114 Old Post Road
Wappingers Falls, NY 12590
Lunch: Tuesday through Saturday | Dinner: Tuesday through Sunday
It’s hard to imagine now, but thirty years ago there were no restaurants serving authentic rustic home style Italian food anywhere in the Hudson Valley. Back then, Italian meant red sauce and pasta and more often than not what you were served were “Italian-American” dishes like garlic bread with veal or chicken parmigiana or lobster fra Diavolo, or shrimp scampi (none of which would be found in Italy). Oh, how times have changed. New York City saw the first “trattoria” openings at places like Da Silvano in Greenwich Village and Mezzaluna on the upper east side. The food and the settings were unique on multiple fronts – they offered authentic regional home-style Italian cooking, nothing fancy, no haute cuisine, and no five-pound wine lists presented by tuxedo donned waitstaff. It was the Slow Food restaurant movement of its day, and it is no coincidence that Slow Food was founded in Italy at around the same time. People were re-examining their roots, their culture, and how their own ethnic cuisine influenced that culture. The new trattoria trend quickly worked its way north, arriving in the Mid-Hudson Valley in the mid-80’s. Today you can find a trattoria, or Italian bistro, in many towns, but only a few stand out as exceptional. Aroma makes that list, along with a few others like Mercato in Red Hook, Il Cenacolo in Newburgh, and A Tavola in New Paltz. Aroma calls itself an “osteria” which in Italy would actually be a step down in formality from a trattoria – more of a neighborhood “bar and grill” than a “ristorante”, which would be more upscale. Call it what you like, it’s one of the best.
Aroma Osteria was opened in 1997 by Eduardo and Lucia Lauria, who sold it to a few key employees last summer. The Lauria’s continue to have an interest in Il Barilotto in Fishkill, and a new venture, Grano Focacceria in Cold Spring. Over the years, I’ve eaten at Aroma on hundreds of occasions. I waited a year to update the restaurant’s review to give the new owners time to develop their own “signature” – or not – and to see if any changes would be introduced. I suspect that many diners who have visited Aroma over the last year will be surprised to learn that the restaurant has been under new ownership. The dining room crew has been there for years and remains largely intact. Alex Kovacs still greets you at the door, although his business card reads “General Manager” now. Kevin Campos is still in the kitchen with Sal Twol, both of whom worked with the Lauria’s for years, and now both have added Executive Chef | Proprietor to their CV.
Aroma offers a decidedly different experience than it’s sister restaurant, Il Barilotto in Fishkill. Aroma’s more casual genes are in evidence in everything from the menu selections to the relaxed and friendly (but still most professional) service to the dice of the carrots in the mirepoix. The pasta offerings are among the best in the area, and we typically will ask for the kitchen to split a serving among us for an additional “pasta course” for the table. I cycle through the menu choices all year, but invariably I am drawn back to my two favorites: orecchiette rustiche, and farfalle deliziose. The orecchiette, or “little ear” pasta, is tossed with sauteed fennel sausage and pieces of garlicky broccoli rabe. The bowl screams for a pile of freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano on top, which your server will gladly provide. The farfalle, or “bow-tie” pasta, is just as good, blended with an earthy wild mushroom cream sauce spiked with pieces of toasted walnuts and chunks of sun dried tomatoes. It is the very essence of “savory” and as good a pasta dish as you will find in these parts.
You can read the regular dinner menu here, but be on the lookout for a few standouts that show up frequently as specials. The kitchen does a great job with octopus and pulpo will be offered frequently as a lunch special or as an appetizer at dinner. Imported Italian mozzarella di bufala makes a frequent appearance as a special, usually plated with a few roasted tomatoes. In spring, you may see a variation on that theme, with an offering of burrata – a fresh mozzarella with a cream filled center. Spring also brings out the Piedmontese classic, vitello tonnato – thin slices of succulent roast veal, drizzled with a tonnato sauce, a salty cured tuna blended into an aoli paste. They also do a great job with the rainbow trout, simply prepared – brushed with a good olive oil and grilled. Speaking of the grill – chops and steaks are not typically an Italian restaurant’s raison d’être, but they should not be overlooked here if for no other reason than to pair with a nice bottle of Chianti from Aroma’s wine list, focusing on smaller regional producers. The grilled meats are usually plated with some creamy mashed potatoes and a side of garlicky sauteed spinach and are always first rate.
The calendar also suggests that soft shell crabs are just around the corner, and Aroma is one of the local restaurants that I frequent for this springtime favorite – sauteed in a lemony white wine sauce at dinner, or fried for sandwiches on the lunch menu. A meal here is not complete without an espresso, sweetened with just a splash of sambuca, and, of course, a few biscotti.
Aroma is celebrating it’s twentieth year in business, certainly a testament to its original owners, the Lauria’s, but also to the popularity of authentic well prepared rustic Italian cuisine. Thankfully the new owners appreciate that culinary heritage and Aroma Osteria’s place in it.