention to what you ordered, you might expect that’s pickled ginger beneath the organic greens and above the salmon, but it’s not. The pickled carrots, along with soy beans, tempura crisps and a wasabi miso dressing all combine brilliantly. My plate was diligently cleaned.
Same went for my main, the crispy salmon.
I like salmon. I eat it a lot. But never anything like this.
Patron favourites, such as the pear and rocket salad, the lobster poutine and the “big mc” caribou burger have carried over to the new menu, finding themselves in amongst some steep new competition. I have a feeling the smoked paprika grilled chicken cobb salad could give pear and rocket a run for its money. And while I never order chicken as my main, the southern fried 1/4 chicken served with old cheddar mac and cheese, collard greens, buttermilk biscuits and spiced cajun honey may just become the exception to my rule.
The desert menu’s also been reinvigorated, but rest assured the banana split made the cut once again.
Even the lunch menu at Aqua’s been revamped, with one highly notable addition being the teriyaki udon bowls.
If you’re a regular at Aqua, I think you’ve got something to be excited about in the changes they’ve made to this season’s menu. And if you’ve never had the good fortune of discovering Aqua for yourself, now is the perfect time to do so.