Pan-Latin mania may have come and gone in New York, but don’t tell that to the owners of the new Agua Dulce, on Hell’s Kitchen’s Ninth Avenue restaurant row. The place, which harkens back to the era when Douglas Rodriguez’s work at Patria was the talk of the town, channels a poolside fiesta in South Beach. The venue hits all the right theme-restaurant marks, with potted palms, a Philippe Starck--knockoff tall communal table, cabana-boy waiters and plenty of potent tropical drinks. The South Florida vibe seems to be just what the neighborhood ordered, judging from the capacity crowd that stuck around after happy hour on one recent weeknight. That the food—generic versions of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Peruvian, Argentine and Mexican standards—is as inauthentic as it is spread geographically thin didn’t seem to diminish the good time everyone was having. Extra-chunky guacamole tossed with underripe mango was so underseasoned, it hardly registered on our palates. Salmon ceviche was just as one-note—all lime and no fire—but at least it tasted like something. A nicely charred skirt steak, though a tad chewy, delivered more punch—thanks to the bright chimichurri served on the side (not the dull roasted potatoes piled underneath). A Brazilian-style seafood moqueca, featuring decent plump mussels and clams, may be the most flavorsome dish on the menu, with its rich coconut broth (despite the slimy hunks of raw tuna floating inside). Although some desserts—rum-raisin ice cream with plantains, more starchy than sweet—were as wan as the savory courses, Ocean Drive still feels awfully close (and you won’t eat well there, either). At least the mojitos are right.
This review is a corrected version of an article that ran in Time Out New York, issue 733. The magazine apologizes to Agua Dulce for the errors.