Aqua Terra (Kingston) – A Day to remember

I’ve been back in Kingston for about 2 weeks for my final rotation here as a resident. I had the unique opportunity to eat dinner with Clark Day of Aqua Terra by Clark as my mentor happened to know him and one of the managers. I thought it would be a simple meet and greet, some shaking of hands, maybe a complimentary appetizer but what we received (myself, Dr. D and her husband M) was out of this WORLD!

Clark was a bit late for our 630pm dinner as he had some family things to attend to. The manager knew of our reservation, seated us at a beautiful table by the window, told us Clark would be a bit late, then asked if our reservation was for 3 people + Clark or 2 people + Clark.

We were shocked. Clark would… have a setting at our table?? My heart began to race.

While waiting, we selected a Rosehall Run Chardonnay and talked about life, fellowship (of the ring), fishing, and food. We were treated to a beautiful appetizer platter in a dish so long we had to move our cutlery and waters over to allow for more room. Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos (since Clark himself would be sitting with us and I didn’t want to disrespect him) but this platter was outstanding. My mind is foggy because of the food coma that occurred as I ate it… but I will do by best to describe it all. It was the best food I’ve ever eaten at Aqua Terra… and I eat there a lot.

On my right was a duck pate foam/mousse. It was served on some bread chips. Livery, salty, smooth, rich, and fragrant. Really delicious. It was perhaps a bit rich as Dr. D and her husband didn’t quite finish it. I, however, ate it like it was ice cream.

There was a home-made relish in between this section and the next. It was nice, light, crunchy and refreshing.

In the middle was seared foie gras with some sea salt sprinkled on top of a bruschette. This dish was the best of the night. Wonderfully crispy, caramelized edges with some little bursts of saltiness in the sea salt. Each bite was creamy, warm and satisfying. I don’t really like liver… but this… I LOVED.

This was separated from the dish on the left by some pickled leeks. Again, it was a nice way to move from one dish to the next without letting the flavours get too heavy in your mouth.

On the left was bone marrow (unsure if it was beef) and duck prosciutto. It was the first time Dr. D had had bone marrow so I applaud her for being so brave! Really fatty, rich, and salty, I have to say that I love bone marrow.

After this appetizer, Clark arrived. He was about as bold and “in-your-face” as I would’ve imagined, as a chef and as an entrepreneur. He told us about his career arc and gave me some advice to pass on to J as she is now an aspiring chef. He talked about way the professional cooking schools teach you the basics but limit your imagination. Told us some stories regarding the lineage of various wines (which he auditioned to us) and some amazing tastings that he had been to recently. Talked about the sources of the food he serves as well as the problems attributed with running some of his businesses. We talked and talked, all over a beautiful cheese plate (a sheep/goat blend, a blue, and… a cheddar I think?). It was fantastic.

He told me about his bar, Fanatics, and this “suicide wing” that they serve that utilizes a pepper that is 1,000,000 on the Scoville scale. To give you some context, a Jalapeno is around 2,000 on the Scoville scale. Of course, being a lover of chicken wings and things that burn holes in my gut, I had to try it out. More on this later.

In the end, I decided on the Beef Shortrib (that I’ve probably eaten 5x in the last 3 years). This photo was from a previous time I ate at Aqua Terra. The beef was sweet, tender, fatty, and fall-off-the-bone. The demi-glace was rich and caramelized. It continues to be my favourite pick off the Prix Fixe menu. It was a little disconcerting to have Clark watch you eat food at his restaurant but it was a great opportunity to learn more about the dishes that I love so much. We left the night full, a little tipsy (me anyway), and happy because we had eaten for 4.5 hours (630pm-11pm).

A few days later, I would visit Fanatics to try this suicide wing. I went with a friend who similarly destroys his food with Sriracha. We ordered 8 suicide wings and to be honest, were quite disappointed in the amount heat. The wings themselves were breaded beautifully, juicy, large, and delicious but I was very disappointed in this 1,000,000 pepper. I told the server. Dropped a name (ahem Clark…) and then they served us the Challenge Wing. You have to special request it as it is not on the menu. With a name like that, how could we NOT eat it??? Supposedly, if you eat a plate of these wings followed by a plate of fries, you get it for free. We were kind of full so we decided to just get 1 wing each. She wanted us to sign a waver. We said we would, thinking that there is no way we could die from this wing.

She served it to us and decided to watch us eat it. The bouncer/manager also watched us. I was a bit apprehensive but I had my beer ready, some napkins ready, and a ton of cockiness. My first mistake was to use my hands to eat it. When I tried to remove my contacts that night (after 10x repeated handwashes), it burned and burned and burned. My second mistake was to try to chew the wing, popping open the seeds and making it even hotter. I had an immediate sympathetic reaction (eyes watered profusely to the point that my shirt was wet with tears, my face felt numb, and my V1/V2 distribution started to sweat profusely). After it was down, I tried some water followed then by milk to stop the pain. But each and every section of my GI tract felt pain as it moved through my body. Lower esophageal sphincter. Terminal ileum. Shudder. I was cramping for 24 hours. But I was glad I did it. I felt closer to my friend R that day who challenged the wing with me.

What I liked most about my meal with Clark was not just the stories or even really the food (though it was fantastic). It was seeing someone who loves what he does, loves the food that makes, and seeing him work a room (through our entire meal, he directed traffic and asked the servers about different tables). It is truly inspiring to see someone care that much about what he does. Clark Day is the man. Hell, we even fist bumped!

Aqua Terra, 1 Johnson St., Kingston, ON, 613-549-6243, www.aquaterrabyclark.com

Aqua Terra Restaubistro by Clark on Urbanspoon

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~ by Russ on June 13, 2011.

2 Responses to “Aqua Terra (Kingston) – A Day to remember”

  1. Hey Russ!

    I’m glad to see another post from you!

    I recently went to Aquaterra to celebrate my graduation/getting into UofC for med. I wish I’d been less of a cheap student and gone there sooner – the food was fabulous. Most memorable dish for me was definitely the pork belly – fatty, crispy skin. Mmmmmm.

    Hot wings! Eek! I had the coocoos at C.W. Coop’s recently. No waiver to sign but we weren’t allowed to take my friend’s unfinished portion home. The smell and burn was reminisent of tear gas and pepper spray. Can’t say I would ever want to do that again!
    I deferred at Calgary this year. Hopefully I’ll see you around the Foothill’s campus/hospital.

    Keep eating and reviewing!

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