Here’s what you should know about Aro Bar de Tapas, the new Spanish place opening tomorrow in Amherst. I was invited for a press preview Friday as a guest of the owners.
You can’t tell for sure what a restaurant will be like until opening-day adrenaline has worn off, but here’s what I can tell you now.
1) This place is serious about getting the Spanish details right, down to the type of nails used in the bar. From cheese to jamon to pimenton, it draws ingredients and inspirations from Barcelona and other Spanish cities like San Sebastian with keen attention to detail.
Jeremy Horwitz, one of the owners, has been obsessed with fine food, especially Spanish variants, for a long time. He researched the subject exhaustively in Spain, and worked out a menu with two talented chef co-owners. Aro is a restaurant designed to deliver their findings, one plate at a time.
2) This place is as serious about gin as other places are about bourbon. Its top-of-the-line gin-and-tonic, the Ultimo, comes with Fever-Tree tonic, Hendricks gin, rose petals, and its own floor show.
Tonic poured over a nugget of dry ice turns the cocktail into a bubbling goblet of refreshment. It’s $15, and it’s delicious. House gin-and-tonics start at $8. There’s a non-gin cocktail list, of course, plus wine, beer and sherry.
3) This place is serious about food, too. Chef Scott Kollig, an owner, is from Clarence but has worked for leading U.S. chefs, including Jose Andres, a Spaniard.
Never having been to Spain, I am hesitant to call it authentic. I can tell you that almost everything I tried was delicious. (I wasn’t crazy about the gambas al ajillo ($12), garlic shrimp, but I might not have liked them in Barcelona, either.)
Kollig is doing both standards (i.e. tortilla Espanola, a tall, firmly set potato-egg pancake) and innovative recasts of standards (i.e. arroz con pollo ($25), transformed into a crispy-skinned confit chicken dish with black rice briquettes and saffron aioli, arriving under a canopy of pea shoots).
4) Get the vegetables. Spanish food lovers know all about seafood, porky pleasures and croquettes, but the vegetables are thoughtful. Caramelized carrots with harissa ($7) were adult candy of the first order.
Roasted cauliflower ($8) came out custardy-soft, crowned with herbs and bits of crispy chicken skin. Patatas bravas ($7), sliced fingerlings fried and anointed with aioli, chile-tomato sauce, and paprika, were my favorite.
5) Save room for dessert, which is its own reason to come here, all by itself. Monica Kollig, Scott’s wife and the third owner, is a pastry chef who can deliver show-stoppers like the ojo del bufalo ($10), chocolate caramel mousse on a brownie base decked with chocolate jewels, beads and bangles.
Then a relatively straightforward almond (Basque) cake ($8), albeit with almond praline and a winter orange swirl. Both were excellent examples of fine desserts.
6) This place is not cheap. I don’t think it’s overpriced, considering the level of execution and the ingredients, but pick your company. Do not take people who go to restaurants because they have a coupon, then exult in the weightiness of leftovers.
7) Looking back, I have two regrets: I didn’t try the fideos, the toasted-pasta-and-seafood casserole ($40, for 2); and I forgot my leftovers. (Dammit.)
8) Aro Bar de Tapas is at 5415 Sheridan Drive, Amherst, in the Williamsville Place plaza. The phone number is 631-1000.
Email Andrew Galarneau at firstname.lastname@example.org