Fine food in glamorous surroundings at Aroma Osteria
We were running late and I impatiently steered my dinner companions away from visiting relatives and out to the car for our trip to Aroma Osteria. For years I had been hearing wonderful things about Aroma and I was anxious for the evening to begin, certain we were in for a treat.
Opened in 1997 and renovated in 2004, the saffron yellow building tucked away on a hill just off Route 9 in Wappingers Falls (Dutchess) evokes images of a Tuscan villa or medieval fortress, depending on your age or imagination. Lush perennial gardens surround the building, and a dining terrace overlooks a bountiful kitchen garden. Once inside, you pass a handsome bar before entering the large dining room, which is divided into four seating areas. We were graciously escorted to the back room, which is elegantly delineated by wrought iron scrollwork studded with flickering votive candles. A bowl of perfect apricots sat atop a rustic weathered cabinet, their golden color drawing your eye to the rich hues of the exterior glimpsed through a nearby window. I couldn’t help but think that the bowl had been placed there with the intention of bringing harmony between indoors and out. Such is the attention to detail at Aroma Osteria, where each room is thoughtfully accentuated with beautiful flourishes.
The service was excellent — friendly, efficient, and knowledgeable. As we searched for a wine from the extensive list, which offers a multitude of mid-priced selections, our waiter stopped by to offer assistance. He gave us a brief, insightful lesson on the differences between wines from the southern and northern regions of Italy. With his help, we decided on a delicious, buttery white wine, Tocai Friulano “Toh!” Di Lenardo 2004, from the northern, Friuli region. While contemplating the menu, we dipped thick slices of coal ovenâ€“baked bread into aromatic olive oil, and nibbled on a variety of tangy olives. The rustic Italian menu draws from the country’s many regions, but you may detect a slight partiality for the cuisine of southern Italy, where chef-owner Eduardo Lauria grew up.
Among the antipasti selections, Carpaccio Di Manzo Tartufato ($9.95) was the standout. Three generous slices of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano drizzled with truffle aÃ¯oli were nestled under paper-thin carvings of flavorful, seared rare beef. Complemented by fresh arugula scented with musty truffle oil, this dish was a masterful blend of flavors. Impepata di Cozze (Prince Edward Island mussels, $9.95) didn’t have quite the same verve. The mussels themselves were meaty and satisfying, but the broth, despite the presence of parsley and garlic, didn’t invite the usual mopping up. The artful presentation of the appetizer special — Barbabietole e rughetta (roasted baby beets, $9.95) — elicited exclamations from around the table. Arranged in a playful pinwheel, the ruby red beets were topped with arugula, dotted with ricotta salata, and strewn with toasted pine nuts.
The sweet, earthy essence of the beets was a tasty counterpoint to the peppery arugula (although it was slightly overpowered by a lemony dressing). The heaping portion of calamari ($9.95) — deep-fried, tender, and served with a tomato-basil sauce that had a subtle yet spicy bite — quickly disappeared. And the Cesarina ($6.95), a Caesar salad comprised of market-fresh hearts of romaine covered with Parmesan shavings, croutons, and a delicate eggless dressing, was enthusiastically savored by all.
We chose only one pasta entrÃ©e, but with the wide array of choices — from Sardinian-style gnocchi with pancetta and zucchini in a creamy saffron sauce ($16.95) to baked homemade cannelloni filled with Bolognese and bÃ©chamel sauces ($17.95) — we regretted we couldn’t sample more. Our selection, linguini with New Zealand clams steamed in extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, baby tomatoes, and fresh herbs ($17.95), looked splendid, a Vesuvian mound of clams erupting over perfectly al dente pasta. But although the sauce was mildly scented by the clams, the other flavors never quite surfaced.
Grilled fennel sausage ($18.95), however, was richly redolent, and the accompanying broccoli rabe (gently sautÃ©ed with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and chili peppers) was as tasty as it gets. Crisply roasted potatoes were the harmonious endnote to this satisfying plate. The marinated free-range Cornish game hen ($19.95) was described as being grilled in the Tuscan manner, under a brick. Perfectly cooked, the hen’s skin was deliciously charred, while the meat inside remained tender and flowing with juices. A salad of tomatoes, diced cucumbers, red onion, olives, peasant bread, basil, and a dash of red wine vinegar provided a refreshing accompaniment. A special of marinated grilled veal paillard ($25.95), served with asparagus and cherry tomatoes accented with garlic and herbs, and house-made potato chips, was rustically simple.
Desserts are worth saving room for. Classic tiramisu ($6.95), with its alternating layers of ladyfingers, mascarpone, and bittersweet chocolate, was indulgently delicious. The wonderfully intense flourless chocolate cake ($6.95), made with Perugina chocolate, was served with a dollop of whipped cream that was almost as big as the cake itself, much to our delight. Imported from Italy, the trio of chocolate, vanilla, and coffee gelato was sweetly satisfying, but paled next to the homemade desserts.
Although there were a couple of missteps on the night we visited, the hits among the tantalizing Tuscan fare definitely made up for them.