I will try to write it up in detail, but I wanted to thank everyone who made suggestions for my blowout dinner.
We ended up at Aqua, where we had a truly fabulous meal. Every detail was on a range between very good and outstanding, tending to the upper range.
I am not positive that I would spend my own money there more than say, once every five years, but for special occasions, or when someone else is paying, go for it.
Details to come...
Sounds like a good time. I wish I had found your message earlier so I could make this suggestion, but better late than never. Anyone faced with a similar situation should give this a try. Call the restaraunt of your choice and ask to talk to the manager. Descibe your situation and tell them you want something unbelievable. Some places will go so far as to create a custom menu for you. Wine pairing can be included if you ask for it. I haven't done this myself, but I have read about it. This was the kind of situation where I would seen if I could get this treatment myself. Anyway ,glad you had a good time.
I am Mike's dad and one of the beneficiaries of his company's largesse. The meal was indeed outstanding on all counts. My only fear--as a aggressively informal type--was that the place might be snooty and formal. Far from it, the serving staff were professional with a light touch and the room was not overdone--the unbelieveable flower arrangements notwithstanding.
I will let Mike describe the meal in detail, but we were glad that we were part of the experience.
Ok - I sit here with my receipt in front of me.
My parents were in town, partly on business, partly on pleasure, so I decided to use my company bonus to take them and my girlfriend out for a blow-out meal. After calling a few places that laughed off the possibility of seating me for dinner on a weekend with a mere five days notice, I got a table at Aqua. I would be surprised if anything on the A-list could have exceeded the experience.
The day of the dinner, I perused a few more reviews of the place, all of them sparkling. Then my father zipped a mail off to me. Surfing the zagat guide he noted that the review listed the place as jacket and tie. This concerned him. He had not brought his tie with him on the trip. And since I only own one, I couldn't help. I called the restaurant and subtly asked about a dress code.
"You will feel comfortable in a jacket, but it is not required."
OK - My mom and girlfriend both had not seen me in my spanking new suit, bought for a wedding and college reunion, so I warned my lady friend about impending fanciness, and donned my suit. A veritable festival of earthtones. I picked up my parents at their hotel (Dad mocked anguish at his lack of formal attire) and hit the restaurant.
The valet whisked away my sporty '87 Accord, and we strolled in. The place was elegant but airy, and the clientele, while well-represented by the downtown business crowd, was diverse in age, dress, and liveliness. When we were seated, we noted that the tables directly around us were populated with mostly casually dressed folks, including some jeans-wearers. Relief all around.
We were in the shade of one of the famous flower arrangements. Most mentions of Aqua note the outrageous annual flower bill. I had expected to be afloat in roses and orchids, with visions of floral hedges separating tables. Instead there were three enormous arrangements. They reached the thirty foot ceiling, whole bushes of flowers with smaller trees acting as the supporting leafiness.
Enough ambience, on to the meal.
My father picked out a champagne to start, and they placed a measuting cup on each of our plates. Shortly thereafter, a server came around with a smallish watering can of vegetable soup to sip. Very nice.
We decided that instead of going for the prix fixe, we could assemble our own tasting menu from what we perceived as the greatest hits, and the items which caught our fancy.
My mother went for the caviar parfait - Layers of toast, lox, and cream cheese, crowned with a generous layer of beluga caviar. Everyone enjoyed it, as well as the opportunity to see what a $60 appetizer tastes like. If you like caviar, and have the dough, go for it.
The house specialty mussel souffle was delicious. A cloud of mussel, wetted with a saffron (I think) infused mussel broth sauce. Also delicious was my seared scallops topped with foie gras. Rich and clean, a very nice flavor combination. My father found the standout with his clam chowder. Delicious clamminess, it was a creamy chowder which had been sharpened with curry. The broth itself was thick, but not sticky. Perhaps "best in class". We also had a tuna tartare for the table that was very good, but not unique, even with the table-side last minute prep, including the addition of a quail egg-yolk. It would be a highlight most other places that serve something like it, but the other dishes were so good, it could not stand up.
For entrees, I repeated my foie gras theme with another signature dish - Tuna medalions with foie gras. Also very good. Similar form to my appetizer, but flavors were different and delicious. Morrells and other goodies surrounding the fish in a savory sauce.
My mother also repeated thematically, ordering the crab sampler, one of the priciest entrees (although behind their surf and turf, as well as a lobster pot pie which looked good on other tables' plates). It consisted of a soft-shell, a crab salad, ciopino (sp?), and a couple of crab cakes. Each was quite delicious, although as DC natives, we tend to look with scorn on all non-Chesapeake Bay crab cake formations. I've even been known to scoff at any non-Chesapeake Bay crabs. But that's neither here nor there.
My dad had a swordfish dish. I am having trouble recalling the exact prep, although I believe it was wrapped in pancetta and sat on top of something starchy. I do recall that it was among the favorites of the evening.
Memory has now failed completely - My girlfriend had halibut. Again, I do remember it was delicious. I'll check with the others in the party for details.
We were stuffed to the gills, but even with the bottle of wine we ordered with dinner we had enough room left on the tab to sample desserts. Mom was ready to pass, but as we were not paying, I told here if she wanted a bite of anything, order the whole shebang. Meyer Lemon tart was really good. Meyer lemons I guess are the companions to Key Limes - small and intense... Also a semifreddo which I probably would only order again to get the gooey caramel at its core. And an apple gallete with excellent house made ice creams.
Well, there you have it. We left extremely satisfied, and visions of the meal persisted in the days after. With a 20% tip I nailed the $600 mark, but payed the valet in cash.
I might even go back to Aqua on my own tab, but I don't expect to become a regular anytime soon.
re: Mike Zurer
Sounds like a memorable meal!
For any managers/bosses out there -- this is a great way to reward and recognize employees! After taxes, what's left of a $600 bonus check can be quickly deposited and forgotten, but an awesome meal (and the person/company who made it possible) will be remembered and talked about for years.