Tucked away in the Radisson hotel is Aqua Terra, a highly acclaimed restaurant which boasts unique views of Kingston’s waterfront, as well as one the city’s most celebrated chefs, Clark Day. In spite of living in this city for well over a decade, I’d actually never dined at Aqua Terra until quite recently. I can’t put my finger on why I’ve been holding out all of these years, but suffice to say that I took the plunge and Aqua Terra exceeded the hype. The only real criticism that I have about this gem is that the exposed wiring on the ceiling took away from from the overall ambience and intimacy of the establishment. Luckily what’s on your plate will deter you from looking up.
Our meal began with a free sample of crusty baguette, topped with fruit preserve, chevre and balsamic vinaigrette. I was dining with someone who doesn’t care for chevre, so I fortunately inherited their serving. The tart balsamic and preserve was perfectly offset by the creaminess of the chevre. Once we’d finished, our waitress proceeded by rhyming off the specials, politely insisted on referring to us as Sir and Ma’am, and was otherwise extremely knowledgeable about the menu, ingredients and which wines we should consider off of their extensive list. We decided to start by sharing the pan-seared sea scallops ($12), served with squash, yukon gold, pork belly hash and microgreens. Admittedly this was a bit of a challenge on our part, as some kitchens do scallops far better than others, and suffice to say that Aqua Terra knows exactly what their doing in this respect. Not only were the scallops perfectly cooked, but the diversity of the complimentary sides made for some epic tasting bites.
Next up before our main course was the French onion soup ($8), consisting of simmered sweet onions, madeira wine, beef stock, crostini and swiss cheese. As you make out in the unfortunately dark photo, there was an abundance of cheese, which is exactly how French onion soup should be made. Or at least, that’s the standard my grandmother set way back when. We also tried the Aqua Terra caesar salad ($8), which combined romaine lettuce, house dressing, lemon croutons, pancetta crisp and a massive parmesan cracker. Their dressing was very light, with just the right amount of garlic and creaminess. And who could go wrong with that parmesan cracker? Other, more adventurous starters include: duck terrine & fois gras, mushroom salad, crab spring rolls and salmon tartare, just to name a few.
For my main course, I was torn between the White Stripe Lamb Rack and the Rib Eye. I’ve actually only had lamb twice in my life, but something told me that Aqua Terra was a safe place for a third successful attempt. Even so, my craving for beef proved to be too great, and accordingly I opted for a grilled, cowboy cut, 16 oz. rib eye ($36), served with summer succotash, Bayview Farms garlic mash and bordelaise sauce. The steak was grilled to perfection, medium rare, while each bite was as tender and rich as the last. My only regret is that I started the meal with scallops and a caesar salad, which left limited room for this massive piece of meat. In spite of my best efforts, I unfortunately did not finish, nor did I entertain the offer of dessert.
My dining companion also opted for red meat, although she was more practical than I in that she ordered the smaller beef tenderloin ($31), which is served with garlic confit mashed, toasted walnuts, st. andré, seasoned arugula and a shallot demi-glace. In contrast to my mouth-watering steak, hers was slightly more tender, while the garlic confit mashed was an exceptional stand out. Next time, and yes there will be a next time, I will likely steer myself towards this smaller portion or brave the lamb.
In closing, Aqua Terra proved to me what so many others have known and raved about for as long as I’ve lived in the Limestone City. It is a standout destination, with imaginative seasonal dishes, and an extremely knowledgeable front of house staff. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but sometimes the best places to dine are similarly hidden and live off of their outstanding reputation. Don’t be put off by the fact that Aqua Terra is in a hotel, and consider it the next time you have a truly special occasion worth celebrating.