Just Add Water

Fortunately, the main events are worth watching. Key lime grilled tuna was a steak, grilled very rare, then sliced in half widthwise to show off the tomato-red interior. The tender fish had everything to do with a good grill but nothing to do with Key lime; a whole sliced lime was served on the plate as a garnish, but I couldn't get any juice out of it. Similarly, a stack of grilled vegetables -- red onion, yellow squash, quartered endive -- was delicious but lacked the billed yellow-curry flavor. Pretty with chives, a vinegary culantro-quinoa salad was a successfully cool contrast to the warm tuna. (Often confused with cilantro, culantro is a spatula-shape herb with sawtooth leaves that has a similar but slightly more bitter flavor than the well-known herb.)

Mango-barbecued mahi-mahi was testimony to Schindel's fish-cook ability. Moist and flaky, the glazed fillet was surrounded by a circlet of plump, buttery domestic East Coast blue mussels. Wilted arugula and a spicy red bean and corn succotash kicked up the mild fish a notch and made this a fairly filling plate.

Five out of the nine main courses feature fish (there are no specials); as I'm perverse to the end, this situation made me crave meat. The single steak that was offered, a tenderloin, was marinated in balsamic vinegar and pepper before being grilled. The vinegar at once softened and sweetened the meat, adding an almost sugary glaze to the filet that complemented its muskiness. The meat was supple and rare, high-quality beef accented by strips of garlic-roasted eggplant and an appealing tomato-chive orzo salad. An unqualified success.

An annatto-chipotle rub tenderized three pork loin medallions. The meat was juicy, crosshatched by the grill, but the mild, smoky chilies were canceled out by the stronger annatto. A tomatillo-pineapple chutney likewise dominated the vanilla sweet-potato mash on which the tenderloins were perched. As a one-dish meal, however, this made a good showing.

Not so a poultry entree, the truffled polenta-stuffed chicken breast, which was overdone. Pan-roasted, the skin-on chicken was too browned, the flesh dry. While a good idea, the polenta stuffing was bland, and it lost out to the roasted pepper puree that dominated the poultry, as well as to the asparagus-endive salad that accompanied it.

Desserts here eat like a meal, and I don't mean simply because they're large. Our dark chocolate souffle cake, for instance, came complete with side dishes and sauces: white chocolate mousse and a fresh blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry salad; a chocolate fondue and a berry infusion. Rich, rich, sweet, rich. The whole thing went wonderfully well together, but I just might order this for dinner next time around.

Cafe Aqua supports reef conservation, an admirable pursuit. But you don't need a bleeding heart to dine on the tasty fish entrees under the watchful, albeit dirt-impeded, gaze of trapped marine life -- just a healthy appetite.

Cafe Aqua
647 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 674-7873. Open daily from 11:00 a.m to 11:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until midnight.

Yellow tomato gazpacho
$4.95
Braised artichoke
$8.95
Mango-barbecued mahi-mahi
$17.95
Dark chocolate souffle cake
$6.00

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