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Aqua Santa

October 26, 2004, 12:00 am
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It's hard to remember a time when restaurants didn't feature local, seasonal ingredients, but Brian Knox's new place will remind you how lucky we are now to eat this way. The small menu changes every few days and reflects what must be constant attention paid to what's new and what's fresh. It's commonplace to see boutique ingredients but here they're used to great effect in a layered fashion-so, for example, if you were really excited about the heirloom ***image1***tomatoes featured on a recent menu, you could try them three different ways. A roasted eggplant and heirloom tomato soup filled the café with as much tomato flavor as it's possible to get, short of a getting a tomato in the face. Figs more your thing? They had three distinct preparations as well. A salad of tender greens came dotted with sweet fig halves and blobs of tangy goat cheese, dressed with fine Barolo vinaigrette. For such a small menu, there are plenty of options, including small plates. One placed a gently seared slab of king salmon over a wonderfully oily bed of shaved fennel and lemon. You can see most dishes prepared at the open kitchen taking up half of the restaurant's spare, boxy space, but some dinners are cooked on an outdoor barbecue. One, a braised and smoked lamb shoulder with garlic and chard, had a wonderful smoky, meaty flavor but was just a bit dry. The dessert options change frequently, too, but they'd be nuts to get rid of the rich chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and Chantilly cream. Do make a reservation: The popularity of Knox's late-lamented Café Escalera appears to have carried over to Aqua Santa and it's abuzz.

451 W Alameda Ave., 982-6297. Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. $$.

SFR Pick: Something made with the ingredient du jour.

 

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