Aquariva

$$$ Italian

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Between the silver-bullet tram and all the new condos rising into the sky, South Waterfront is starting to positively shimmer with all that glass and steel. Which means it’s just about time someone thought about feeding the well-heeled hordes who are poised to move in.

Aquariva, which bills itself as an “Italian kitchen and wine bar,” seems to agree—having opened in May, before any other restaurant that’s currently in the works for the ground-up neighborhood. Set next to the Avalon Hotel & Spa, this expansive, soaring, multitiered dining room fits right into the surrounding new-car glam and glitter, with moody red and gray walls, white tablecloths and an extensive menu. Split up into “bianco” (white) and “rosso” (red) “eats” and “drinks,” the full menu offers 42 small plates and 40 Italian wines by the glass, with fairly hefty prices to match (most small plates were over $10).

Despite an interior that’s rather somber, the quality of some of the food, at least upon my first visit, surprised me. A simple wild arugula salad with salt cod crostini showcased beautiful greens, and the favas and mint that accompanied a lamb chop were fresh and flavorful. The sweet pea ravioli—although lacking salt—was complex and earthy, as were the tender leeks in the accompanying buttery sauce.

Other dishes, however, needed help. The fried baby artichokes were crispy and flavorful, but the accompanying garlic aioli was rather oily and flavorless. The flour coating of the veal scaloppine was all I could taste, and the addition of morels did little for the dish. Nor did the servers do anything to enhance my wine knowledge. While eager and amenable, few of them seemed to know what I was talking about when I asked for a glass of aglianico.

But when a hot-pink swath of complimentary cotton candy came to the table with my bill, the shock of its arrival strangely overshadowed any disappointments. Perhaps there’s the rub or, rather, the South Waterfront gleam.

Last updated: 01/22/2014