The last time I stopped by Agua to try dishes with chef Jordi Valles, it involved blow-torched fish, blooming tendons and black truffle ice cream (see The Life Aguatic). This time around, he slow-cooked it down a notch. Like last time, I’m a guinea pig, not a food expert, and these are just my opinions. (Also, look for Fez, the rooftop bar above Agua, to soon reopen for Spring.)
Porcini carpaccio: The base is shaved porcini mushrooms that were first slowly cooked in oil, herbs and garlic. This is topped with eggplant puree, aragula roots, dollops of pine nut sauce and a balsamic drizzle. Valles stresses the texture, though it is hard to describe, with ‘al dente’ coming to mind. While I tend to find balsamic heavy, the flavors are fun and this tastes like a dish made after foraging in the forest. (Eggplants grow in forests, right? Somewhere surely.) The pine nut is concentrated, the aragula roots have some kick, there is also a lingering black pepper sensation. I’d love to see those ingredients stuffed into a mushroom cap.
Tuna Cannelloni: Thinly-sliced cucumber doubles as pasta and holds in onion, tomato, cucumber, raw tuna and more. Side by side with tomato compote topped with tuna flakes. The idea: combine two tuna textures. You can segment the cannelloni into sushi-sized pieces and top it with the compote. And add some flakes, otherwise the cucumber flavor and smell are dominant (at least that’s what I found).
Portobello salad: The mushrooms are slow-cooked in oil vinegar and herbs and then thinly sliced and placed atop a button mushroom puree. This is paired with cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, Iberico ham and pesto sauce. Those top shrooms are flavorsome, the bottom ones more subtle. The ham is awesome.
Put your ear close to that ham and you can hear it aging.
Pork belly: You probably guessed, based on previous dishes, that this was slow-cooked. With spinach, mustard sprouts, artichokes and reduced chicken ‘juice’. Warning: chicken juice is highly concentrated. Glue-y. Savory. Add three drops of water and it might reconstitute as a chicken. And as far as I know, Agua has a “no pets” rule. You definitely want that juice with something else. Like the pork belly, which is crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and delicious in your mouth.
Chocolate textures: Made with Valrhona chocolate from France, you got your crunchy, crispy, soft, smooth and more on one plate. Crumbly. Is that a texture. It’s what you get from the little chunks at the base. That dark round one is a peanut truffle. It’s good.
My favorite dishes: the porcini carpaccio and slow-cooked pork belly. My least favorite: the portobello salad, given I’m not a big pesto fan and I found the dish served too cold. The tuna cannelloni falls somewhere in the middle, although I found it a bit messy: it might be fun to have this sushi-style, with a handful of individual cucumber-wrapped pieces. Anyway, these are thoughtful dishes made with quality ingredients, so try some — pork belly! chicken juice! — and judge for yourself.
By the way, a few other things to note re Agua:
- The rooftop — Fez — should open around the end of the month, says manager Richard Pirsch.
- Agua has set lunch menus, with two courses at rmb85 and three courses at rmb99.
- Weekend brunch is from noon to 3 PM and includes five tapas, a main (example: oxtail and Parmesan risotto) and a dessert for rmb198. Upgrades are available: For example, you can add a cheese plate for rmb50.
- No corkage on Sundays or Mondays. Up to six people per table, one bottle per person. Might be time to break out that 1992 Great Wall…