Restaurateur Elaina Morris said she wants people to have memorable little moments when they dine at Aqua Terra Steak + Sushi, which opens Dec. 1 at City Creek Center in Salt Lake City.
The dining room is sleek and minimalist, Morris said, with modernist-inspired cabinetry and fixtures, custom blue granite accents, twinkling lights, and handcrafted glass wallpaper that catches the light.
“It’s got that ’50s throwback,” she said. “It’s monochromatic, it has soothing colors. It’s top notch. It’s very elegant,” she said. “You won’t see a lot of crazy art anywhere, but what you see will be significant. It’s about walking through this space and creating moments.
For example, Morris said, there’s a 10-person elevated booth, a huge sushi bar at the heart of the space, and three patios, all offering different dining experiences.
“Intentionally, from our food to the way the place is designed, your journey from the front door to the back door to the bathroom, we want you to feel like you’re there,” he said. said.
The City Creek Center is located at 50 S. Main St., in Salt Lake City, and the Aqua Terra is right on Main on the west side of the mall.
Aqua Terra’s parent company, Ascend Hospitality Group, is headquartered in Bellevue, Washington, and has a Utah footprint with its popular Dave’s BBQ restaurants. (There are three in Utah, in Layton, West Jordan and South Salt Lake.) Morris, the group’s president and CEO, said Aqua Terra mirrors, but doesn’t mimic, Ascend’s crown jewel: Stanford’s, a chain of multigenerational steakhouse the company bought a few years ago.
Stanford’s model of “affordable luxury” is what Ascend wanted to bring to the Salt Lake Valley market with Aqua Terra, Morris said. Stanford’s steakhouses — two in Washington state, two in Oregon — offer premium cuts of Wagyu you can’t find anywhere else, along with top-notch sushi.
“We will bring some of our classic recipes and treat local proteins to our classic recipes,” he said, adding that Aqua Terra will serve game and beef. The menu also includes many fish dishes, omakase, crispy rice and an extensive dessert menu.
Morris said Ascend is considered a dessert expert — one of their signature dishes is the Magic Mushroom, an edible terrarium served in a glass, with honey meringue white mushroom, white chocolate cherry mouse, mocha and matcha shortbread — and that “I’m bringing some pretty cool desserts to Salt Lake City, including a new one that’s a tribute to her kids, who love ice cream.”
The drinks, he said, were created specifically to complement the food — to highlight the steak and liven up the sushi — but they’ll stand out on their own merits.
“Our cocktails will be right up there. We’ve all been to those mixology bars — that’s one thing I love about Salt Lake City right now,” Morris said. “There’s a food transformation and a drink/cocktail/mixology transformation going on. right in that mix. Especially with sake. There are many places that have sake, but they don’t have sake cocktails.
Ascend’s mixology team has also been working to create a substantial soft drink list for Aqua Terra, Morris said.
“They’re not afterthoughts,” he said. “Me too – I’m a restaurateur – I have 13 restaurants. I go to functions all the time. I don’t always want a drink in hand. …So we wanted to create an environment that recognizes, yes, there are a lot of people who enjoy boozy beverages in Salt Lake, but we are very clear that there are a lot of people who want to have a fine dining experience that should be able to exalt the flavor of their food through the cocktails, no alcohol, and we’ll get there with that.
Stanford’s is known for serving what Morris calls constructed dishes, with protein, veggies, and starch, rather than lots of a la carte items that add up to the bill. The same will be true, he said, for Aqua Terra.
The goal, he said, is to “bring a refined protein experience that reflects the region we serve. … We wanted to include things like bison, moose and wild boar. And that’s where people of Salt Lake will hopefully see their reflection and say, “Oh yeah, this is me.”