Maybe it was while we were dipping crisp slices of eggplant and zucchini ($7) into garlicky tzatziki. Or maybe it was the green kale soup with chorizo ($6), which gets its creaminess from potato and its flavor from kale and a drizzle of olive oil.
But sometime during our meal at the 3-month-old Aqua Mediterranean Wave, we realized what is meant by the Mediterranean diet. The menu is sometimes Greek and sometimes Spanish. It is fresh and familiar and always full of flavor. Herbs are everywhere -- sometimes in too many places.
Cream of tomato soup with spinach and feta cheese ($6) tastes almost smoky, as if the tomatoes had been oven-dried. Aqua's version of spanakopita ($8) contains more spinach than cheese, encased by flaky phyllo. Empanadas ($8) start with a wonderfully flaky pastry surrounding green olives, Parma ham, chopped egg and aged cheddar. Another dish, Brazz-style salted codfish ($8), combines Norwegian codfish, shredded potatoes and eggs, served with tomato slices and black olives. There are some remarkable appetizers here. Even the breadbasket is exceptional.
Physically, the restaurant doesn't seem to have changed a great deal from its days as Boulevard Grille. Royal Palm Plaza could use some updating and, according to Aqua's owners, that's in the works.
When we first sat down, it was clear our waiter was new on the job and didn't know much about the menu or cooking preparations. He was quickly replaced, and we're not sure why. Perhaps the maitre d' overheard our questions and realized he ought to assign a more-experienced waitperson to our table. Even then, it took a while to get service in order. One guest never could get a diet soda delivered to the table. The wine list is adequate, but when we ordered two different bottles, neither was available. Finally, the maitre d' gave us a decent bottle of Australian shiraz on the house.
Disorder eases into friendliness. And these service issues are unimportant once chef Paulo Fraga's creations start to arrive.
Aqua prepares several different whole grilled fish including red snapper, pompano and striped bass. They're prepared for two people. They're drizzled with olive oil and capers. The bass ($26 per person) was flaky and cooked perfectly, served with rice and a lima bean casserole. Every entree was excellent, from simple garlicky grilled jumbo shrimp ($29) to churasco-style chicken breast served with rosemary roasted potatoes ($22). Filet mignon is offered either with a Stilton crust ($34) or stuffed with marinated goat cheese ($35). The filet is a winner as are the accompanying garlic mashed potatoes.
There's as much emphasis on meat as there is on fish here. A pet peeve about presentation is that the kitchen loads up every plate with sprigs of fresh herbs that could have been fresher. They seem like expensive garnishes.
Desserts were disappointing and seemed to have little to do with the rest of the menu. Banana coconut creme brulee ($7)? Mile-high apple crumb cake ($7)? When the savory side of the menu is so good, it's sometimes hard for sweets to compete.
Please phone in advance to confirm information on hours, prices, menu items and facilities. For review consideration, please fax a current menu that includes name and address of restaurant to 954-356-4386 or send to Sun-Sentinel, 200 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301-2293. John Tanasychuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4632 or by writing to him at the Sun-Sentinel.