Restaurant Review: Aroma Thyme Bistro

Gourmet cuisine that is holistic too? Ellenville’s Aroma Thyme Bistro delivers it all.

Soy What?

Gourmet cuisine that is holistic too? Ellenville’s Aroma Thyme Bistro delivers it all

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By Lynn Hazlewood

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Culinary worlds collide all the time these days, but it’s still a rarity to find committed vegans and unrepentant carnivores happily noshing under the same roof. Can a chef create a menu that satisfies the desires of both? At Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville, Ulster County, Marcus Guiliano has set out to do just that. He’s vegetarian himself (and has contributed more than 300 recipes to health guru Gary Null’s books), but not a proselytizing bean-sprout pusher. Instead, he’s a committed disciple of the “real food” movement who uses no refined sugar, no white flour, no processed or factory-farmed ingredients. His aim, the back of the menu declares, is to marry “holistic and gourmet cuisine.” Sounds good. But does it taste good, too?

On the blustery, chilly Friday evening that we visited the bistro, we pulled up just steps from the entrance. Ellenville is slowly reviving, but it has a ways to go, one benefit of which is that you can easily find a place to park (unless Aroma’s neighbor, Shadowlands Theater, has a blockbuster show).

Once in the door, we were warmly greeted and led through the crowded front dining area to a table in the back room. The restaurant occupies a renovated storefront, with a mahogany bar curving the length of the main room. The high, embossed ceiling is painted deep burgundy, with pine wainscoting covering the lower half of the walls. The overall effect is modern and casual, with rustic touches but a decidedly citified vibe. We felt a little out of the action in the back room, but the solicitous hostess (Marcus’s wife, Jamie) adjusted the lighting to make us feel cozier.

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Our server brought a basket of warm bread — whole-wheat miche from Bread Alone — with a dish of puréed white beans. It was so good we ate the whole lot while deciding what to order.

The menu kicks off with a selection of whole-wheat, thin-crust pizzas (with gluten-free options available). Among the appetizers are wheatgrass juice ($4), pappadams ($3), Young Thai coconut ($5), and an olive and hot pepper medley ($3). A ravenous nonvegetarian might be uh-oh–ing at this point, but a quick glance at the rest of the menu reveals fish, lamb, chicken, pork and steak dishes, along with seitan cutlets, tempeh and tofu.

With the help of the sommelier, we settled on a Cartlidge and Brown Pinot Noir ($31), a spicy, fruity wine that’s recently been gaining in reputation. I should mention that the sommelier is a friend (although his advice is just as sound if you don’t know him), and that given the casual nature of the restaurant, he prefers to be called “the wine guy.” Whatever. He knows his vintages, and it’s nice to have help navigating a list as extensive as the one here — an array of 350 varieties from smaller producers around the globe. Prices range from $20 up to $675 for those in the mood for a real splurge.

An ample serving of steamed and salted edamame soy beans ($4) got things rolling. The beans (ubiquitous in urban Japanese restaurants but seen less often in the Valley) popped out bright green and perfectly al dente from their pods. A salad of chopped romaine hearts ($8) came prettily presented on a triangular plate. A generous sprinkling of chopped pears, blue cheese and walnuts added texture and crunch, while the light tarragon dressing balanced the flavors. It was both fresh and refreshing. We were feeling healthier already.

The rare sesame-crusted albacore tuna with peanut glaze ($11) was the star appetizer; it was simply outstanding. Slices of barely seared sushi-quality tuna were meltingly delicious. Tissue thin, velvety pickled ginger and a fresh wakame seaweed salad made perfect tangy accompaniments. The appetizer portion might be generous enough to satisfy a light eater saving room for a big dessert, say, although an entrée-sized serving is available for $22. (Guiliano chooses albacore or black fin tuna for their very low mercury levels.)

Braised lamb is one of my favorite cool weather dishes. Here, the free-range lamb shank ($18) was served in a jus of Australian Shiraz and rosemary. The meat was fork tender, with very robust flavor, and nicely set off by the rich sauce. It was the essence of comfort food. (On other visits, we’ve sampled steak and pork dishes, both of which were well-prepared with similar tasty reduction sauces.) Perched atop the lamb shank were fresh, lightly steamed slices of zucchini and carrot — a nice contrast in colors and textures, to be sure, although when I’m in comfort-food mode, I prefer my vegetables a little less crunchy.

Hot Pot Szechuan Shrimp ($19) was another clean, fresh and fragrant dish. It had abundant shrimp and vegetables — broccoli, peppers, onions and mushrooms — which continued to cook from the heat of the thick stone bowl they came in. A hot, spicy sauce (a mixture of tamari, sake, chili peppers and vinegar, sweetened with agave nectar) came on the side, which livened things up considerably.

Desserts include choices for the lactose- and gluten-intolerant, as well as a vegan dark chocolate fudge torte ($7.50) so dense and rich it seems it must be sinful. But it’s made with organic cocoa, raw agave, maple syrup and coconut butter — probably as close to healthy food as a fudge torte can possibly be.

Sautéed organic bananas ($7) came sliced in a lovely syrup with a dollop of vanilla ice cream — the perfect sweet ending to a satisfying meal. (Organic coffees, herbal, black and green teas, and a number of dessert martinis are also available.)

As we left, we passed tables of diners clearly having a good time, and emerged onto Ellenville’s brightly lit — and completely deserted — main street. After the convivial atmosphere of the restaurant, it came as a surprise. Perhaps Aroma Thyme Bistro is less a collision of worlds than a little world of its own.

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