Upon entering the restaurant

Aqua East: A Seaside Jewel Worth Seeking
by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel

           Upon entering the restaurant, you are not prepared for the ambiance that awaits. The soft, lemon yellow walls, eye-catching artwork and murals, inlaid brick floors, dark mahogany furniture and crisp, white table cloths set the tone for the quiet elegance Aqua East presents. With its two dining areas, the restaurant is larger than first thought from its exterior. Window views at the lower dining level afford a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean directly up the street. Specializing in fine Italian dining, Chef Chris Kowslowski has created a menu to please and impress the choosiest of diners. The restaurant is located conveniently to the middle of town, yet tucked away one block off of Rt. 27, on South Edison Drive, around the corner from Johnny’s Tackle Shop. Co-owned by partners John and Paul Pezulich, the restaurant is now enjoying its second season and has become a favorite of Montauk residents and visitors.  According to Paul Pezulich, Aqua East is pleased that many of their guests also drive in from Amagansett, East Hampton and beyond to dine with them.  After our meal, it was easy to see why they would.

           To begin with, there is a fantastic pre fixe dinner to choose from that is amazingly priced at $29 for three courses. Each of the appetizers, entrees and desserts are creative in their own right and so impressive that selecting what to order can be difficult. With the help of our server, Maureen, who expertly explained many of the dishes on the menu, we were able to narrow down our selection. By the way, besides Maureen, we found that all the staff was efficient, friendly, polite and moved about effortlessly, assisting diners. Service was attentive, without being fussy and it was easy to see management was meticulous in selecting their staff.  Within minutes of being seated two baskets were placed on our table to nibble, while we read the menu. First came a basket of dainty rolls and the other was a basket of delectable zucchini chips. Served with a pureed, white bean spread, it was a unique twist to this often-mundane vegetable. For “starters”, one should definitely look over the Crudo Bar with its local Littleneck clams, Peconic Bay East End Oysters, Jonah Crab claws, poached mussels, Montauk lobster or gulf shrimp.  A creative way to share a dish with several in one party is to order the Aqua Polenta Board, served tableside on a wood palette with ragout Bolognese, vegetable ragout, or both. The best way to have a combo of three ocean delights is to indulge in the Aqua East Crudo Tower, with the Chef or patron’s selection of three of the above choices.  Presented before us, in a pewter-like pedestal server, filled with crushed iced, was an array of crab claws, jumbo shrimp and poached mussels, with three dipping sauces.  My husband could not resist picking the Panelli con Tonno for his Antipasto and was pleased with the seared tuna on garbanzo panelli with wilted baby spinach leaves and dipping sauces. Each morsel was delectable and melt-in-your-mouth tender. 

            Picking an entrée was no easy task since most of the dishes begged for attention. We noticed several families near by found the eight choices of pasta seemed to be a favorite with many of them with children.  However, for more supplicated palates, the Whole Fish Oreganato, Thresher shark, Zuppa di Pesce, Tuna Alla Sicillian, Filet mignon, or a 24-ounce Porter House steak catches your eye.  A full wine and after dinner drink list is available to compliment entree selections. We decided on the Atlantic Salmon Steak and the Shrimp Fra Diavolo.  Portions are generous and my husband’s salmon steak filled his plate. Thick cut, it was moist, tender and flavorful, seasoned to perfection and each bite was a bit of heaven!  He beckoned me to take a taste and I totally agreed with him. Roasted garlic mashed potatoes, Tuscan Fries, Braised Escarole and asparagus are available as “sides”.  My suggestion for something really delicious and unique is the Polenta Fries, which are incredible!   Looking down at my Shrimp Fra Diavolo, I could see that the sauce was rich, thick and made with attention to detail. Ripe, ample pieces of tomato, onion and other spices surrounded the jumbo whole shrimps and pasta. The taste was out of this world and one of the best sauces I have ever eaten. This is one secret recipe worth bottling should Aqua East ever want to make it readily available to the public!

            Now to another of the highlights of dining at Aqua East, and that is the dessert menu. All ten desserts are prepared with the finest ingredients and the greatest of care, making it no easy task to narrow down your preference. The Sicilian Apple Cake, served warm with granny smith apples and pine nuts tucked throughout, with a serving of cinnamon gelato is a winner. Although my husband’s choice of the ricotta Cheesecake was a light textured swirl of flavors, with chocolate gelato, came to a close second. The other eight desserts continued with an Italian theme and will surely be tasted when we make return visits to dine at Aqua East! Ending the evening with a Limoncello, Sambuca Romana, Mathilde Peach Liqueur or any of the enticing after dinner drinks served there and the meal is complete.

            Information:  Aqua East is open seven days a week for dinner and will remain open through mid November.  Don’t miss a chance to stop by soon because I am sure you will want to make repeat visits to this little gem by the seaside.  It is everything you would expect when you visit Montauk and want a pleasurable night out of fine dining. It is well worth the trip! Their address is 17 South Edison Drive, Montauk, New York 11954. The telephone number is 631 668-4147.