Imagine you are in Tuscany, sitting in a small café. As you sip a rich, earthy cup of cappuccino and look through a book on Renaissance art, you notice a whisper of a breeze on your shoulders. You savor the moment. Bliss.
Perhaps you are actually visiting in the land of wine and pasta, enjoying the rewards of an enviable late-spring getaway; for the rest of us who can’t escape at a moment’s notice, at least not this season, we can still emulate that glorious setting over a quick lunch with a friend or two. Thanks to restaurateur Ramze Zakka, Westporters can indulge its taste for the Mediterranean lifestyle at his Acqua Ristoranti.
One of soon-to-be seven restaurants in Zakka’s Z Hospitality Group, which spans Connecticut and New York, it’s no wonder Acqua has been a fixture in Westport for nearly twenty years. With friendly service, a refined ambiance, reasonable prices and authentic Mediterranean fare, this venue gets it all right.
With an exterior reminiscent of a Venetian apartment building, the restaurant’s interior layout is elegant yet refreshingly understated, including pops of its namesake, aqua. The dishes are colorful and the bar lavish. While Acqua is considered to be the most “rustic” of the Z Hospitality restaurants, there’s a clear difference between American rustic and Italian—no rough-hewn floorboards, just handsome tile, for example. The seating area on the first floor is cozy with cafe tables; the second-floor dining area—complete with an authentic and well-used wood-burning oven and fully stocked wine bar—is comfortable for large parties. If you feel transported, the view of the river reminds you that you’re still in lovely, coastal Westport.
Diners can expect an exquisite meal thanks to Chef Jose Draganac, who has been with Acqua since its opening in 1996. In the fall and winter, for instance, the broad menu features hearty dishes like baked duck or parmesan-crusted halibut (the restaurant’s most popular), but also simpler choices, such as roast chicken or mouthwatering thin-crust pizza. Draganac ventures into other culinary territories as well—consider the delicious, Latin-infused ceviche.
In the warmer months, Acqua throws open the shutters to indulge diners taste for good weather. Beginning in June, the restaurant’s outdoor patio opens up for dining al fresco. Westporters flock to the spot for good reason. Thanks to the patio’s light umbrellas and ground-level position behind Main Street, the experience feels secluded and comfortably European.
One particular perk of the lunch service at Acqua is the prix-fixe menu, offered year-round (but especially tempting for light summer lunches). For a modest $15, patrons can enjoy appetizer portions of alternating restaurant items.
This season, there’s more to look forward to than ever. Because the restaurant prides itself on using fresh, local ingredients, Draganac says he expects lobster ravioli and tuna avocado to be top picks on the menu.
Over at the bar, Jenna Ventrice is mixing up a whole new flavor for the drink menu. A former bartender at the chain’s Norwalk restaurant Mediterraneo, she is expanding Acqua’s drink options. The menu includes six new choices, including El Diablo, a jalapeno-infused vodka drink with blue cheese-stuffed olives (creative and utterly impossible to resist). Other drinks include a French pear vodka drink, the Mango Rita, and a red berry sangria—a country-hopping tour of refreshing cocktails. Manager Lelo also recommends Jenna’s spicy cinnamon margarita. In other words, happy hour is ready to take off this summer.
Restaurants that stand the test of time have proven that they know their stuff. Whether you are new to town or have eaten at Acqua many times over the years, the restaurant’s menu changes and old favorites make it a good choice. Grab a friend and a sun hat, because this dining experience will transport you to the shores of Northern Italy in more ways than one.
43 Main Street, Westport, 203-222-8899
Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dinner, Mon.-Thurs., 5-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5-10:30 p.m.; Sun., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.