Time Out New York recently published an anonymous review of Latin newcomer Agua Dulce that called the food “as inauthentic as it is spread geographically thin” and went on to complain about poor seasoning, bland flavors, and poorly conceived desserts before ending with “At least the mojitos are right.” The subsequent comments (“this reviewer should be fired on the spot,” etc.) seemed like shills, given that they universally awarded five out of five stars to the restaurant, but then Agua Dulce’s chef Ulrich A. Sterling himself weighed in, and he was not having it.
To whom it may concern, First and foremost I would like to state I enjoy their publication when I do actually need to find a last minute bar or restaurant to slip into. I find the layout and writing to be well done and representative of our current time and scene here in NYC. But not this time. This article purely and whole heartedly bashing Pan Latin cuisine as being tired and harking back to the days of Douglas Rodriguez (my mentor mind you) is ridiculous. The fact of the matter is the food I create and serve here at Agua Dulce is my direct interpretation of “classic Latin” and by no means is intended to be “authentic”. Our whole intention with the food as well as the décor is to embrace, not focus on the culinary and cultural styles of what we consider to be the best of central and south America. Definitely not the “generic versions of standards” as this writer so put. Moqueca, not “moqueta” as the writer of this article so blatantly misspelled, is a classic seafood stew from Bahia in Brazil. It is traditionally enriched with oil from the Dende Palm, which contains the highest saturated fat and caloric content of any non-animal based fat on the planet. Hence why I enrich this classic dish with a healthier option of pureed toasted cashews, instead of the former. Very inauthentic indeed. And the “slimy undercooked pieces of snapper” as this writer was so unhappy with, would he have inquired would have found them to actually be thin slices of the same sashimi grade yellow fin tuna I use also in my Tuna Tiradito on the menu. Again instead of an overcooked mush of a no name fish, fresh medium rare slices of sashimi grade tuna. Again overly inauthentic.
The fact also comes up that if this dining reviewer really did know what he was writing about, he would find that we don’t and never have served hanger steak at Agua Dulce. The churrasco on our menu is a “classic” Latino cut of skirt steak, not hanger steak, and to showcase the awesome flavors of this wonderful cut of beef, I try not to muddle it with anything other than a “classic” chimichurri, and roasted potato. As for the desserts, we were most certainly plagued with a few missteps in our initial opening, but I can assure you [they] are spectacular now. The chocolate cake this writer was so dissatisfied “so molten almost soup like” makes me question the authenticity of this dining experience. The cake is sold on our menu as a “molten chocolate, with a chili chocolate soup”. The title of the dish is even “Xocatl” the Aztec’s famed chocolate soup/drink of the gods. Also, the ice cream served with our plantains is a rum raisin, not vanilla as stated in the article.
The other fact stated in this article that really allows me to question its authenticity is the “cascading water on the blue tiled wall”. We have never, nor ever will have any way shape or form of cascading anything in Agua Dulce. Nor do we have a blue tiled wall. Our interior has three major materials used for our walls, an Ann Sacks Glass mosaic (a mosaic of glassy green), Laminate alternating black and white wood (black and white), a huge black lacquer wall (black), and yellow and blue painted brick. The only “blue tile” we have essentially is the teal along the underside of our bar. And I can assure you the only cascading liquid there is if some mishap happens with one of our fantastic cocktails, not a waterfall. Over all, there may have been a few issues in something being over, or under seasoned. I will gladly take these criticisms to heart and pursue the consistency issues that obviously may have been true in this article. As the chef of this beautiful space, its [sic] my duty to our guests to assure perfection, and exceed expectation. If anything else however, the only thing truly inauthentic, has to be this article.
Chef Sterling also sent this missive to the editor of Time Out New York, and to us:
I would like to share this with your magazine. I enjoy reading your content daily, as well as having a current subscription in my home, and am very confident any one of your staff would have a bit more of an intellectual thing to say about the cuisine and ambience [sic] of my restaurant. It seems their reviewer may have us confused with another restaurant that serves hanger steak and has a cascading water wall.
I would cordially like to invite any and all of your staff in to our restaurant to see the blatant non-truths published by this junior-varsity publication are in fact, inauthentic and a gross misrepresentation of our establishment. I look forward to seeing any and all of you very soon to enjoy a meal with us.
Oh, boy. Between this and Boulud sniping back at Platt, you have to wonder whether the age of the non-anonymous critic will coincide with the advent of the unruly chef.