Critic's PickSomehow food has become an endurance contest — restaurants and diners in hot pursuit of the latest fad. Fortunately, Aroma Restaurant and Sushi bucks this trend. While exceedingly contemporary in design, the unspoken philosophy behind much of Chef Romuald Jung’s menu makes us slow down long enough to appreciate the importance of smell, texture and memory in our dining experiences.
The last time I saw Chef Romy was during his tenure at The Palace. What The Palace is to fine dining, Aroma is to casual, upscale dining.
The room is cozy with about 13 booths and seating at the bar and sushi bar, and yet the space feels very open, perhaps due to the high ceilings. It's contemporary without being homogenized. The colors are rich and dark; the servers wear simple black, and the soundtrack doesn’t interfere with conversation.
The staff was gracious and obviously knowledgeable about the menu. We witnessed a rush during our leisurely dinner and what fun it was to watch. When everything is working right at a restaurant, the movements of the servers and the kitchen staff become a well-choreographed dance.
Chef Romy was working the night my friend and I went. He was running between the kitchen line and the dining room, making sure every single dish arrived on time. And who can blame him — these dishes should never be left languishing under a heat lamp.
My friend, who's known for her hollow leg on normal days, had been fasting for Lent, so we came prepared to feast. We had a good range of selections to choose from.
Chef Romy’s cooking is a unique combination of understatement and bold flavor.
We started with the Vietnamese Chicken Roll ($8.95) and Salmon Sliders ($9.95). The chicken rolls were a recipe from Chef’s past, both growing up in France and working on the Ivory Coast. Traditionally made with pork, Chef Romy lightens his by using ground chicken combined with ginger, garlic, leek, carrot and shitake. It’s a beautiful presentation — the delicately browned wrapper dusted with a combination of sugar and salt. He explained that you put the roll and the fresh mint inside the accompanying leaves of bibb lettuce and dip it in the fiery fish sauce. The dish deserves the phrase “to die for.”
Aroma’s version of the popular sliders appetizer is made with Atlantic salmon combined into patties with panko, red onion, capers and tarragon. They come as a pair served on yeasty brioche rolls with fresh avocado slices and a rémoulade sauce. I’m a finicky salmon eater and I don’t like it if there is even the remote smell of fishiness. Not a whiff on these little guys — they were moist and meaty and slid down real fast!
We moved on to the Sourdough Bruschetta ($8.95), two slices of crusty bread topped with towers of fresh mozzarella, pesto and Californian plum tomatoes. The pesto had delicate undertones of garlic with the prominent taste of lemon. It infused the normally tame mozzarella into a bright flavor treat. Be sure not to let these sit too long or you’ll miss out on the crunch of that sourdough, which would be a shame.
She of the Hollow Leg was particularly anxious to try the sushi, so we had the Rock and Roll ($14.95), the American Roll ($9.95) and the Ahi Tuna Ttaki ($19). The Rock and Roll was a rollicking blend of barbeque tempura eel, avocado, cucumber and cream cheese on the inside, and spicy tuna and sweet chili mango on the outside. The American Roll played on our sushi expectations with its ingredient list of salmon, green apple and cream cheese. The Tuna Ttaki, a sight to behold, plays with texture as well as flavor with cooked daikon chips and shredded raw daikon topping.
For entrees, we sampled the Braised Beef Ribs ($24) and the Sea Bass ($26) with green curry sauce. I have to admit that I felt a little sad cutting into the crispy exterior of the sea bass. It was just too pretty to destroy. But of course, once I started I never looked back. The green curry sauce was a delicate and slightly hot foil for the fish’s subtle, perfectly cooked flesh. The beef ribs, proudly glistening in a coating of deep red wine sauce and perched on truffle potato purée, were a masterstroke of fork-tender comfort food.
While desserts aren’t on the menu yet, we were lucky enough to be there on a night Chef was experimenting. We sampled a white chocolate lime mousse and a chocolate mascarpone creme brulée. The mousse was fresh and light, beautifully topped with raspberry drizzle. A groan escaped my lips as my fork broke through the sugary crust — a perfect creme brulée has that effect on me. The dense, dark chocolate was lightened by mascarpone; I could easily see people fighting over the last bite of this dessert.
On follow up, Chef Romy offered some sage advice: “Everyone is running around complicating their life. Try to enjoy yourself with the food.”
If you eat at Aroma, that isn’t hard advice to follow.
AROMA RESTAURANT AND SUSHI
Go: 7875 Montgomery Road, Kenwood (Kenwood Towne Centre)
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sunday
Red Meat Alternative: Sushi, pasta, salads, chicken and seafood