4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Acqua Gets Off to a Heavenly Start

Diners on the terrace at the Mission Bay Hilton's Acqua enjoy a view of SeaWorld's fireworks.
Diners on the terrace at the Mission Bay Hilton's Acqua enjoy a view of SeaWorld's fireworks.
Place

Hilton San Diego Resort

1775 E. Mission Bay Drive, San Diego

I woke up and — whoops — it was already mid-August. Nearly all my friends were vacationing in places with unbearable weather and aged parents. I wanted a little vacation of my own without those disadvantages. Say, dinner at a posh resort. With patio seating. A bay view. Good food and wine. My friend Dave was still in town and always enjoys a tasty meal, so we headed for Acqua, at the Hilton Resort on Mission Bay, which promised to meet all my criteria.

The two-level patio was lovely, and if we’d stayed long enough (we didn’t), we might even have watched the SeaWorld fireworks from there. But, alas, an army of shrill 20-somethings was occupying the section of the patio next to the bar, and they weren’t only there for happy hour, as we’d hoped, but for the duration, and the libations had them growing shriekier by the minute. From literature later found in the lobby, they may have been part of a convention of “sanitary specialists” (sewer folk), though the gals wore high heels, push-up bras, and short, low-cut date dresses. The dudes wore untucked tees and cargo shorts — the usual gender discrepancy. It could have been any Friday night in P.B. or Saturday night in the Gaslamp. Our excellent waiter was even more disturbed than we were: the madding crowd obstructed his path from the kitchen and bar to tables in the patio’s more civilized seaward regions. Well, these things happen to even the nicest places.

Acqua’s eccentrically designed menu is divided into First Course (appetizers) and Second Course (more appetizers), followed by Third Course (entrées) and finally The Pastry Chef. Each dish listed in the first three comes with an optional by-the-glass wine pairing ($9–$16) from an enviable international wine list. (The bottles list has some serious treats if you can afford them, e.g., a Mouton Condrieu Viognier for $110, a Bouchard Meursault Les Clos for $85, a Joseph Phelps 2005 Cab for $110.) There’s also a three-course prix-fixe dinner for $39, no pairings. The executive chef for the resort is Hermann Schäffer, and that umlaut over the a suggests he may be the force behind the Viennese pastries. Chef de cuisine is Mark Honeywell.

We began with a lively yellowfin tartare, a hefty cube of succulent diced raw tuna scattered with black sesame seeds, with occasional protrusions of cucumber and red bell pepper pieces. The mound was roofed with sliced cucumber and topped with guacamole-like avocado purée enlivened with chopped scallions and crunchy, skinny green stuff, maybe seaweed. A chile vinaigrette lent a gentle nip. The matched wine was a fruity Hugel Alsace Gewurtztraminer, and that’s exactly what to serve with chile-nipped raw tuna.

Sliding into second courses, a highlight of the meal was a five-spice roasted butternut squash soup with lobster and cream — a resort in a bowl. The cream floated over the surface, and our waiter brought a small container of good lobster meat to stir in or to eat on the side. We stirred it together into a pale orange liquid paradise, slightly sweet, subtly spiced. This came with an interesting Qupé Bien Nacido Rousanne, with moody hints of dark herbs under its surface amiability.

Our next round of seconds rose to the challenge of the first. Seared diver scallops (two, but large) were served on pancetta, surrounded by cremini mushrooms and pearl onions, with a thin, dark sauce that included truffle essence. Make sure you save some bread for sopping. I was sorry to learn that some time after the website menu was posted, the kitchen substituted ordinary cremini for divine chanterelles, but I guess to everything there is a season. With its meaty umami darkness, the scallop treatment contravenes local seafood-cooking clichés. The recommended matched wine is a Pinot Noir, which we didn’t try, having a lot of white left from our first round of dishes. With these flavors, though, a gentle red would make sense.

