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Sweet Aroma Downtown restaurant is real Italian through and through

The Bryant Street site, between Elmwood and Ashland, now housing Trattoria Aroma has more lives than a gatto. It has been the setting for several restaurants through the years, beginning with the initial Just Pasta, which was probably the first dining place in Western New York to offer noodles with something other than red sauce.

And through all its incarnations (and all its varying degrees of sophistication) it remained staunchly Italian. This version, an offshoot of the very popular Trattoria Aroma in Williamsville, carries on the tradition. Offering good food and really good wine (Italian vintages only), and located close to Kleinhans Music Hall and the Theater District, it stands every chance of success.

First of all, the place is so handsome. A few minor decor changes have been made, but most of the opera murals are still in place and so are the columns that separate the rooms. The comfortable front porch will open soon and, most important, the lighting is fabulous. (Never underestimate the importance of lighting in a restaurant; the new Trattoria Aroma glows.)

The menu is the same as in the Williamsville location, featuring interesting variations on Italian standards. The Companion's entree special, Pappardelle Bolognese -- an evening special at $16 -- was made with venison. And the sauce that covered it all had an elusive sweet flavor, which, try as we might, we could not identify. Finally, we asked the server. Clove with a hint of cinnamon, she said. Surprising in this combination of ingredients; no wonder we were at a loss. But absolutely right.

My entree came from the printed menu: Brodetto di Pesce ($20) -- think Italian Cioppino. It was a brothy combination of shrimp, scallops, mussels, calamari and plum tomatoes pointed up with saffron. Served in a large bowl, the soup was poured over grilled foccacia, which, I could not help but notice, eventually got too mushy. Still, a satisfying dish.

For first courses, we tried Pizzetta Aroma ($8), a salad-plate-sized pizza with a very thin, very crisp crust, topped with caramelized onions, wild mushrooms and pancetta. There were about four pieces here.

And we tried Carciofi Romani ($9), the Trattoria's version of the famous dish in which the vegetable is flattened before frying and served up with oil and lemon. Here, however, the artichokes were heavily breaded before going into the oil. This feature -- a little too Mrs. Paul-inspired -- spoiled both the texture and the taste.

Desserts were another story. Chocolate Budino, the Italian version of pudding, was so dark, so rich and so creamy that it practically took our breath away. Not to mention that it was accompanied by two cute little amaretti and some candied orange peel.

After that, our perfectly respectable Lemon Mascarpone Torte had to take a distant second place.

Other interesting menu items include Spaghetti Erice (with tuna and capers in a white wine broth, $16); Gorgonzola-Stuffed Ravioli ($15); Filetto di Manzo (filet wrapped in pancetta, and mushrooms with caramelized onion risotto, $24); and Salmone Arrosto (with grilled eggplant, prosciutto and asparagus in lemon caper broth, $18).

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

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TRATTORIA AROMA

3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

WHERE: 307 Bryant St. (881-7592). The second version of the popular Williamsville restaurant features high-style Italian food and a totally Italian wine list. Handsome surroundings add to the enjoyment of the meal.

Credit Cards: American Express, Master Card, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Venison Bolognese (evening special) NEEDS WORK: Pan-fried Roman Artichokes

PRICE RANGE:Secondi (entree plates) from $15.

SERVICE: Good

HOURS: Dinner 5 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Lunch will start being served after April 16.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS:Difficult

PARKING: On the street or in the metered city lot.

RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News? visit ? including service, ambience, innovation and cost ? with greatest weight given to quality of the food.

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