Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Aqua Teen Hunger Force

By Alice Ozma

On a recent cold Thursday night, my friend Sunny and I visited Center City Malaysian-Thai restaurant Aqua (705 Chestnut St., 215-928-2838) without reservations. We were surprised to find we were one of only three parties there. The lighting was rather bright, too, emphasizing the emptiness of the space.

Tom Yum Lemongrass Soup
Happily, the food and service were a different story. We were greeted and seated immediately, and had drinks almost as quickly. The refreshing iced lychee drink I ordered was juice-like but lighter and less sugary. The gluten-free menu is a section of the traditional menu, so everyone receives it. As soon as our waitress saw us looking it over, she asked if we’d be ordering gluten free. She then confirmed this after each item we ordered, which I appreciated.

We started with soups: I had the Tom Kha coconut soup and my friend ordered the Tom Yum lemongrass soup. He really enjoyed his, noting many layers of flavor, a little kick, and lots of vegetables. While mine was sweet and creamy, it was otherwise undistinguished.

Mango Chicken
For the main course, Sunny ordered the Thai Basil Chicken while I went for the Mango Chicken. My dish was a bit spicier than I’d have liked (despite having asked for mild preparation) but was flavorful and was presented beautifully in a carved-out mango. Sunny also enjoyed his entrĂ©e, with crisp, bold flavors and basil in each bite. There wasn’t a ton of chicken in either dish, but we didn’t feel cheated.

Vegetable Fried Rice
The true star of the meal was the fried rice. This is the one dish I miss most as a celiac, and Aqua’s version was pitch-perfect comfort food: a little greasy, a little salty, a lot of vegetables. It was a great complement to our spicier entrĂ©es.

The only gluten-free option on the dessert menu was ice cream, but we passed since I am lactose intolerant. Given our other courses, we were too full to eat another bite anyway.

Although we loved the food, the prices didn’t fit the casual atmosphere. Had Aqua been fancier, the expense would have felt right. Yet the fried rice is calling me back, so a return visit is in order.

Alice Ozma is a young professional in the publishing industry. She lives in Old City and loves the adventure of finding good gluten-free food almost as much as the food itself.

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