Aqua Terra has attracted a lot of attention for its adventurous atmosphere that is both funky and sophisticated. Located on Annapolis’ historic Main Street, the stylish 45-seat restaurant is often referred to as “surf and turf for the hip.”
Well, hip or not, if you love food you’re in for a unique dining experience. Having made their way through the ranks of the food and beverage industry for nearly 20 years, many of those with the Morton’s steakhouse franchise, husband and wife owners Ken and Alison Chase purchased the Aqua Terra storefront in May 2000.
Mrs. Chase, a self-taught chef, offers innovative seasonal menus with hints of Europe and Asia. A ceramics major in school, she uses her art background to inspire the presentation of food at Aqua Terra.
The open kitchen, where Mrs. Chase and her staff prepare each dish, is the focal point of the dining room. Other features are the grayish-blue walls, blond wood furniture, a pressed-tin ceiling and bare floors. We were lucky to sit in one of the two storefront be-seen tables. While we enjoyed the ambience inside it was also nice to keep an eye on the snowflakes that were falling outside. Much in the restaurant is unique: the menu, even the cocktail glasses and plates.
We started our evening with the crispy wonton tacos of foie gras and duck confit with hoisin barbecue sauce and crunchy Asian slaw ($7). This was a perfect marriage of simplicity and luxury. The foie gras and duck confit were rich and succulent, tamed perfectly by the understated accompaniments. We could have eaten these all night.
Other intriguing openers included potstickers filled with pork and Asian vegetables, then fried, and served with a yuzu-infused ponzu sauce; grilled jumbo prawns in a coconut-habenero chili sauce over greens in a honey guava-lime dressing; a pan-seared/gingered sea scallop topped with lumpfish caviar and served over sesame dressed greens. There’s also pulled duck over field greens with julienned carrots, crispy shoestring beets, red currants, cashews and a warm curry vinaigrette.
The entrees were cleverly listed in two groups: “aqua” and “terra.” I opted for surf and ordered the Australian blue prawns ($20). The six large prawns were in a spicy Malaysian laksa coconut broth, served over Thai cellophane noodles with baby bok choy. “Bright” is the only word that really describes this dish. The flavors burst onto the palate, bringing the mild (but expertly prepared) prawns and noodles to life.
My wife opted for turf, deciding on the mixed grill ($26) which included venison and blueberry sausage, boneless duck breast (sometimes quail), and a double-cut lamb chop, grilled, then served over wild mushroom risotto and finished with shiraz wine reduction, balsamic syrup and white truffle oil.
The duck breast was the star, moist and perfectly medium rare, with a crispy outside. But all the meats were very flavorful and perfectly prepared. The mushrooms added just the right earthiness to the creamy risotto.
The Chases were very accommodating when asked about ordering a petite portion for our 6-year-old daughter. She settled on a lamb chop ($11.50) (the regular plate comes with two chops; $23). The chop was grilled, finished with a hoisin glaze and served over gingered sweet potatoes and a roasted garlic sautee of baby corn and sugar-snap peas. Again, the chef was right-on in preparing the meat. The standout in this dish was the vegetable accompaniment the al dente chunks of sweet potato really elevated this humble root vegetable to star level.
Other artfully prepared entrees include the Chilean salmon timbales artichoke bottoms, roasted garlic potato puree, spinach and salmon timbales served with lemongrass buerre blanc topped with Asian salad in a crispy bowl; tuna au poivre with a black pepper crust, glazed with caramel soy, seared and served with lemongrass risotto and red onion marmalade; a Maine lobster tail poached in butter and served over asparagus and truffled potato puree then finished with a miso emulsion; a grilled Ridgefield Farms filet mignon served over wasabi smashed potatoes with Asian glaze and steamed soybeans; and the pan-roasted duck breast served over white chocolate and rosemary mashed potatoes finished with a port wine and cherry sauce.
Yes, that was white chocolate and rosemary mashed potatoes. My wife has already informed me we must return soon to sample this unusual side dish.
Make sure to save room for the creative desserts. The night we were there three were offered: traditional creme brulee, chocolate mousse and hazelnut trio. Staying in the unique vein, we opted for the hazelnut trio. It was a beautifully presented round of hazelnut mousse atop two thin chocolate cake layers surrounding a hazelnut praline. The flavors were divine. We’re all hooked on hazelnut now. And the praline crunch was just the unique twist needed to pull things all together.
For now, the restaurant is only open for dinner. The Chases have a 2-year-old, so lunch hours are spent being mom and dad.
Nothing is ordinary at Aqua Terra, so be sure to approach the restaurant with an open mind.