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Acqua Al 2: A Taste Of Florence

Assaggio di primi at Aqua Al 2.
Courtesy photo

San Diego’s Restaurant Week got an unlikely and unwelcome visitor by the name of “El Nino” this year. What is typically a festive time full of diners hitting the streets to sample restaurants was instead a week of being hunkered down at home to escape the torrential rain. Having every news channel saying “stay home” didn’t help to inspire the masses to venture out (even though it is sound advice).

Finally, the clouds parted, the incessant rain ceased, and Restaurant Week tried to kick back into gear. We ventured to a quaint little slice if Italy called Acqua Al 2 in the Gaslamp Quarter. While Acqua Al 2 (the 2 is pronounced “Du-A” like the Italian number) seems like an odd name, it is actually the second restaurant bearing that name (except for the 2 part). Acqua Al 2’s sister restaurant is located in Florence, Italy. That certainly puts San Diego in good standing.

Acqua is every bit as rustic as if it were in Italy. Small, intimate table settings are nestled in a room of wood ceilings, beams and plastered walls. Wine bottles were impressively scattered about the place. The space is unpretentious and clearly trying to make you feel comfortable. Check out the autographed plates lining the walls signed by celebrities, guests and friends of the restaurant.

With that said, our evening actually got off to a rocky start. As we neared the restaurant, the main dining area looked relatively empty, which usually means better service. Yet, as we entered the tiny vestibule, a significant cluster of folks had gathered around the hostess. This did not look good since so many guests arriving at one time can really challenge a kitchen. As our party was seated in the bar area, we were told that our server was the bartender. This was suddenly looking to be a bad idea, and we actually contemplated leaving and going elsewhere. The big hole in the upholstery of the banquet was also not a good sign for attention to detail.

Within seconds, our server/bartender greeted us with salutations and drink requests (I guess having the bartender on your side is good for quick drinks). Scott, our benevolent server, quickly made us feel at home, and we settled in for the evening. Soon water, a lovely bottle of wine and bread--literally served in a small brown bag rolled down at the top--turned our attention to conversation and laughs.

The Restaurant Week-inspired $40 prix fixe dinner featured a decent variety of choices: Appetizers included a pasta sampler, soup of the day and salad. Entrees consisted of filet mignon, chicken breast and the fish of the day, sea bass (vegetarian dishes were also available); and desserts of tiramisu, pannacotta and cheesecake.

A regular dish on the everyday menu, the assaggio di primi (a sampler of five pastas) is quite the showstopper and very filling. The portions were easily enough for two and included bowtie pasta with porcini mushrooms and mascarpone cheese, a tube-shaped pasta with tomato eggplant sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese, penne pasta with milk, vodka sauce and tomato sauce, a corkscrew pasta with light spinach and Parmesan cheese sauce, and lastly, long fusilli pasta with country tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. Each was delivered separately and family style. All five consisted of playful pastas cooked perfectly, each with unique textures and flavors. A couple of the tomato-based versions blended a little into each other, but all were delicious. A lovely choice, and almost enough for an entire meal.

The sea bass is seasoned delicately.
Courtesy photo

The fresh sea bass with a risotto like rice, and steamed vegetables was a great, tasty dish. The fish was cooked well and seasoned delicately, allowing the flavors to take hold. Additionally, satisfying was the petto di pollo ai carciofi (sautéed chicken breast topped with artichoke hearts in a white wine sauce). The dish almost had a chicken picatta flavor and feel of sans capers. The chicken was tender, and the understated essence, once again, allowed the poultry to shine on its own.

Of the evening’s prix fixe meal, the desserts were the only failing piece. The pannacotta (cream custard with fruit coulis) was rather bland and not even the fruit could liven up this party. The homemade ricotta cheesecake sounded amazing but had almost no actual cheesecake to it. The thin layer was just a touch thicker than the shell, and all you really tasted was the crust.

Acqua Al 2 has an extensive array of menu items, and certainly there are other jewels to savor. The idea of Restaurant Week is to get people out to dine and try new places. Acqua Al 2 delivered the goods with its prix fixe selections and will certainly have us wanting to come back for more.

The Good – Love, love, love the pasta sampler. You could almost stop right there, but don’t. Eat in the bar area, and make sure Scott is working.

The Bad – Again, the desserts were disappointing.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-230-0382
  • Name: Acqua Al 2
  • Address: 322 5th Ave