A grilled medallion of venison, topped with a firm poached or fried quail egg, was served over sliced apple, crisp applewood smoked bacon, and an intriguing celery-reduction sauce. The tender, deep-red venison was thrilling — the venison I’ve always hoped to taste. It is farmed, like nearly all restaurant game, but the chef treated it properly as mammalian game — lean meat meant to be eaten rare. (Yeah, exceptions should be made for funkytown game meats like bear, beaver, muskrat, manicou, etc.) The combination was a joy. This comes with a Brouilly Gamay Beaujolais, a light, dry red that somehow left us both with a shrill soprano aftertaste, a high-pitched meow on the palate. We’d have preferred a Pinot Noir, Merlot, or Côte du Rhône.

After these scintillating starters, our entrées were sort of boring. Not terrible, just same-old, same-old, less interesting than the choices listed on the obsolete website menu. Brine-marinated pork tenderloin reached us a tad overdone (pinky-brown), plated atop velvety thick bacon-potato purée (delish!) and surrounded by fresh clams in a thin garlicky sauce that seemed to evanesce. The pairing of pork and clams is borrowed from a traditional Portuguese dish more vibrant than this hifalutin upgrade.

A half-order of filet mignon looked mighty like a full portion, six inches in diameter, maybe eight ounces, garnished by a trimmed grilled portobello mushroom cap (gills painstakingly removed) pickled in balsamic, and by duck confit ravioli — the reason we ordered this choice. The beef was rare, rich, tender. The ravioli were actively unpleasant. Loose bits of dryish minced duck rattled around inside the pasta shells, with nothing to smooth the texture. The mouth-feel seemed crude, unfinished. We craved a cream sauce inside, better yet a mushroom cream sauce or some other sauce more original but equally suave.

The dessert menu, with its old Vienna pastries, tempted us into eating more, although we were already satisfied. We passed on the Nutella palatschinken (crêpes), the Linzer Tort, and even the tempting Mohr im Hemd (“Moor in a shirt”), a flourless dark chocolate terrine with whipped cream — the Moor’s white shirt — and chocolate sauce. I succumbed instead to a cheesecake jones, anticipating the Viennese version of “a light mousse on a Linzer cookie with vanilla Grand Marnier sauce.” The top of the small disk of cheese mousse was hollowed into a shallow pond filled with apricot jam. Alas. I spooned most of that to the side. The cheesecake itself was barely sweetened, with a distinct sour cream tang. I loved it.

Everybody loved the apple crumble topped with caramel sauce and vanilla gelato. The espresso machine was broken that night, but the regular coffee was good.

The hard news about Acqua is price: ordering all three courses plus desserts with matching wines is very steep. Our dinner came to $177 for two before tip, even skipping some matching wines. The happy news is that it’s easy to halve that sum. It’s still not economical, but it’s a treat rather than a total splurge. The best dishes are the starters, which arrive in generous shareable portions, and then the desserts. For the eyes and the palate, it’s a sweet taste of waterside luxury. ■

Acqua

★★★1/2 (Very Good to Excellent)

Hilton Hotel and Resort Mission Bay, 1775 Mission Bay, 679-276-4010; sandiegohilton.com/acqua-restaurant

HOURS: Three meals daily, 6:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
PRICES: First Course and Second Course appetizers $8–$16; entrées $19–$39; desserts $3–$9. Optional matched wines by the glass $9–$16. Three-course prix-fixe $39 (no set wine matches).
CUISINE & BEVERAGES: California-Mediterranean cuisine with Viennese-influenced desserts. Interesting international wine list, full bar.
PICK HITS: Yellowfin tuna tartare; butternut squash soup with lobster; seared diver scallops; venison medallion with quail egg; Viennese cheesecake; apple crumble. Good bets: crab cakes, short ribs, venison entrée, Mohr im Hemd (chocolate terrine).
NEED TO KNOW: Best, most affordable dinner: sampling from first- and second-course appetizers (several are generously portioned) and desserts. Many entrées available in half-portions. Website menu outdated. Two-level patio with heaters, fire pits, view of SeaWorld fireworks; best view from lower patio (ramp-accessible).

