When Dewey LoSasso was named Acqualina's executive chef in December 2013, he was taking time to get the feel of the resort before making major changes to the menus. He told Short Order: "Right now, I'm doing some research, and then we'll start testing some menu items after Christmas and New Year's. I'm thinking, maybe, Hamptons-meets-Miami."
Now the talented chef is ready to introduce new dishes and an entirely new restaurant with the opening of AQ by Acqualina, located inside the resort that has earned both the
2013 Forbes' Travel Guide Five Star and the 2013 AAA Five Diamond.
LoSasso says his desire to "feel out" the restaurant rather than making instant changes was a strategic move. "When you go into a property and you do an evaluation, it's all about embracing the space and the staff. Because, when it comes to change, it's really about the employees and the customers, and you're only as good as your staff."
The chef says he had to make sure the new menu would work with the resort's five-star reputation but also make it attractive for locals. "Sometimes if the cart's not broke, don't fix it. But if it is, then you take it apart. My assessment is that everything is open to change and sometimes when you're the new guy, coming in with fresh eyes, you see things. Like sharing. I think sharing is important. Small plates are important. You don't only have to have $50 entrées. You look outside and you see Ferraris parked outside, but it's OK to come in and have a $9 crostini and a glass of wine, graze, and have fun."
The restaurant, housed in the former Piazetta space, will offer seating both indoors and on a veranda overlooking the ocean. LoSasso is particularly excited about the restaurant's outdoor space. "The outside has a lot of potential. For instance, when we had a few cold evenings, I put out a few hot cocoa stands. All of a sudden, people were hanging out outside. It's that communal experience that I want to encourage."
AQ by Acqualina will serve moderately priced small plates ($9 to $20), including rough falafel with ricotta, olives, and prosciutto; grouper cheeks and chopped escarole; and the chefs' version of green eggs and ham -- baked ham with chives, Ibérico ham, and mascarpone. Main dishes ($16 to $38) include grilled skirt steak and foie gras tostones with tomato-pancetta BLT and wild boar black beans, and farro risotto with French feta and grilled vegetables.
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LoSasso also plans to roll out a cocktail program in May that will take the kitchen to the bar. "We're working on using local blossoms, infusions, and house-made syrups. We're working with a little bit of liquid nitrogen, a little molecular mixology." LoSasso says his bar program will also have an extensive spirits menu. "This is also a great place to have a single-malt Scotch."
AQ by Acqualina will open at the end of April and will serve dinner Sunday through Thursday from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 to 11 p.m. Valet parking is available.