The opening's been delayed a bit, but Monday is the day Aqua Blu will be revealed to the public.
The restaurant revamps the former Nick the Greek spot at the base of the bridge to Seaside, and since construction began last winter, it's been a source of curiosity. What is Aqua Blu? What does it look like inside and what will they serve?
We asked for a tour before opening day and here's what we saw.
The first steps into the entryway exude elegance. Pictures of beach badges from years past decorate an aqua blue wall that gives way to a wide open bar area.
Metallic decor and a slate floor highlight the reception area, which is the focal point of the spacious entryway as you walk into Aqua Blu Kitchen & Bar, the new restaurant at the base of the Mathis Bridge, along Route 37 east.
Aqua Blu, which has been taking shape for several months, is slated to open its doors to the public on Monday, Oct. 24.
The finishing touches were being put in place this week, but Patch got a chance to take a look around in advance of the opening.
The entire restaurant has an openness to it, a feeling of spaciousness yet one that is inviting, starting from the moment you walk in. To the right, near the reception desk, is a waiting area with seating and a place to talk or sip cocktails while waiting for a table. Off the bar, which has seating for 70 and six flat-screen televisions, is a quieter lounge with soft cushioned seating that evokes a cozy living room. That lounge gives way to the patio, where patrons can enjoy a pleasant evening outside.
The rest of the rooms flow from one to another. To the right of the bar area is the main dining area, which has a bistro feel to it, with wicker-style chairs and smaller tables fronting an open kitchen.
Oscar Toro, the executive chef of Aqua Blu, noted the main dining area, which seats 100, has its own separate bar, which allows for speedier drink service for dining room patrons without disrupting the flow in the main bar area. Square tables fill the room, which is lined on two sides with rectangular tables – three as booths against the front wall, and others lined up in front of a blue upholstered couch-style bench that runs the length of the far wall.
Beyond that far wall is a private dining room that seats 54, some around a main table, others at smaller tables nearby. In addition to the entrance off the main dining room, there’s a more private entrance to the private dining room accessed through a hallway that leads from the main reception area, affording guests of a private function in that room the ability to come and go without having to work their way through the main dining room.
The private dining room has the feel of a seaside cottage, with distressed woods and mahogany for the tables and seating, a driftwood-inspired chandelier and art and lanterns. Cathedral window-style mirrors reflect light and make it feel even more roomy.
There is a separate banquet room off the main bar that seats 160 people comfortably, and offers both buffet and sit-down service, Toro said. There have been banquets held already on weekends for much of the last month, allowing the staff to get comfortable, while the finishing touches are put in place elsewhere in the restaurant, he said.
Lighting is an elegant detail in all of the rooms, from crystal chandeliers in the bar lounge to candle lighting – thanks to electic candles – throughout the dining rooms.
The food and drink prices aren’t cheap, but are in line with other upscale establishments in the area.
The menu, described as American cuisine with Mediterranean influences, is as interesting as the décor.
In addition to the usual drinks, the bar offers a selection of draft beers highlighted by Innis & Gunn, a darker beer aged in rum-soaked casks, and Aqua Blu’s own specialty cocktails: the Ti-Tea, which is Absolut black tea vodka mixed with lemon and soda; the Negroni Capriccio, for Enzo Varriale, husband of owner Cathy Varriale, a mix of dry gin, campari bitters, Italian sweet vermouth and an orange twist; Jojo’s Bloody Mary, named for a dear friend, which is a mix of Hangar 1 chipotle vodka, bacon, celery, Old Bay seasoning and roasted tomato juice; and the Torito, a mojito with Hangar 1 Kaffir vodka, muddled fresh lime, mint and Thai basil, which Toro said gives off an anise flavor, and sugar cane syrup.
Other tempting specialties include the Aqua Blu Berry Pie, a combination of Stoli vanilla vodka and acai juice in glass with a graham cracker-dusted rim (think margarita with graham cracker instead of salt).
During happy hour, they will offer free bar snacks, Toro said, and there is a separate bar menu that includes a four-cheese macaroni and cheese dish; mini crab cake sliders with a spicy sauce, chicken wings, steamed mussels, a grilled cheese sandwich served on sourdough bread, and more. The bar serves olives, pickles and pickled vegetables that all are pickled and cured inhouse, he said, and are available for purchase as well.
There’s a raw bar, with oysters, shrimp, lobster, clams, and seviche. Antipasti selections include grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes, and a pumpkin soup served with caramel corn and spiced Chantilly cream.
The bruschetta is house-made. Toro, who’s assisted by sous chef Alex Ferrari, a longtime friend and co-worker, said the bruschetta is served in a jar with breadsticks and slices that come in a small pail, allowing you to dip the bread into the jar and serve yourself. In addition to a more traditional rustic tomato and roasted garlic bruschetta, Toro said they offer one that is whipped ricotta with pear marmalade, honey, basil and chili.
Salad offerings include a standard wedge salad, topped with Oregon blue cheese, bacon and crispy shallots.
There are pizzas and pasta, and an array of mouth-watering entrees, including steaks from filets to porterhouse cuts, fish dishes including halibut, swordfish and a Mediterranean fish stew comprised of clams, mussels, shrimp and swordfish that’s served with a grilled rosemary flatbread, and rack of lamb with date bread pudding, mint jelly and nut brittle.
Dessert, of course, cannot be forgotten, and the dessert selections are just as tempting as the rest of the menu: warm chocolate cake served with bananas and caramel ice cream and a brown butter sauce; mini red velvet cupcakes; classic apple pie; and homemade ice cream sandwiches created from fresh-baked cookies.
There’s also an item Toro said is aimed at the youngsters but may have just as much appeal to the older set: the San Genarro dessert feast, of cotton candy, zeppoles and cannoli.
That's what we saw of the bar, dining area and its menu; we've yet to see the banquet portions of the facility.