October 20, 2014

Appetite

Local charm: The always debonair Mr. G., Goce Sipinkoski, is quick to greet guests with a kiss on the hand. In the kitchen, the charm offensive continues with dishes such as colossal garlic prawns in garlic butter with broccolini.So Delicious, So Gallant

This question is for the ladies. Has it been far too long since a dapper European has kissed your hand and fed you sumptuous food? If so, hie thee to the new Fifth Avenue South treasure Aqua Fresh Seafood and Steaks. 

I hadn’t realized just how long it had been for me until we ran into Mr. Goce Sipinkoski, owner of the late, great Mr. G’s Ristorante of north Naples. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t recognize our gracious host, who radiated world-class hospitality from his wavy white ’do down to his pocket-square as he seated us at Aqua.

“Here, you can talk about business or love!” Mr. G. said, taking my hand and bussing it.

“Why not the business of love?” I countered, practically fluttering into my seat. Tom studied his rival for a moment and then broke into a grin. 

“Hey, do you happen to wear a necklace embossed with Alexander the Great?” Tom asked. Mr. G. pulled a gold medallion out from behind his pocket square, and my jaw hit the table.

Turns out that in our January 2008 column, I called Mr. G. a sexy Macedonian and was equally snowed by the hand-kissing. At Aqua—along with co-owner, friend and longtime restaurateur Gordon Stojkoski—Mr. G. is bringing sexy back, along with excellent seafood.

Perfect preparation: Top, fresh-caught whole fish with grilled asparagus and lemon caper risotto. Above, Lole crafts one of Aqua’s fantastic cocktails.We plunged into Aqua’s manageable, delectable menu with real gusto, emboldened by an excellent Grey Goose Citron martini for me ($12) and a glass of Uppercut cabernet for Tom ($9). We started with the colossal shrimp cocktail ($18), which lived up to its name. We moved on to a dish of musky Prince Edward Island mussels pan steamed in Pernod and Italian butter broth ($16), and then shared a cup of the New England clam chowder, which my Bostonian husband proclaimed “Authentic!” after a single spoonful ($6 cup/$9 bowl).  

Aqua offers four fresh-caught whole fishes deboned tableside with a theatrical flourish. Our server, Rick Staley, seemed disappointed that we chose a quieter fish, the pan-braised corvina with white wine shitake, truffle cream, Yukon gold purée and broccolini ($30), but we couldn’t have been happier with it. 

For steak lovers, Aqua features five options ranging in price from the 9 oz. hanger steak ($28) to the 10 oz. filet mignon ($42). Carnivores may also enjoy chicken and pork options. Maybe it was the turquoise blue décor, or simply the name Aqua, but we found ourselves squarely in a nautical frame of mind. I couldn’t take my eyes off the lasagnette with crustaceans, billed as ribbons of fresh pasta tossed with crab, lobster, shrimp and grape tomatoes in a light tomato and sherry broth ($34).

“Are you sure this isn’t my entrée?” Tom asked after tasting a forkful of my lasagnette. 

“I might share more if you kissed my hand and wore a pocket square,” I teased him.

The sides at Aqua gave us particular delight. The sautéed spinach ($6), mushroom and truffle risotto ($12) and blistered asparagus ($8) all showed more TLC than the same fare at other high-end restaurants. 

“I’ve really liked everything,” I shared with Tom.

“I’ve loved everything,” he countered, despite the fact that nobody kissed his hand. We hadn’t even tasted our two outstanding desserts, one of which finally gave the Aqua staff an opportunity to shine tableside: the Bananas Foster ($18). (Equally delicious was the panna cotta ($9), a cool riff on the typical Italian vanilla flan.)

Final flourish: Aqua’s panna cotta offers a cool riff on the classic Italian dessert.As we settled our bill and took our last few sips of tea ($3), I gazed over at Mr. G., who was feasting on the hands of several bejeweled, fluttering Neapolitan women as he seated them. 

“It’s clear that you love your job,” I said to him as he floated by.

“It’s true! I keep two or three tables free each night, for people who say, ‘I don’t have a reservation but I’m coming anyway.’ Let’s help everyone forget reality!” Mr. G. said, beaming. 

I can think of no better way to forget the daily grind than to spend the night with Mr. G. at Aqua. Best of all, my husband agrees. 
 

Aqua 862 Fifth Ave. S., Naples; (239) 213-1111. Open daily. Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner 4-10 p.m. on weekdays, 4 p.m. to midnight on weekends. Live music Wednesday through Saturday 8:30 p.m. to midnight. Reservations highly recommended. Free parking. Credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible.

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