Serious diners tend to have an urban bias, so suburban restaurants have to fight extra hard to be noticed. White Bear Lake’s Acqua, opened in 2009 by veterans of Uptown’s Campiello, pulled it off by offering superb Italian-inspired fare in a tranquil lakeside setting.
Earlier this year, the Acqua team opened a second location on a tiny peninsula on the north shore of Forest Lake, affording patio diners a solid 150 degrees of heady breezes and wave gazing. It’s a terrific spot to enjoy one of the restaurant’s well-crafted cocktails, which feature the likes of chili-infused bourbon and ginger purée. Sipping one of the well-balanced Caipirinhas, one could almost imagine Rio de Janeiro, gazing out on the Atlantic.
At first read, Acqua’s menu hints at its having fallen victim to hotel-restaurant syndrome: scallops everywhere, $12 hamburgers, and pizzas with extravagantly Italian names. And things can stumble a bit in the appetizer section. A foie gras and scallop dish had odd textures and too many components. A mostly melon fruit soup was mostly meh.
Fortunately, the crispy fried calamari make perfect patio food, as does Acqua’s satisfying bacon-topped burger. While many lazy Minnesota restaurants thrive on selling overpriced, profoundly lame walleye dishes, Acqua’s Pesci Freschi impresses. The fish is crusted in light, crunchy, paprika-speckled panko breadcrumbs and paired with delicious potato and rapini sides. And true to the restaurant’s Italian roots, Acqua’s tagliatelle Bolognese is also a winner, offering generous portions of delicate pasta piled with a meaty, macho veal/pork/pancetta sauce.
The restaurant’s Italian-inspired desserts also deliver. Pistachio semifreddo with dark chocolate ganache is a subtle charmer, while the lemon ricotta cake delivers a fresh blast of tart citrus flavor. In warm weather, Acqua Forest Lake’s patio may be the inspiration for your visit, but its food will keep you returning when temperatures dip.
8241 North Shore Trail N., Forest Lake