Saturday, July 18, 2015

Cocina Aqui & Tequila Bar, Redington Shores, FL

Remember the old Lobster Pot restaurant?  Its long overdue gutting-and-refurbishing is almost complete and you're not even going to recognize it anymore.  A multi-hued butterfly has emerged from the cocoon of moldy fishing nets and crab traps in the form of the trendy, Tex-Mexy Cocina Aqui. 

They were still in "soft opening" mode during my visit, so a bit of "wobble" was expected.  Our server was caring, albeit very slow and tentative.  But again, we got it...we were aware that she was still learning and we weren't in any hurry.  The owner was highly present and engaged, checking on or table personally more than once.  My biggest complaint of the evening was that, by around 8:00 PM, the noise level had escalated to the point at which conversation was almost impossible.  Aqui's interior would definitely be enhanced by some sound dampening treatments (no one likes to scream across the dinner table).

There's a nice margarita selection, but all we tried (traditional, mango and strawberry) were toothachingly sweet.  I could only drink one (I KNOW...I don't even know me anymore).  While I think this was a personal taste issue, I had to switch to beer after downing my mango marg.

There's seldom much not to love about tater tots, and the ones at Aqui are no exception.  Everyone in my party fell upon the Tachos - crispy fried tots lavished with chorizo, pico de gallo, scallions, queso blanco and jalapenos - like dingoes on a baby.  Check with your cardiologist prior to ordering.

Corn chowder was quite remarkable. This thick, creamy concoction tasted like liquid, buttered popcorn and was laden with bright kernels of corn and gooey cheese.  A couple more levels of density would've made it a corn pudding.  So. Freaking. Good.

Grouper and Shrimp Vera Cruz was a tender mountain of perfectly cooked seafood topped with tomato, onion, capers, garlic, cilantro, white wine and queso perched atop a bed of rice.

The gurlz ordered quesadillas...lobster for me, chicken for my lovely counterpart.  They were meaty and met all of the basic requirements of a quesadilla. Nothing groundbreaking going on, but respectable applications.  For a restaurant of this price point (most entrees hover in the $20-$25 range), I didn't really expect little plastic condiment cups, but that's what we got (quesadillas were selected from the appetizer menu, FYI).

The lone dish that everyone cast a hairy eyeball upon was the somewhat unhappily married concoction of an uber-soupy crock of poblano peppers stuffed with chorizo, shrimp, raisins and almonds and topped with pomegranate cream sauce.  The accompanying beans and rice were nutty, spicy and better than average, however...and it's always relief not to be served those ubiquitous, canned refried beans that look and taste like dog yak (or at least what I imagine dog yak would taste like).

Salted caramel dessert nachos were the stuff of hormonal women's dreams. Cinnamon-sugar-coated, fried flour tortillas were presented beneath a cavalcade of melted chocolate, marshmallow and raspberry sauce. Then, the entire beautiful hot mess was crowned with a massive scoop of ice cream. Ridonkulous!

Cocina Aqui is a welcome addition to the mid-Pinellas beaches.  The menu is still being refined, so what was here today may not be there tomorrow at this early stage in the game. Considering the fact that they haven't even had their Grand Opening yet, there's a lot of potential here assuming they find their groove and get the minor kinks worked out.

Cocina Aqui & Tequila Bar Facebook Page

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My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

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