Acqua Restaurant Forest Lake
For Lars’s birthday we went out to the new fine dining establishment in Forest Lake MN; Acqua. I was cautiously optimistic, I had heard good things but also conflicting reports so here is my review.
First Impression – Favorable. We drove up and there were pleasantly aggressive valet parking guys waving us up to what appeared to be the sidewalk. It was not really the sidewalk but driving up onto the apron of the restaurant does give a grand first impression. BTW, we drove past a perfectly good parking spot AND that is where our car was subsequently parked but they actually have a very small lot and as a service they do valet to insure positive parking lot experiences. For that they get high marks from me, one of my fears in life is about finding parking.
Restaurant building – I want to say Yacht Club… I suppose I liken it to the Yacht club I know and to ones I’ve seen on TV but it has the open airy feel of a place that is easy to enjoy in the summer. Large windows, wrap around porch, huge deck and the view of a lake does not hurt the yacht club vibe. It is painted bright nautical blue with white accents and everything is fresh and clean looking and feeling. We sat on the patio and enjoyed the view but I peeked into the dining room and it looked like a bright and cheerful place to eat.
Tone – Upscale casual. This is where I had heard different things – I had heard that inside was fine dining suit and tie and outside was boat up burgers and fries. This is not true in either direction. Inside and outside looked the same level to me and had the exact same menu. The patio was not more casual but on the other hand the inside was not overly fancy. We dressed nicely but we saw someone in a sequined gown and also someone in a trucker hat. I would say we were the average look – I wore a khaki skit, cute shoes and a nice shirt, Lars wore jeans and a decent polo style blue shirt. I think the conception of ‘boat up menu’ is because they do have a dock and do get people arriving by boat but then they have to go in to the hostess station in the front. Here is my only explicit critique – they should have a hostess station by the dock too for prime boating days at least. Wandering around to the front is a bit uncomfortable.
Food – I know, food is 4th on the list but hey, food is about 4th on my list always. Food was very good. Fresh ingredients and well prepared. Lars had the Ossobuco;
This picture is from their site and it is also on the billboard on 35. I would say Lars was influenced but he claims he was not. It was tender and meaty and filling. I got the special fish dish, it was Mahi Mah,i and I was not super impressed but I think it was the nature of the fish not the chef and I was swayed by how good it sounded when described to us. The shining stars were dessert.
We got 2 and shared both. The first Butterscotch Budino with Caramel and the second Chocolate Souffle Cake, Toasted Marshmallow & Graham Cracker Ice Cream. Both were so awesome it was like everything good in the world reduced into a dessert. I was moved to take pictures of both so I could relive the experience. The kitchen in this place is great, they get food out fast and well plated, Gordon Ramsey would be proud.
The most impressive thing – was the ‘person’ who greeted us after we were seated. He told us our waiter would be there soon (it was busy) and he took our drink order including recommending a beer and wine for us. He ended up coming again when our waiter again was MIA and described the specials and took our order. He described them so well I ordered something I knew I would not really normally order. He checked in with us at least 3 other times during the meal. I saw him do the same for other tables, and, he even picked up a stray ‘something’ on the lawn. When our waiter finally did turn up we asked who the other guy was and apparently he is the owner JJ. That impressed us a lot – the owner was very cool and charismatic and seemed to really care that everyone had a good dinner. With a guy like that in charge, perfectionist yet willing to do the work himself, good things should keep happening.
When I took my real-estate class for my MBA one thing stuck with me; a great restaurant is one where people will drive past other similar restaurants to get to yours. I would say Aqua has achieved that since it is off the beaten path and seems to be doing a brisk business. We will go back again, maybe just for dessert, but we have already recommended it to at least 5 couples.