Malaysian & Thai Cuisine

705 Chestnut Street

(215) 928-2838

For some, the realization comes early freshman year. For others, it's not until you're juniors that it hits: El Azteca is the vilest place on Earth and you will no longer tolerate it as the location for your blackouts. When you can't face another night of tasteless grease but still want to abuse the other patrons in a restaurant with 20 of your nearest and dearest, you need only look across the street to find Aqua, a Thai/Malaysian BYO with decent food at reasonable enough prices to merit a trip.

Twenty of us (full disclosure: all of the Street editors) headed down there one Friday night to sample semi-authentic Asian staples. What we found there, however, whetted more than just our culinary appetites: they have an entire floor dedicated to karaoke. Needless to say, the large quantities of wine we brought provided excellent fuel for a song-filled evening set against the picturesque background of fake plants and soft yellow lighting.

We began with the satay chicken and rice net spring roll appetizers (each $6.75). The dark meat chicken was disappointingly bland, even after liberal dunkings in the sauce provided. We had better luck with the spring rolls. Crispy yet delicate, they were stuffed with shrimp, crab and the requisite vegetables, and their moss-like texture had everyone at the table raving.

The menu itself is huge: pages and pages of Asian hybrid fare, so you're sure to please even the pickiest of your friends. I judge any Thai restaurant I visit by a single standard: the quality of the pad thai ($8.95). Happily, I found that the rice noodles were enhanced by the sauce, not drowned in it, and the chopped peanuts, bean sprouts and shrimp fused together excellently.

Other successful dishes included the Thai basil chicken ($11.95), which married chicken, pepper and onion in a Thai basil sauce and the mango chicken ($13.95), chicken served with shredded mango in the ubiquitous sweet and spicy sauce. The beef rendang ($12.95) was outstanding: the juxtaposition of the lemongrass and chili in the sauce provided a refreshing twist on what could have been a boring entrée.

The desserts are perfunctory rather than inspired; we invented a birthday and an anniversary and still only received what amounted to fried peanut butter with Cool Whip. Better to skip it and indulge in some late-night karaoke; the staff is truly stellar when it comes to letting their guests monopolize an entire floor of the restaurant. And, someone is always on standby to switch to the next song when "Like A Virgin" gets monotonous.

Aqua isn't a place to bring your parents. Or your siblings. Or your third cousins. It shines best when considered as an alternative to restaurants that don't care about food preparation because you're all drunk anyway. At Aqua, the food is a pleasant addition to a night out and cheap enough to share several dishes that have some semblance of authenticity. Definitely a must-try.


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