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Hard times, happy hours at Taste & Thirst

It’s a different Gaslamp
Next Article

A plan for Escondido's crime motels

Conversion to SROs entails bathroom and kitchen for each
Diners on the terrace at the Mission Bay Hilton's Acqua enjoy a view of SeaWorld's fireworks.
Diners on the terrace at the Mission Bay Hilton's Acqua enjoy a view of SeaWorld's fireworks.
Place

Hilton San Diego Resort

1775 E. Mission Bay Drive, San Diego

I woke up and — whoops — it was already mid-August. Nearly all my friends were vacationing in places with unbearable weather and aged parents. I wanted a little vacation of my own without those disadvantages. Say, dinner at a posh resort. With patio seating. A bay view. Good food and wine. My friend Dave was still in town and always enjoys a tasty meal, so we headed for Acqua, at the Hilton Resort on Mission Bay, which promised to meet all my criteria.

The two-level patio was lovely, and if we’d stayed long enough (we didn’t), we might even have watched the SeaWorld fireworks from there. But, alas, an army of shrill 20-somethings was occupying the section of the patio next to the bar, and they weren’t only there for happy hour, as we’d hoped, but for the duration, and the libations had them growing shriekier by the minute. From literature later found in the lobby, they may have been part of a convention of “sanitary specialists” (sewer folk), though the gals wore high heels, push-up bras, and short, low-cut date dresses. The dudes wore untucked tees and cargo shorts — the usual gender discrepancy. It could have been any Friday night in P.B. or Saturday night in the Gaslamp. Our excellent waiter was even more disturbed than we were: the madding crowd obstructed his path from the kitchen and bar to tables in the patio’s more civilized seaward regions. Well, these things happen to even the nicest places.

Acqua’s eccentrically designed menu is divided into First Course (appetizers) and Second Course (more appetizers), followed by Third Course (entrées) and finally The Pastry Chef. Each dish listed in the first three comes with an optional by-the-glass wine pairing ($9–$16) from an enviable international wine list. (The bottles list has some serious treats if you can afford them, e.g., a Mouton Condrieu Viognier for $110, a Bouchard Meursault Les Clos for $85, a Joseph Phelps 2005 Cab for $110.) There’s also a three-course prix-fixe dinner for $39, no pairings. The executive chef for the resort is Hermann Schäffer, and that umlaut over the a suggests he may be the force behind the Viennese pastries. Chef de cuisine is Mark Honeywell.

We began with a lively yellowfin tartare, a hefty cube of succulent diced raw tuna scattered with black sesame seeds, with occasional protrusions of cucumber and red bell pepper pieces. The mound was roofed with sliced cucumber and topped with guacamole-like avocado purée enlivened with chopped scallions and crunchy, skinny green stuff, maybe seaweed. A chile vinaigrette lent a gentle nip. The matched wine was a fruity Hugel Alsace Gewurtztraminer, and that’s exactly what to serve with chile-nipped raw tuna.

Sliding into second courses, a highlight of the meal was a five-spice roasted butternut squash soup with lobster and cream — a resort in a bowl. The cream floated over the surface, and our waiter brought a small container of good lobster meat to stir in or to eat on the side. We stirred it together into a pale orange liquid paradise, slightly sweet, subtly spiced. This came with an interesting Qupé Bien Nacido Rousanne, with moody hints of dark herbs under its surface amiability.

Our next round of seconds rose to the challenge of the first. Seared diver scallops (two, but large) were served on pancetta, surrounded by cremini mushrooms and pearl onions, with a thin, dark sauce that included truffle essence. Make sure you save some bread for sopping. I was sorry to learn that some time after the website menu was posted, the kitchen substituted ordinary cremini for divine chanterelles, but I guess to everything there is a season. With its meaty umami darkness, the scallop treatment contravenes local seafood-cooking clichés. The recommended matched wine is a Pinot Noir, which we didn’t try, having a lot of white left from our first round of dishes. With these flavors, though, a gentle red would make sense.

