The 'It' Seafood Dish at AQ by Acqualina
by bill kearney
Dewey LoSasso’s pan-seared black grouper at AQ by Acqualina mixes haute cuisine and comfort food basics for an unexpected epicurean twist.
Pan-seared black grouper meets its unexpected match at AQ at Acqualina.
Chef Dewey LoSasso jokes that the menu at AQ by Acqualina is “modern American, which pretty much means I can do whatever I want, depending on how much coffee I drink.” With that kind of latitude (and attitude), he’s created the clever combo of grouper with pancake.
LoSasso is no stranger to mixing frivolity and fine dining—he concocted the lobster PB&J at The Forge, a restaurant he helmed for nearly five years before making the jump to AQ this past spring. His new pan-seared grouper variation keeps you on your toes with apple and celery root in the pancake, a jammy pomegranate reduction, a smoky charred serrano-and-carrot reduction, and a piquant topping of pea and corn shoots from nearby Paradise Farms.
Inspiration: “For me, it started with the snow pea shoots and the corn shoots,” which have clean flavors fit to accompany any fish, LoSasso says. “You have a pop from the pea shoots, then you go into the creaminess of the pancake.” To bring the whole ensemble together, he added celery root and apple to the pancakes. “I like celery root and apple against the chili [of the carrot-serrano reduction].”
Chef Dewey LoSasso carefully drizzles the sauces onto the empty space of the plate.
Building the supporting cast: LoSasso chars serrano chilies on the grill, blends them into the carrot juice, and reduces the mixture without whipping in oil or butter. He then reduces the pomegranate juice down with white wine and lemon, adding sea salt and pepper at the end. Why pomegranate? “It’s astringent,” he says. “There’s a sourness to it that’s not overbearing. I think it opens itself to a savory direction.” The pancakes are made with eggs, potato starch, and flour blended with raw grated celery root and peeled apple.
The star: With good fish, less is inherently more. LoSasso’s simple pan-searing creates caramelization and a crust—a lovely texture, but also sweet and earthy flavors that play with the supporting cast. LoSasso cuts his eight-ounce grouper filets from a whole 16-to 20-pound local fish. He sprinkles each filet with salt and pepper, and black smoked sea salt. “The trick is to put a little oil on the fish as well,” he says, before gently shimmying the filets in a very hot pan over high heat until they’re brown. Next, LoSasso flips the filets, sprinkles them with salt, sears for another minute, then tosses everything into a 500-degree oven for two to five minutes, depending on the thickness of the grouper.
Plating: With the sizzling fish resting on the pancake, LoSasso hits the corn and pea shoots with a little olive oil and sea salt, tosses them, and delicately places them on top of the fish. “It’s a clean bite,” he says. “It works together with the radish-y flavors in the celery root.” As a final touch, he carefully drizzles the two sauces—one orange, one red—on the negative space of the plate, creating visual balance.
Assembling a dish: corn and pea shoots, pomegranate and carrot-serrano reductions, pancakes, and grouper filet.
The results: Although the fish prep is simple, there’s a lot happening on the plate. Big flakes of seared fish hit the surprisingly smoky carrot reduction; the pomegranate sauce is dense, impactful; the pancakes have a nice, delicate chewiness, and their earthiness picks up on the sear of the fish. On top of it all is the intermingling of the greens.
Pairing: LoSasso likes to pair the dish with Sauvignon Blanc. “A Chardonnay’s oakiness wouldn’t work with serrano chili and carrot,” says the chef. “Spicier food works better with a Sauvignon Blanc or Champagne. Sauvignon Blanc has a crispness to it that helps the spice of the sauce and the astringency of the pomegranate.” We’re not arguing at all. 17875 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles Beach, 305-918-6816
photography by gary james