1250 Prospect, #B10
There's nothing like a little Taj Mahal or Stevie Ray Vaughn for dinner music—particularly on Prospect Street in the heart of La Jolla, where upscale and genteel is the name of the game. Though “Aquamoreé” implies Italian food, the restaurant churns out, in its words, “Provocative southern Food,” complete with a gritty Blues soundtrack.
Executive chef and owner Brandon Fortune serves up sophisticated twists on food from his southern roots— southern-style tapas to be exact. The small plates coming out of Fortune's kitchen are large enough to pack a wallop of flavor, but small enough to give you a chance to sample all sorts of treats from the menu.
They've been open only for a month, but the Fortune family (mom Sheila will probably greet and seat you) obviously know what they're doing. Chef Fortune was formerly at the Grand Del Mar and, before that, The Four Seasons by way of Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta.
“Provocative” is an intriguing standard to set for a restaurant, though I don't begrudge the desire to stand out in the restaurant world. I'm not sure Aquamoreé breaks any rules or will cause any culinary outrage, but what's clear is the food is absolutely delicious, and the southern flavors, blended with California style, taste both familiar and fresh to the San Diego dining scene.
One of the more popular menu items is the southern classic Shrimp n' Grits. This dish is flawless. The shrimp were eye-rollingly perfect—a tricky feat when mere seconds over heat can turn the little crustaceans from soft and tender to tough and rubbery. My dad, a Marine brat who spent many years in the South, still waxes poetic about grits, but I've never seen the appeal. Here's the trick: Cook the grits with cream, chorizo and a pantload of cheese. My couch cushions would taste delicious with that trifecta of fats, but when simmered and mixed with the soft hominy, you realize why southerners insist on filling their bellies with this stuff.
Fortune also doesn't mess around when it comes to that estimable southern pastime: frying things. The chicken tenders are soaked for 24 hours in the cultured wonder that is buttermilk. Then those suckers are battered, fried and served piping hot with a spicy peach mole that will make your taste buds spin. And I never thought I'd compare an onion ring to a donut (other than in shape), but the breading around the crisp and sweet onion slices was fried to a soft and doughy consistency that contrasted with the onions in a whole new way.
The bourbon-and-peach-glazed pork loin was great: tender, well-seasoned, blah blah blah. Seriously, it's a great dish, but order it just so you can eat the Black Eyed Pea Cassoulet. Being a San Diego native, my exposure to black eyed peas is pretty much limited to pants-wetting pop stars (aww, poor Fergie). turns out, if you cook these tasty little nubs with rendered bacon fat, followed by a healthy simmer in chicken stock, and then finish it off with maple syrup, black eyed peas are, to quote some random person I saw on Facebook, “Amaze-balls.” I did feel sorry for the lovely vegetarian gal at the table next to me when she learned the peas she'd been eating had been exposed to quite a large amount of animal products. Oops. More for me next time.
Save room for the Sticky Toffee Cake, a decadent way to finish a lush meal, topped with a bit of vanilla ice cream, peaches and a bourbon-butterscotch sauce.
Aquamoreé definitely feels like a La Jolla restaurant: grown-up, stylish, traditional. But the southern edge and colorful energy, along with the moderate-for-La-Jolla prices, strike just the right chords at a culinary crossroad.