Friday, August 29, 2014

Agua 301

Agua 301 celebrates the culture and cuisine of Mexico by taking contemporary Mexican cuisine and infusing it with modern flair. The chef tweaks traditional Mexican ingredients and flavor profiles through experimental ingredient combinations and serves it up waterside in Yards Park.  Though I'd recommend this place for happy hour drinks, rather than a gourmet meal.  Closest Metro is Navy Yard.
Being a beautiful Friday night to start of this Labor Day weekend, Keith suggested we go out to dinner.  I suggested Agua 301 due to its location in Yards Park.  Not only did I think it would be nice to sit outside and watch the sunset, but there was a free summer concert this evening as well.  Unfortunately when we arrived, the place was already packed with families and lots of young children running around in their bathing suits.  The entire outside patio was booked, so we opted to sit at a little two-top by the front window.

Blood Orange Margarita
Our server took a while to greet us, but took our drink orders right away and the rest of our food orders, since we had plenty of time to look over the menu.  Keith decided to start with the Pisco Sour, a Peruvian classic made with pisco, simple syrup, fresh lime juice, egg white, topped with a dash of Fernet Valet.  It was alright, but not his favorite.  I started with the Blood Orange Margarita, a Mexican version of Zest’s blood orange Manhattan; made with Milagro Reposado, blood orange puree, Cointreau, and a splash of blood orange bitters.  It was supposed to come rimmed with citrus salt, but mine was missing.  The margarita was very tart from the blood orange and pretty potent.  One drink was enough for me.  Later, Keith switched to the Calimocho, a popular Spanish cocktail made with Flaco Tempranillo and Mexican Coke; served over ice.  I took a sip, and it was an odd mixture to me, but Keith found it somewhat refreshing and a twist on the sangria.

For starters. we ordered the Ceviche Pescado Blanco made with fresh white fish of the day, onion, tomatoes, cilantro, and lime.  It was served with thin plantain chips that did not hold up well to scoop up the ceviche.  Each chip broke way too easily, so I resorted to using the complementary tortilla chips that we first nibbled on with house salsa.  While the fish was cut in nice chunky pieces, the dish could have used a bit more salt.

I also wanted to try some of the tacos, so I suggested Keith and I each get a set as another appetizer.  I chose the Chicken Tinga with shredded chicken, cotija, onion, and guajillo chile sauce served on the side.  For $7, these two tacos were the perfect-sized starter, and great for sharing.  The chicken was fresh and juicy, however I found the seasonings to be bland overall.  Either more salt and pepper, or even a splash of acid from lime would have helped.

Keith felt similarly about his Beef Barbacoa Tacos.  Made with shredded beef, caramelized onions, chile gravy, chopped onion and cilantro, with salsa de arbol on the side; these tacos were also fresh but tasted quite average.  The meat filling had a slight smokey flavor and were the appropriate amount within the taco.  He was looking for more heat, which the creamy salsa did not provide.

For his main dish, Keith ate the Short Rib Mole Chichilo - braised short ribs, chichilo mole, sweet mashed with dulce de panela, and sautéed spinach.  The short ribs were tender, but the 'mole' was more like an Asian-type glaze rather than other traditional moles he's had.  Again, the spice-factor was lacking in this dish.

Lastly, I ate the Camarones en Crema de Chipotle - pan seared shrimp in a chipotle cream sauce, served over Spanish rice.  The shrimp were large and cooked perfectly.  Unlike Keith's dish, the chipotle cream was quite spicy and really tingled my tongue.  Combined with the rice, the shrimp and smokey sauce almost gave a jambalaya experience.

Overall, we were not impressed with the food nor the service.  Once our waiter finally did arrive to take our orders, he did not know any of the Spanish names on the menu (When I ordered the camarones, he looked confused and asked me again.  I repeated, and then pointed on the menu, and he replied "Oh - the spicy shrimp."); he didn't bring our drink orders (or water) until after all of our appetizers arrived; he then had to return with plates for us to eat off of; and then they never cleared our first course before bringing our entrees, causing an awkward pile up of dirty dishes on our small table.  The whole restaurant was very loud and crowded, and exuded a 'chain restaurant' vibe.  The food was also nothing I would return for. 

Total Rating: 3.28
Food: 3, Price: 4, Service: 2.5, Ambience: 3.5, Accessibility: 4.5

What I ate:
Ceviche Pescado Blanco
fresh white fish of the day, onion, cilantro, lime

Chicken Tinga Tacos
shredded chicken, cotija, onion, guajillo chile sauce

Camarones en Crema de Chipotle
pan seared shrimp in a chipotle cream sauce over Spanish rice

Plus Keith ate:
Beef Barbacoa Tacos
shredded beef, caramelized onions, chile gravy, chopped onion and cilantro, salsa de arbol

Short Rib Mole Chichilo
braised short ribs, chichilo mole, sweet mashed with dulce de panela, sautéed spinach

Agua 301 on Urbanspoon

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