When it's your birthday in the Hungry Heifer Club, you get to pick where you want to eat. And you get treated.
So, this month it was my choice.
I chose Aroma Osteria.
This Italian favorite has been around for at least 10 years, and I haven't had the pleasure of eating here in at least five years.
It has a reputation for having excellent, authentic Italian food, but at top dollar prices.
The first prominent thing you notice about Aroma is the warm orange structure, renovated to resemble a Tuscan villa. Perfectly perched atop a hill, it makes you feel you have arrived somewhere deep in the Chianti countryside.
It was a beautiful night, so we chose to dine on the Italian terrazza lined with black iron tables, Italian pottery hung on the adjoining restaurant wall, flowers spilling over in their raised containers and Bocelli wafting through the speakers.
But, the most charming touch was the pergola overhead that had grapevines entwined from front to back and from which clusters of real grapes dangled gracefully. The dappled sunlight made its way through the leaves and warmed us as we looked over the menu.
Only the foliage around me and the sound of English speaking customers reminded me that I wasn't in Tuscany.
First, we ordered a bottle of 2005 Valpolicella for $26 which was a very reasonable since four of us were sharing. You do the math.
It was juicy, jammy and smooth. A perfect choice.
Soon after arrived freshly baked bread and a dish of olives floating in a pool of golden oil.
The menu is typically Italian. By that I mean each course is separate and therefore priced separately.
Our Italian accented server told us there was a Fried Zucchini Blossom special and with a few arm twists and explanations on my part, we decided to share an order.
The plate arrived and I was a bit disappointed.
Now, I try not to be one of those I-could-make-that-better-at-home people, but in this case it was totally unavoidable.
I prefer a very light crispy coating, sans egg in the batter, on my blossoms. And I prefer them stuffed with a little something. If you are going to go through all the trouble to fry them, you might as well make them flavorful, with a little surprise in the middle to make your mouth sing.
Well, these blossoms arrived to the table resembling dumplings, with a coating thick enough and tough enough to need a knife to cut them. And they were tasteless. Not enough seasoning.
I eyed my friend that had never sampled a Zucchini Blossom. Chewing, she looked at me like I was crazy. I could see the wheels spinning in her head as she tried to figure out why I would rave about a heavy over-coated, tasteless garden by-product that would inevitably sink to the bottom of her stomach faster than you could say egg batter.
And then it happened.
I told her I make them better at home.
It was now time for our pasta.
K. chose a farfalle with porcini cream sauce and prosciutto
A. had the three cheese ravioli
B. ordered the orecchiette with fennel sausage, sun dried tomatoes and broccoli rabe
And for me, penne with shrimp, scallops and plum tomatoes.
We shared, we passed around and we devoured. The farfalle, ravioli and orecchiette were all delicious. Mine was cooked perfectly, the seafood fresh, but it tasted a little too bland for me. B.'s orecchiette was my fav, with the farfalle in cream being a very close second.
We left room for dessert and being the food fanatic that I am, I had already picked out my selection before the menu arrived. Previously, I had checked the on-line menu, which stated that desserts were a very reasonable $6.50, a fact I had touted to my girlfriends all night.
But, when the dessert menu arrived, the desserts were listed at $8.25. For dessert. $8.25. Each. A piece. I am all for great, delicious dessert, but I can get lunch for less than $8.25.
Needless to say, I was a bit taken aback by the discrepancy. I suggested we order only two desserts for the table and share, but my fellow diners wouldn't hear of it. It would be desserts all around- and it better be good.
I ordered the Torta di Ricotta with orange zest, served on a pool of orange creme anglais and candied orange peel that was literally, heaven on a plate. Light as air and only slightly sweetened by the hint of orange. I am talking sinfully good, here.
I was satisfied.
My companions however, had a different experience. They each ordered an Italian style peach cobbler with Amaretti cookie crumble and vanilla gelato.
It received mixed reviews, but nobody raved about it. The peaches were just this side of ripe and there was something bitter tasting about the dish. We couldn't put our finger on it, but it just was a little off. Not one of them cleaned their plate, though I licked mine clean.
Now, the stinger.
When the bill came, we saw that the special Zucchini Blossoms, were $11. Yep, $11. The total bill was $140, before tip, which may not seem like alot for four people. But considering we only had a glass of wine, shared heavy tasteless blossoms, a small plate of pasta and an overpriced dessert, it seemed like too much. By the time you add the tip, it worked out to about $42 each.
I think you know me well enough by now to know that I certainly don't mind paying a king's ransom for a delicious, quality meal. To me, it is about value for what you get. And I don't mean quantity.
When I spend a lot of money, I just expect the food to be different, creative, flavorful, something extra-special. I want to make noises at the table, when I spend a pretty penny.
Don't get me wrong, the food here was good, I'll even say very good. But the only thing extra-special, was the terrazzo, where we dined. For the money we spent here, compared to what we ate, and with places like Mercato and Il Continori to choose from, I don't think the dangling grapes were worth the hefty price-tag.
114 Old Post Road
Wappingers Falls, NY 12590