Monday, August 3, 2009

Restaurant Review: Aria

Mostly I write Adventurous Tastes as a labor of love, but occasionally there are some pretty amazing perks that make all the income-free hard work worth it. Four months after Mr. AT and I visited Aria to celebrate our engagement, we went back again on Friday. The special tasting menu put together just for us was honestly one of the best blogging treats I've had the pleasure to experience!

Perhaps it was the distracting diamond on my finger or just the haze of newly engaged bliss, but last time I visited Aria I thought it was good but not amazing. This time as I ate my way across their entire menu, I was blown away. Without exception, everything we ate was fantastic. They took full advantage of summer's vegetable bounty, and I was particularly enthralled by the heirloom tomatoes. But I'm getting ahead of myself...let me go back to the beginning...

Friday for lunch I had gone to BLT Steak for restaurant week. That meant I stuffed myself with popovers, soup, a burger, fries and dessert before it was even mid-day. So as dinner approached, I thought I'd just have to eat a light meal. As I perused the menu focusing on their fish offerings, the chef popped by and mentioned that he could put together a tasting menu for us so we could try more of the menu. Ooh yes could I resist?

We started with two gorgeous tomato dishes. The first a warm soup topped with a cool scoop of ricotta and the second a beautifully simply caprese salad. I loved the contrast of warm and cool, and the tomatoes in both dishes were perfect, juicy examples of why seasonal cooking is where it's at.

A stuffed zucchini flower was lightly fried and filled with savory cheese and accompanied by farm fresh peas and tomatoes. I haven't had a stuffed zucchini flower in years - not since my Oaxacan cooking teacher had me step aside because I was decimating the delicate little things -and now I feel like I've been missing out. This dish was one of the highlights of the night and something I wish I could get a hold of more often!

Scallops with a generous shaving of truffle were unusually presented and looked like something you'd actually see in some tropical atoll. Very pretty indeed, but not too pretty to eat of course. I always find scallops to be unusually filling, though, and this hearty variation was no different. Very good but very filling in the middle of a long dinner!

Think we're done? Of course not. Next up was a delicately prepared halibut with melt in your mouth little potatoes. Good, but overshadowed by the dish that immediately followed it - a melt in your mouth, blissfully rich seared fois gras. Oh my...this fois was heavenly and decadent and yet somehow despite protesting that I was too full to keep eating, I found room for every last bite of it!

Somehow the fois managed to give me a second wind and I tucked right into the veal schnitzel that arrived next. I love me a good schnitzel - it's somehow delicate and stick to your ribs at the same time. Aria's is particularly impressive with a light, crispy coating and an appealing hint of acidity. I had to bring a bit of it home with me, and I am not ashamed to admit I ate it with my bare hands when I got home from the gym the next morning. And yes, it was nearly as good as the night before.

Hours since we sat down, Mr. AT and I were now nearly the only ones there, but we weren't done yet. We had to finish such an incredible meal with dessert, it would be a crime not to, right? The warm chocolate cheesecake is a signature dish for good reason. It was surprisingly light with a flaky walnut crust. I could eat these all day long (oh to have such a metabolism!). The peach tart was of course fabulous, too, but my heart belongs to the cheesecake.

All of the food was fabulous, and it was one of the loveliest meals I've had in ages. It was made all the better by the incredibly gracious service. The manager, chef and our waiter all seemed genuinely interested in making sure we enjoyed our food and were attentive without being distracting. You get the sense that these men love what they do and know what they're doing, and it makes the whole experience better. And of course Mr. AT and I enjoyed reliving our engagement night. was a perfect excuse to put aside the stress of planning a wedding and remember why we're getting married in the first place!

So after a zillion calories and several hours, I'm hard pressed to pick just one favorite dish. So I'll have to pick a few...their menu changes frequently, but if you are lucky enough to find the zucchini blossoms, the fois, schnitzel or anything made with heirloom tomatoes, eat up!

Pros: Knowledgable, attentive service; they have a way with veggies - zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes oh my! And of course the fois...
Cons: a somewhat 1980's Buckhead Betty decor, can get loud when crowded

490 East Paces Ferry Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30305
(404) 233-7673

Aria on Urbanspoon



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