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The restaurant may be named Aroma, but there are no smells wafting from the kitchen when you enter this attractively decorated eatery. And with good reason: to make maximum use of this tiny space – which seats 25 people at tables and bar – Aroma’s charming owner Alexandra Degiorgio has put the kitchen in the basement of the building. And while I imagine chef Christopher Daly has ordinary things like pots and knives at his disposal down there, I won’t be surprised to learn he also has a magic wand. For this is food created by a true culinary sorcerer.Review By: Brian Scott Lipton
How else can one explain the intense flavor of fresh spaghetti dressed with the barest coating of garlic and olive oil and topped with the most perfect braised Tivoli greens? Stracetti, another of the house’s freshly made pastas, is bathed in a superb wild mushroom ragu – a dish that brings to mind a trattoria I ate in Florence many years ago and still dream about.
Daly’s hand with seafood is no less sure, from precisely cooked “spicy” shrimp that get its bite from a mix of seasoned panko crumbs and a dash of homemade orange oil (echoed in a garnish of orange segments) to baked calamari – a far nobler treatment for squid than those greasy fried rings – enticingly stuffed with a mix of shrimp, almonds, parsley and bread. Best of all are a trio of silky seared scallops which sit atop slices of salty Parma ham, while a riot of greener-than-green English peas bring color and goodness to the rest of the plate.
But perhaps Daly’s biggest triumph was that he got me to really enjoy lamb – three ways, no less: a simple lamb chop, an addictive chunk of lamb neck enlivened by pine nuts and raisin, and above all, his “lamb cake,” which is a very sophisticated take on shepherd’s pie.
Aroma advertises itself as a kitchen and wine bar, and if you’re smart, you will let Vito Polosa, the house’s equally charming male partner, guide you through the extensive wine list. He even found a pair of excellent dessert wines to make our finale even better – which was quite a task, considering we split a trio of divine homemade sorbets and gelato (I particularly loved the cantaloupe), and the house’s decadent chocolate trio (three cheers for the stuffed truffle!).
If you don’t have plans yet for Father’s Day, you can come to Aroma and sample these goodies, along with a magnificent-sounding tasting menu (priced at $60), or come by any Sunday for its inventive, sure-to-be delicious brunch. (Polenta waffle with amaretto syrup – I am SO there!) I urge you to follow my lead, if not my nose.
Neighborhood: East Village
Entree Price: $20-25
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