A couple of weeks ago, a dear friend informed me of this new restaurant along Arnaiz Ave. (a.k.a. Pasay Road). “Aquaknox. It's Vietnamese,” she eagerly said. “Oh... really?” I responded passively- not even bothering to lift my gaze from the magazine I was reading. If she mentioned Italian, Med or Filipino restau (my favorites), I knew I would note it in an instant, then later on click my way to its profile. But it's.... well, Vietnamese. Hence, dedma. Obviously, I'm not really a fan.
But oh well, blame the force of habit. I did somehow make a post-it on mind and as soon as I went online, I Googled it. Some clicks later, I found myself almost salivating at one very bright, very big, very orange and very very appetizing picture of a crab. Oh my.
That's it. That's all I needed. If there's this fat-clawed, seemingly perspiring, and brilliantly colored crab in this so-called Viet resto, then I must give it a try.
Soon after, I found myself comfortably settled in a quiet corner in Aquaknox. The buddha sat peacefully behind me. Well, not that it shouldn't be still. Anyway, a zen music track was playing in the background and on one of it's walls, a clip of an underwater scene played in harmony. Can it be any more tranquil than this?
The place, with its hues on the cooler side of the spectrum, was dim. A tad darker than what it appeared on the photos I saw. It was, however, way larger and more spacious than what the pictures suggested.
I should have taken the look of the place as a hint. The very contempo "zen marries posh" style it showcases pretty much reflects what Aquaknox had to offer in terms of its cuisine. It was only during that particular late lunch that I found enlightenment on the wonders and flavors of the Vietnamese cuisine.
It wasn't surprising that we were served with the spring rolls first. This I think, like rice for Filipino restaurants, is one of their staples. The Prawn Spring Roll (P120) with lettuce, mint, cilantro leaves, and other veggies, is altogether familiar; albeit one would notice that Aquaknox's version is much more al dente and fresh tasting. Four pieces of this for a hundred and twenty? Not bad at all.
Prawn Spring Roll
The fresh Prawn Spring Roll however falls flat in comparison to the Crispy Imperial Roll (P120) which was loads tastier. Locally referred to as Cha Gio, this crisp roll with crab, pork, rice, and noodles in it impressed my taste buds immensely. If I had this at home as well as a steaming bowl of rice, I swear I could savor this as an ulam already!
Crispy Imperial Roll
Speaking of ulam, here's another ulam- worthy appetizer: Hai Phong Wok Calamari. This platter-ful of chewy yet crunchy breaded squid, heftily drizzled with salt, black pepper, and bell peppers surely didn't disappoint. Heck, I never thought I could get food this tasty in a Vietnamese restaurant. So far, everything had been impressing.
Hai Phong Wok Calamari
For those who want a healthier alternative, there's the Natasha King Prawns and Mango Salad (P300). Fresh greens, uber-sweet mangoes, sesame, and several breaded prawns tossed altogether in a semi-sweet vinaigrette would sure fancy your sweet tooth.
Natasha King Prawns and Mango Salad
As more and more dishes came out of the kitchen, each seemingly better that the previous one, my then high expectations for the crab sky-rocketed further. After all, that's what made me visit there in the first place, right? As if trying to test my patience and tease me even more, the Caramelized Prawns (P390) was served next. Saving the best for last I guess?
But don't get me wrong. I was caught off-guard by those prawns! I never expected them to be as stellar as that. I could still remember very well how perfectly the sweetness blended with the sourness. Mmm... oh joy!
Finally, the Chef Danny's Special Crab (P890) was brought out. If not for the special request of my friend who prefers the seafood de-shelled (just add P150), I'd gamely pound and battle with a shelled crab. Anyway, so there it was - already devoid of it's fat claws. It wasn't at all less mouthwatering though.
Chef Danny's Special Crab
Because all I had to do is scoop 'em up, it landed on my mouth in no time. After savoring and chewing thoughtfully, the verdict? SUPERB! Crab flesh marinaded (the word 'drowning' would fit, too) in butter and a hell lot of garlic (and something else magical I suppose), equate to a rave-worthy dish. There's no way my words can describe how divine it tasted! Now I know why this is their best seller.
As you have guessed right, it didn't take us long to finish the crab and yes, 'till the last drop of its sauce. I had no idea Vietnamese food can be this good! I realized I've been dining at the wrong restaurants all along. This had been a very educational and savory experience for me. And for that crab? I'd definitely come back.