AQ, SF

I did not expect to find this little gem on a seedy block of Mission.

Faintly marked on the outside, AQ was warm and welcoming on the inside. I can always appreciate a restaurant that changes up its décor according to the season. The walls were decked with branches of autumn leaves, perfect against the brick walls.

I was struck by AQ’s sincerity. Warmth emanated from the walls and the tables, from the servers and the food. Sure, the kitchen may have been trying some crazy things (see what I say about the dessert below), but it did not feel pretentious like some others tend to (*cough* Gary Danko *cough*)

Another thing that occurred to me was how much like Michael Mina restaurant RN74 it appeared. Plaid shirts – check. Rustic décor – check. Located on Mission – check. Elevated comfort food – check. (However, seeing as RN74 was dropped from the San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 and AQ made it to the list, I’d say AQ does it better.)

I am very fond of starting my meals with a cocktail, and I was hooked onto this combination of vodka, lemon apple, cinnamon-infused orange bitters. The Apple Flower cocktail, served with an apple slice, oozed autumn.

I am not ashamed to admit that I had three of them.

AQ Apple Flower cocktail almost had me on the floor.

Good start. Expectations high. How did the first course live up to them?

Fortunately, very well!

AQ Chicken “Crispy & Poached”

The AQ chicken served chicken three ways with a puddle of autumn squash soup: chicken mousse, chicken breast, and deboned chicken wing. Each bite was packed with the very essence of that ingredient. My only complaint (and it is a teeny-tiny one) is that the “soup” was more like a purée, and I think each bite would have been more enjoyable had each bit of chicken had been coated with rich, delicious squash-ness.

AQ Roasted Pumpkin

My entrée was equally satisfying. The roasted pumpkin with medjool dates, quinoa, burrata and cracker-crisp kale didn’t disappoint either! The dish as a whole would have been enriched with more burrata; if not for that one itty-bitty little thing, this would be my new favorite comfort food. Both the burrata and kale added delightful saltiness but with contrasting textures to the quinoa.

The use of curry in the case of dessert is not a new concept and, to my dismay, AQ’s rendition of the sweet potato pie was uninspired. Everything on this plate was blah, from the pie “crust” – a short stack of dry cake – to the curried pie “filling” – a dollop of bland, wouldn’t-have-been-surprised-if-it-had-been-canned pumpkin.

AQ Sweet Potato “Pie”

The only parts of the “pie” that was as it should be were the marshmallow and whipped cream. And the pecans. Because pecans always win.

This is a case of “one of these things is not like the other.” What drives me crazy is how deconstructed the dessert was and how seemed it seemed to have a different personality from the soul-soothing first two courses I’d enjoyed. (Just see how many quotation marks I’ve used already!) I was so impressed with my first and second courses and here was an opportunity to do something amazing with a classic all-American favorite.

THE VERDICT:

In spite of my disappointment, I would not rule out a second visit to AQ. The comforting, rustic, laid-back atmosphere is the perfect place to be when the San Francisco chill comes through. Personally, I can’t wait to see what cocktails the bar comes up with for winter and spring!

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