114 Old Post Road
Wappingers Falls, NY 12590
845 298 6790
Lunch: Tuesday through Saturday
Dinner: Tuesday through Sunday
I look forward to Tuesday’s. For many years I have met a friend of mine for lunch on Tuesdays and we always go to the same place – Aroma Osteria in Wappingers Falls. It’s a bit of a hike from his house in Lagrange and my office in Poughkeepsie, but we make the trek every week because we love the place. It is without question one of my favorite restaurants. I reiterate that my “favorite” restaurants are not purported to be “the best” restaurants, although Aroma most certainly ranks among the best restaurants that I have eaten at. Favorite status comes for a lot of reasons – the “atmosphere”, the food certainly, how the owners treat you, a basket of really good bread, the wine list if that is important to you, the people that work there – the whole package. I have eaten at Aroma on hundreds of occasions. If a place is still your favorite after that much time and familiarity, they must be doing something right. Aroma does a lot of things right.
Eduardo and Lucia Lauria are the proprietors at Aroma Osteria. They also have an interest in Il Barilotto in Fishkill. They opened Aroma in 1997 in what was then a basic ranch house on Old Post Road off of Route 9 that had a history of housing failed restaurants. There is little of that old facility still standing after an ambitious renovation a few years back. At the time Eddie told me that he wanted the building to reflect the same standards that he has for the menu. If you know Eddie you know exactly what he meant by that. Eddie and Lucy are passionate people. They are passionate about food and wine, passionate about their business, and passionate about making sure that everything about your experience at their restaurant is perfect. When you combine passion with talent and an incredible work ethic the result is usually success. Aroma is a thriving success.
When I was growing up we defined “southern” Italian restaurants as red sauce Italian restaurants and anything that served white sauce or beans was “northern” Italian. Now we know better. Aroma offers specialties from throughout Italy but if pressed for a specialty I would say that the kitchen favors the cuisine of Campania and Eddie’s hometown Naples. This is the region that brought us many Italian classics – spaghetti for starters (please no e-mails from Marco Polo fans) and traditional pizza – margherita, with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese and basil or marinara – mariner’s pizza – with tomato sauce and olive oil and garlic. Buffalo mozzarella hails from this part of the world, and shows up frequently on the menu. Octopus is also a Neapolitan staple, and is often front and center on the daily special board, along with other fresh seafood entrees like grilled gamberetti (shrimp) or baby clams, or calamari. Many of the dishes have a simple classic preparation – grilled with a little extra virgin olive oil, maybe a touch of garlic, and served with some sautéed greens – spinach or broccoli rabe (another Neapolitan introduction).
One of my all time favorite dishes is boccola – prepared salt cod. This is the food that fed the western world for centuries, that sent the Basques in search of new supplies in the fifteenth century. They found them in North America, some say before Columbus. Many cultures still prepare dried cod in their own traditional fashion, and it is very popular around the Christmas holidays. I still fondly remember a tin of boccola that was left in my mail box thirty years ago on Christmas Eve. It was from Adam Fiore, who was running the Mill House restaurant in Poughkeepsie at the time. I still think of that dish, and Adam, every Christmas. To prepare boccola the fish is rehydrated in water for a few days, breaded and fried, and then baked with olives, tomato, onions. There are different variations on this theme, depending on the origins of the recipe. The Basques, the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the Italians all have their own versions, but the dish that Aroma Osteria serves on Christmas Eve rivals any that I have had. Eddie attributes the recipe to his mother, who served it with their traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Her culinary talents have been passed on to her son, which is good for the rest of us.
Aroma’s wine list is expansive and focuses on promoting lesser known small producers. That makes perusing the list more of a challenge, or more of an adventure, depending on your point of view. No falling back on the Banfi here; many of the names will be unfamiliar to many patrons. As is often the case in good restaurants, it pays to trust their selections. The list includes over one hundred individual bottles, and also offers half bottles and a dozen or so wines by the glass. Often I’ll follow their lead and try something that I haven’t tried before. We have been introduced to many good selections, and the average bottle cost is less that $50.00. I’ll focus on the vine instead of the wine and try to match the grape and the plate. One of our favorites is a Morelino Di Scansano from Tuscany, priced at $35.00. Scansano is a village in Tuscany; morelino is the local name for the Sangiovese grape. The popular varietals all get space on the list: Campania’s anglianico, Chianti’s sangiovese, Piedmont’s nebbiolo and dolcetto. A few “Super Tuscan’s are on the list, the “Super” not a commentary on the quality of the contents, but on the blend of grapes used to make the wine. Not long ago Super Tuscan wines were considered heretical by purists because they (I think the Antinori’s tried it first) did not use Tuscany’s Sangiovese grape as the basis of the wine (as is the rule with Chianti’s) but instead used a French traditional Bordeaux base of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc. Jimmy Hoffa disappeared for a lesser infraction.
The restaurant menu offers a broad selection of antipasti, salads, pastas, and main courses – Secondi. They then complicate the process by offering a selection of daily specials that will reflect whatever Lucia is harvesting from the garden, or whatever charcuterie Eddie has prepared, or perhaps, a seasonal fish.
Last week the kitchen featured rabbit for lunch. Striped bass frequently appears at lunch served with a sautéed green such as broccoli rabe or escarole. At dinner we try to leave room for a pasta course and share a bowl. Ten varieties are on the menu but I rarely stray from my two favorites – Orecchiette Rustiche and Farfalle Deliziose, both priced at $18.95 for dinner. The orecchiette (little ear pasta) is tossed with crumbled fennel sausage, sun dried tomatoes, broccoli rabe, extra virgin olive oil and garlic. The farfalle (bow tie pasta) is served in a cream sauce with wild mushrooms and walnuts. If they ever take this off of the menu we will have our first argument. A few weeks ago Eddie insisted that I try something different and recommended the pasta special – served with braised leek and sausage. The leeks had been cooked down until all that was left was the flavor, then tossed with crumbled bits of sausage, and finished with a touch of cream. It was two weeks ago and I’m still thinking about it. Just fantastic.
If you behave you may be treated to an after dinner glass of limencello (another local introduction, from Sorrento), or a biscotti to enjoy with you’re espresso or cappuccino. The end of a meal at Aroma is like finishing a wonderful book that you really didn’t want to end. Thoroughly enjoyable, but you’re a little sad it’s over. The good news is, there’s always next Tuesday!