If you’ve enjoyed my reviews in the past, you’ll know that it is not my actual job to visit and critique restaurants. I do this for fun, in my precious free time, and for the love of food and the local food scene. While I have my pick of restaurants to go to at any given time, it may come as a surprise to you that I am highly selective about where I choose to go. I also don’t rush out to try the latest restaurant getting all of the media attention. Fortunately, I don’t depend on clicks and hits on my little site here.
Furthermore, I prefer to let the ballyhoo die down a bit before I check out a new or recently opened restaurant. Sometimes I don’t go at all. Surely, there are other food writers, bloggers and social media foodies who take any opportunity they can to dine out nearly every night of the week, but I just can’t do that. I’d like to think that I’m not (yet) jaded about dining out. I always have an enthusiastic curiosity about going to a restaurant I’ve never been to before.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let me tell you about Aqimero at the Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia. If you follow the local food media, you may have seen dismal reviews by Craig LaBan and Jason Sheehan. Don’t listen to them. They need to give a negative review every once in a while lest they lose credibility or accused of not being objective. I am a regular diner just like you. I pay for the majority of my meals out of my own pocket. I don’t always want “fine dining.” I just want decent food at a good price. Also, I don’t have to be wowed and dazzled every time, even at upscale eateries. Dinner doesn’t always have to come with fireworks! Certainly professional food critics are used to the fireworks and having the best food money can buy on their company’s dime. But I digress.
Yes, Aqimero is an outsider restaurant; by outsider I mean that it is owned by Richard Sandoval Restaurants who operates over 40 restaurants around the world. There’s nothing Philly about it. But is that a reason to dismiss it? No. In fact, every time I’ve gone into the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia, I like getting the feeling that I’m NOT in Philly. I don’t travel much at all, so it always feels like a little escape. Yes, I evangelize supporting local from my social media pulpit often, but I do allow myself to deviate occasionally.
Certainly, there ARE more than a dozen other restaurants nearby doing a bang-up job; consistently busy, and on all of the “best of” lists. I’m not telling you not to frequent them; by all means continue to support those popular restaurants that have helped put Philadelphia on the internationally-acclaimed culinary map, but don’t stop exploring either. Just because a well-paid food critic tells you he didn’t like it, it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t like it. If you were curious about Aqimero, why not try it and judge for yourself?
Our visit was just a little over a month ago. The dining room is quite large and cavernous; there were quite a few tables open, so it felt kind of empty. But also… inviting and special. To me, this is preferable — no wait for a table, we could pick where we wanted to sit, quiet atmosphere, and an air of exclusivity. It felt like we had the entire place to ourselves, even thought there were certainly other diners there! Also, we received exceptional service. Our server Kicha was prompt, attentive, very friendly and highly knowledgeable about the venue and menu items. So far, so good!
My first cocktail was the Mexican Mule – El Silencio Espadin Mezcal, Sauza Blue Silver Tequila, Rosemary-Pineapple Shrub, Lime, and Ginger Beer. I really enjoy this version as it had a lot of depth of flavor. The addition of the Mezcal added a smoky flavor, the shrub was tangy-sweet, and the ginger beer added bitterness. Really good and I would order it again.
Our meal started with Cornbread with Truffle Butter, which also came with an apple compote. The presentation is so pretty served in a mini cast iron skillet on top of a wood cutting board with the butter and compote. Hubby went crazy over the whipped butter. Simply a perfect start!
We were so happy to learn they had a raw bar. Our love of oysters has been well-documented in the past. We’re quite the enthusiasts for them now. In this case, we decided to order oysters AND clams. Yummy!
When we see calamari on a menu, we get calamari! This Cripsy Calamari with poblano chili tartar is wonderfully shareable; perfect for two. Great flavor and perfectly fried. No complaints at all. If you like calamari, you will love this.
The next dish was truly the standout dish out of everything we sampled, the Sticky Ribs are a MUST try dish. If you’re looking for simply one good reason to go to Aqimero, this is it. Glazed, fall-off-the-bone, wood fire-grilled tamarind caramel pork ribs with blistered shishito peppers. If we had eaten just these, I would have been happy. I could have eaten several plates of these ribs alone. I will remember these spot on sticky ribs for some time!
I have to say, the only dish that did not stand out as particularly great or memorable for us was the Smoked Burrata Salad. Maybe that’s because we’re not huge fans of burrata or frisée. It just didn’t do anything for us. But it sure was pretty sitting in the vibrant and tasty yellow tomato gazpacho.
By this point, it was time for another cocktail as a palate cleanser. I’m a mega fan of the Pisco Sour (ever since our visit to Quinoa in Doylestown). This Aqimero version was a tinge more bitter, perhaps an extra drop too many of the Angostura bitters? Regardless, it was still a pleasing drink.
Lobster tacos anyone? Yeah, if you see Lobster Tacos on a menu, you should probably get them. Hell, even LaBan and Sheehan found these acceptable. They’re great! Simple, yet tasty. Then again, how bad can lobster be? Absolutely worth getting. Perfect happy hour nibble, if you ask me.
At this point, we were quite full, but had to try the Short Ribs on the entree menu. So glad we did, look at this glorious piece of meat. Honestly the picture doesn’t do it justice; it is bigger than it appears. A ridiculous main course in the absolute best way, though. Stunning presentation, deliciously moist beef ribs, and I adored the smoked mashed potatoes it came served on top of. A stellar dish and worth every penny! It really shows that they are putting the elaborate wood grill (which you can see from the interior dining room, in the far left corner) to good use! I’m not a huge fan of red meat, but I love short ribs and these are really great.
Another “must” order on the menu is the Street Corn. Not served on the cob, or Elote-style, this corn rather came out as a salad of sorts. As you can see from the photo below, there is some color on the kernels of corn. This is because they roast it a bit in a pan. The corn is a bit on the al dente side; it is not soft or mushy. In addition to lime juice and cotija cheese, there’s crunchy black, wild rice in this dish. I found it very enjoyable. Most people would be turned off by the rice not being fully cooked through, but I liked the texture. It’s a solid corn side dish!
Sadly, we were just too full to even fathom trying one of their desserts, plus we had to rush off to a show at the Foundry at the Fillmore. Overall, we were happy with everything we had at Aqimero and would definitely return, especially for those ribs!
There’s also had a live jazz band playing the night we were there. So classy!
Your mileage may vary, depending on what you like, but we were not even close to being disappointed by our experience and the food at Aqimero. Was it a grand slam? No, but certainly not as bad as self-proclaimed “dick” Sheehan makes it out to be. Of course, I’m no professional food critic, but I know bad food when I taste it and I am not afraid to say food is awful – even if it is free food! This food was not bad, a lot of it was quite good. Aqimero is worth a visit, even if just for those delectable sticky ribs, short ribs, and street corn. I would not steer you wrong!
If my reasons for going to Aqimero resonate, please go check it out and tell them Philly Grub sent you. Then, let me know what you thought. Be honest! If you didn’t like it, I’m sorry. If you did, you’re welcome.
*Special thanks to Jimmy Contreas of the Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia for arranging our visit. Our opinions are our own.