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New Hagerstown restaurant is one of area's best

Restaurant review: Aqua 103

Restaurant review: Aqua 103

April 14, 2008|By EATON GOODE

A meal at Aqua 103 in Hagerstown's north end is a delight to your senses, but you must be prepared to pay the price of fine dining brought to you with a little flourish and much skill.

One of the area's newest restaurants -- it opened in mid-March with no fanfare -- Aqua 103 is located in the Lyles Building north of the U.S. Post Office on Leitersburg Pike across from Long Meadow Shopping Center.

The building looks like a standard office building, making the inside of the restaurant a surprise.

The restaurant decor is sleek, with a high ceiling, a stunning wall of windows and subdued lighting from hanging glass globes that look like they could have been hand-blown.

The name itself comes from the waterfall behind the bar. A sheet of water cascades behind shelves holding liquor and glasses. The waterfall and the number of the street address were combined to name the restaurant.

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My dining companion and I stopped by one weekday evening without reservations but we were greeted warmly and led to a table for two.

By the time we left, our bill came to an even $100, including the tip. It isn't often I walk away from a pricey meal and don't regret at least a little bit of the extravagance.

But not this time.

The meal served to us was well worth the price. Taste, portions and presentation made dining here as much about the experience as the food, which by the way, was fabulous.

I ordered a glass of the house chardonnay. The restaurant's house wines are all by Hahn, a California winery. It is not a label with which I have had much experience, but its chardonnays was delicious -- slightly tart and dry. I had two glasses during dinner at a cost of $6 a glass.

We began our meal with a shared appetizer of panko-crusted, crispy shrimp, served with a tangerine-honey dipping sauce. Panko is a crustless bread crumb used in Japanese and French cuisines to coat foods before frying, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia I use to make myself a smarter diner. Panko has a crisper, airier texture than regular breadcrumbs.

The four large shrimp were displayed on a long, rectangular white plate. The panko covered shrimp evenly. I cut into one of the shrimp and found it piping hot and delicious. The tangerine-honey dipping sauce gave the shrimp a delicious citrus taste.

For an entree, I selected one of the specials -- scallops with butternut squash and bacon. My companion selected another special -- roasted cod with puttanesca, a classic Italian blend of tomato, roasted garlic, shallots, kalamata olives and green olives. My special was $22 and my companion's was $25. Each came with a small side salad.

On this night, diners had a choice of two sides -- mashed potatoes with horseradish or a mix of vegetables. I chose the mashed potatoes. My companion chose the mixed vegetables.

While we were waiting for our entrees, the waiter brought us a basket of warm, sliced bread with a side of extra virgin olive oil, garlic, rosemary and oregano. It was delicious and I immediately asked for more.

When our entrees arrived, they were served on large, square, white plates. My scallops were pan seared and arranged in a semi-circle on the squash. The horseradish-enhanced mashed potatoes were in a small, square bowl in the corner of the plate.

The scallops were large, tender and delicious, but the star of the show was the butternut squash and bacon. It was amazing. I could have eaten only that and felt I had dined well. The horseradish gave the potatoes an extra tang. They were also very good.

My companion's cod was tender and delicious and the vegetables were cooked to perfection -- just the right amount of crispness to them. But we both agreed the puttanesca was just a little too much. The olive taste was very strong and we ignored it after one taste.

We followed the meal sharing a slice of chocolate cake. As with all our courses, dessert was served with a flourish. The cake was beautifully plated with the outline of a fork dusted in chocolate powder. The cake was rich and moist. The cake was $7.

I had a cup of coffee with dessert and loved the way it was served. The waiter brought a cup and a silver urn of coffee to the table. He chatted for a moment and then poured steaming hot water out of my cup into a glass before pouring my coffee. A warmed cup for a hot cup of coffee.

Throughout the meal we were asked several times by two of the owners if we were finding everything to our liking. I don't know if there are more partners, but these two were there the night we dined and they were very interested in making sure patrons enjoyed the visit.

Our waiter also stopped by the table between courses. One snafu: He forgot to serve our cake. He apologized profusely when he stopped to see how we were enjoying dessert and we had to tell him we hadn't received it yet.

I rarely indulge in a $100 meal, but we very much enjoyed this one. Aqua 103 is on our list of special places to go for special occasions.

Eaton Goode is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail staff member who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

Aqua 103



ยท Four and a half stars (out of 5)

Food: 5 stars
Value: 4 stars
Service: 4 stars
Ambiance: 5 stars

Address: 12916 Conamar Drive, Suite 103, Hagerstown

Hours: Aqua 103 is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Saturday from 4:30 p.m. to midnight

Phone: 301-393-5757

Web site: www.aqua103.net

Style: Progressive American cuisine

Range: Appetizers include pumpkin soup for $5 or yellow-fin tuna prepared three ways for $12; sandwiches include smoked turkey for $7 or crab cake for $12; dinner entrees include winter vegetable ravioli for $19 or a 29-ounce porterhouse steak for $42.

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