Viva Las Vegas

Finding a good meal in the desert outpost is no longer a long shot, but S.F. still wins the bet

Twenty-four hours later, and magically I am hungry again, as we walk through the surprisingly posh and beautiful Bellagio (though now owned by the MGM hotel group, it was built by Steve Wynn, whom I'd never thought of as a classy guy). We pass the Petrossian caviar bar, stroll under a riotous ceiling of enormous, highly colored glass flowers, and then through the amazing Conservatory, which changes floral displays every six weeks or so and is currently Chinese New Year-themed, to arrive at Aqua, a branch of our own local fish palace. "San Francisco style, Las Vegas attitude," I mutter, quoting the slogan billboarded outside Caesar's Palace for its Bradley Ogden restaurant: The woody, brightly lit room has little of the hushed charm of the S.F. Aqua, and the water and bread service feel as caring and polished as a coffee shop's, especially after the cosseting we'd experienced the night before. My "tasting" of Hudson Valley foie gras, which normally indicates more than one preparation, is a nicely seared slab served with an interesting parsnip tarte Tatin. I am surprised when the crust of the Maine lobster pot pie is placed on the plate and heaped with lobster, carrots, potatoes, pearl onions, and broth, guaranteeing sogginess, but I still enjoy the dish (though I'm happy not to be paying for it, at $59). Not as stellar a meal as the night before.

Getting an Eiffel: S.F.'s Aqua is a true 
monument to fish, unlike the Vegas outpost.
Anthony Pidgeon
Getting an Eiffel: S.F.'s Aqua is a true monument to fish, unlike the Vegas outpost.

Location Info

Map

Aqua

252 California
San Francisco, CA 94111

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Embarcadero

Details

Roasted chestnut soup $13

Shellfish consommé $14

Foie gras trio $20

Duck breast $33

Seven-cheese plate $28

Meyer lemon soufflé $10

Pear mille-feuille $10

956-9662

Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m., and Sunday until 9:30 p.m.

Reservations essential

Wheelchair accessible

Parking: difficult

Muni: 1, 10, 15, 41

Noise level: moderate

252 California (at Battery)

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Once back in San Francisco, it seems only fair to dine at our Aqua, where my parents and I experience near-perfection in setting, cooking, and service: the kind of evening you hope for when you set out for a pricey dinner in a temple of cuisine but that rarely happens. Brilliant starters -- roasted chestnut soup with tiny bay scallops, bacon, and thyme; strong-flavored shellfish consommé with lobster quenelles, langoustine, black truffles, and a poached quail egg; and a true tasting of three cold foie gras preparations (a peppered terrine, au torchon with wine-pickled grapes, and a "nougat" with bits of prunes, crunchy pistachios, and almonds) -- prepare us for another lobster casserole (whose crust is merely used to seal the copper pot), with lardons and a rich parsley béarnaise in addition to potatoes, porcini, and pearl onions (and only $45!), and rare, juicy duck breast with dried fruit compote, a port jus, and a lovely, creamy parsnip gratin. (I'm less enamored of my mild-mannered petrale sole in a creamy chowder sauce.) As we float out after a pear mille-feuille with caramel ice cream, an ethereal Meyer lemon soufflé, and a plate of seven cheeses, I reflect back on my dinner at Aqua in Las Vegas: a pale simulacrum, something more than the one-third-scale Eiffel Tower outside the Paris Casino, but considerably less than the towering monument to fish on California Street.

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