A grilled medallion of venison, topped with a firm poached or fried quail egg, was served over sliced apple, crisp applewood smoked bacon, and an intriguing celery-reduction sauce. The tender, deep-red venison was thrilling — the venison I’ve always hoped to taste. It is farmed, like nearly all restaurant game, but the chef treated it properly as mammalian game — lean meat meant to be eaten rare. (Yeah, exceptions should be made for funkytown game meats like bear, beaver, muskrat, manicou, etc.) The combination was a joy. This comes with a Brouilly Gamay Beaujolais, a light, dry red that somehow left us both with a shrill soprano aftertaste, a high-pitched meow on the palate. We’d have preferred a Pinot Noir, Merlot, or Côte du Rhône.

After these scintillating starters, our entrées were sort of boring. Not terrible, just same-old, same-old, less interesting than the choices listed on the obsolete website menu. Brine-marinated pork tenderloin reached us a tad overdone (pinky-brown), plated atop velvety thick bacon-potato purée (delish!) and surrounded by fresh clams in a thin garlicky sauce that seemed to evanesce. The pairing of pork and clams is borrowed from a traditional Portuguese dish more vibrant than this hifalutin upgrade.

A half-order of filet mignon looked mighty like a full portion, six inches in diameter, maybe eight ounces, garnished by a trimmed grilled portobello mushroom cap (gills painstakingly removed) pickled in balsamic, and by duck confit ravioli — the reason we ordered this choice. The beef was rare, rich, tender. The ravioli were actively unpleasant. Loose bits of dryish minced duck rattled around inside the pasta shells, with nothing to smooth the texture. The mouth-feel seemed crude, unfinished. We craved a cream sauce inside, better yet a mushroom cream sauce or some other sauce more original but equally suave.

The dessert menu, with its old Vienna pastries, tempted us into eating more, although we were already satisfied. We passed on the Nutella palatschinken (crêpes), the Linzer Tort, and even the tempting Mohr im Hemd (“Moor in a shirt”), a flourless dark chocolate terrine with whipped cream — the Moor’s white shirt — and chocolate sauce. I succumbed instead to a cheesecake jones, anticipating the Viennese version of “a light mousse on a Linzer cookie with vanilla Grand Marnier sauce.” The top of the small disk of cheese mousse was hollowed into a shallow pond filled with apricot jam. Alas. I spooned most of that to the side. The cheesecake itself was barely sweetened, with a distinct sour cream tang. I loved it.

Everybody loved the apple crumble topped with caramel sauce and vanilla gelato. The espresso machine was broken that night, but the regular coffee was good.

The hard news about Acqua is price: ordering all three courses plus desserts with matching wines is very steep. Our dinner came to $177 for two before tip, even skipping some matching wines. The happy news is that it’s easy to halve that sum. It’s still not economical, but it’s a treat rather than a total splurge. The best dishes are the starters, which arrive in generous shareable portions, and then the desserts. For the eyes and the palate, it’s a sweet taste of waterside luxury. ■

Acqua

★★★1/2 (Very Good to Excellent)

Hilton Hotel and Resort Mission Bay, 1775 Mission Bay, 679-276-4010; sandiegohilton.com/acqua-restaurant

HOURS: Three meals daily, 6:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
PRICES: First Course and Second Course appetizers $8–$16; entrées $19–$39; desserts $3–$9. Optional matched wines by the glass $9–$16. Three-course prix-fixe $39 (no set wine matches).
CUISINE & BEVERAGES: California-Mediterranean cuisine with Viennese-influenced desserts. Interesting international wine list, full bar.
PICK HITS: Yellowfin tuna tartare; butternut squash soup with lobster; seared diver scallops; venison medallion with quail egg; Viennese cheesecake; apple crumble. Good bets: crab cakes, short ribs, venison entrée, Mohr im Hemd (chocolate terrine).
NEED TO KNOW: Best, most affordable dinner: sampling from first- and second-course appetizers (several are generously portioned) and desserts. Many entrées available in half-portions. Website menu outdated. Two-level patio with heaters, fire pits, view of SeaWorld fireworks; best view from lower patio (ramp-accessible).

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

An ocean of Konnichiwa Sushi

Options abound at colorful La Mesa Village spot
Next Article

Dewey Defeats Truman... again?

Why make a new video for a 20-year-old song?
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close