Is it possible for a restaurant to be post-modern? To be wholly aware of its influences, its place as a blip of culinary history, and still produce thoughtful, original dishes with equal dependence on innovation and tradition? If it isn't, no one has told Brian Knox, owner and chef at Aqua Santa. Everything at Knox's place straddles a fine ridge of compelling contradiction. The setting is crisp and minimal, but conveys an easy ***image1***warmth. The food is European in its sensibility, American in its practicality; a dish of crispy baby artichokes and Burrata "de Bufala" followed by pan roasted quail with figs and onion marmalade encourages a slow-paced savoring of layered flavors over the span of a leisurely meal. The simple ingredients-largely fresh and local-show their versatility by turning up in re-tuned forms throughout the daily, seasonally shifting menu. Even the standard table bread oozes handcrafted diversity, flavorfully charred on the crust, soft-centered enough to melt on the tongue and capably soak up the remains of an oyster-tinted aioli. Delights include what may secretly be the best pizza in town, a pizzetta with smoked mozzarella, pine nuts and white truffle oil, braised lamb dappled with pistachios, sizzling Florentine-style steak and scallops artfully interlaced with potatoes and pesto. The busy staff, whether working the tables or the open kitchen, has come to fit the menu: hearty, straightforward, cosmopolitan and adventurous.
451 W. Alameda St., 982-6297
Dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
Lunch Wednesday through Friday. $$$