My friend Liz recently scored a high profile freelance writing gig with a little bit of help from moi, and she kindly took me to dinner at Aroma Kitchen & Winebar one recent, freeze-your-high-heeled-toes-off Friday night to celebrate. I was excited that she suggested Aroma, as I often peek in when I walk to and from the gym. It’s a cozy spot, the kind where you may have to pass through a mini obstacle course to get into your chair. Once you’re in place, Aroma’s jovial yet soothing surroundings live up to its tagline, “relaxed. intense. italian.”
Over glasses of deep Italian reds (there are 120 bottles on the wine list, with a large selection by the glass), we perused the menu and fitfully mulled our waiter’s careful, loving description of the night’s specials. Pained because we wanted to order everything from soup to cheese plate, we decided to share a small plate special and two appetizers from the menu.
We started with the special, a trio of sliders on Sullivan Street Bakery mini-rolls, which our waiter said was an unusual menu item for Aroma. (RIP aka cafe—your hanger steak slider will be neither duplicated nor forgotten. Its taste has stayed on my palate though it’s been years since my lips last graced the toasted bialy crunch that gave way to a tomato-kissed, pickle and mayo relish and then to the exquisite ground steak below. Oh, how careless I was to take you for granted until you were no more.)
The first slider sandwiched oozy, fragrant mozzarella, fresh pesto, and a thin slice of tomato. The second was a slightly salted smoked salmon topped with a balancing, sweet smear of mascarpone cheese. The third was a meatball. The champion of meatballs. A rich blend that tasted like pork and beef, a hint of spice, a suggestion of pepper, a dollop of marinara—homey and also refined. (I preferred this meatball to the critically lauded yet preternaturally white-on-the-inside veal ricotta meatballs of Craftbar.)
The supplely baked calamari was stuffed with a soft, pleasing mixture, both to the palate and on the tongue, of almonds, capers, fennel, parsley and shrimp. I would have liked a hint more of lemon juice in the stuffing to bring the flavors to life, though the preserved lemon on the side was a welcome touch.
We remarked that our next dish looked and even tasted like dessert. The warm beet salad was actually a terrine layered with gorgonzola and sugary fig jam, with a warm beet dressing on the side that was reminiscent of chocolate sauce. The duo of fried gorgonzola balls added a little texture in between bites of the sweet beet tower.
I also thought the beet lasagna with wild boar bolognese, mozzarella, nutmeg and béchamel; and the braised monkfish and Sardinian fregola paella with shrimp, lobster broth and sausage sounded great.
For dessert part two, we traded bites of Sacher torte and crossed our fingers that we’d have a reason to celebrate at Aroma again soon.