Restaurant preview: High-end seafood spot Aquaknox opens this week

Lunch offerings range from $11-$17 (they have breakfast too, due to their hotel location), with fave highlights including a meaty, tomato-based Manhattan seafood chowder, unusually seasoned and expertly fried tempura grouper, inventive Tuscan flatbread and a sublime warm apple tart from Pastry Chef Kathy. Praise be to God that a high-end restaurant in Tampa saw the wisdom in hiring a bonafide pastry chef. The only misses were the lobster bisque, which tasted thin in both consistency and lobster flavor, and a seafood orecchiette which was fine, yet didn't wow.

Dinner, prices from $18 to $43 (for the ribeye), were equally accomplished. The seared Florida snapper was impeccable -- perfectly crispy skin with a chunky, smoked tomato vinaigrette. Other highlights included black bean sweet chili glazed grouper, and a cheesecake thankfully departed from the ordinary - appearing as a crustless dome, with mango sorbet and a smattering of gelatinized Champagne cubes.

However, the overpriced wine list leaves a bit to be desired. The wines-by-the-glass offerings reflect a litany of mostly ho-hum selections (like Santa Margarita Pinot Grigio, Coppola Claret, Banfi Chianti Classico), mixed with occasional bright points (Segura Viudas Aria, Eroica Riesling, Belle Glos Meoimi Pinot Noir). The bottle list, an appropriate blend of old and new world labels, had some cool selections yet the prices turned me off. Most of them were three times not just the wholesale cost but the retail cost.

But, despite this minor setback, I'll be back.

Hidden inside the bland box architecture of Westin's brand-new hotel on Tampa's Courtney Campbell Causeway lies the posh, sleek Aquaknox, a new restaurant featuring fine-dining seafood. Once you see the uber-cool waterfall wall veiling the wine room, you kinda know something different this way comes.

A recent sneak peek of the dining room — dripping with modernity — and the goodies emerging from Chef Jim Sheibler's kitchen — thanks to a soft opening lunch — confirmed my suspicions.

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