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11/06 2 inexpensive 705 Chestnut St.
(215) 928-2838
Roti Canai, Aqua Tofu volcano ribs, basic Thai food... discussion>>

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Aqua is one of a few Malaysian restaurants that have spun-off in some way or another from Penang, the first Malaysian place in Philly. The chef at Aqua worked there, and there are more than afew similarities in the menu and overall style of the food. But Aqua is aiming for a slightly more upscale presentation and feel, and for the most part they've achieved it. There's a larger focus on Thai food on this menu too, although not always for the better, we tended to like the Malaysian side a little better, with a few exceptions.

Service was very friendly and efficient, not always the case at Penang, where they can be a little gruff. And overall we enjoyed the food here, and the slightly lighter, more polished presentations that showed more than mere imitation of that other restaurant.

Tom Yum was one of the Thai dishes that we REALLY liked here. This was an excellent version of this lemongrass-heavy, spicy soup. We found the coconut milk-based Tom Kha soup to be only so-so, but we'd stringly recommend the Tom Yum, with either chicken or shrimp. Tom Yum

Roti Canai, one of my favorite starters, is especially good here. The airy, crispy, paper-thin pancake is served with a dipping sauce that tastes more like a Thai Green Curry than the more Indian-flavored dips that are served at Penang and Banana Leaf. It's a great combo, and this might be my favorite redition of this traditional classic

The satay had a pleasing crill char and a slightly sweet sheen, but wasn't very hot one time I ordered it. I guess it's saying something that it was still enjoyable nonetheless. The peanut sauce has that same thick complexity as Penang's, probably due to some pumpkin blended in with the peanuts.

A mango salad with barbecue squid was refreshing, crunchy and tangy, a good bright, light contrast to what can be a heavy cuisine. Mango Squid

Aqua Tofu One of the best things we had was the Aqua Tofu, amazingly light, airy cubes of fried bean curd, smothered with a tangy sauce studded with ground pork.

We also tried the Hainanese Chicken, which is a little on the plain side, but quite good in that home-cooking kind of way, simple steamed chicken served at room temperature, with a tasty dipping sauce and hearty rice. Sizzling beef was pleasant, but nothing too exciting. Deep fried fish with Belecan was well-executed, but be sure you like the intense flavor of shrimp paste, it's pretty up-front in this traditional Malaysian sauce. I've always liked the chicken curry called Kari Ayam at Panang, but I wasn't completely thrilled with the version we got here. The chicken was a bit dry and tough, but the sauce was good, so it wasn't a complete loss. I'll try that again....

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