As promised, I am taking you directly back to my comfort zone - to a cozy wine bar in the west village where the food deserves just as much credit as both the drink and the setting. After witnessing months of abandoned storefronts in the neighborhood, I've begun to notice new businesses and especially restaurants returning to the scene. It's always amazing to me when a space that I never even imagined as a restaurant can suddenly transform into one over night. At Aria, this was definitely the case. It took me several strolls past the front window before realizing I was passing the space that had once been home to a pair of small boutiques that just couldn't quite make it off the beaten path. And while the interior of this new restaurant always looked so nice and cozy in passing, I will openly admit that I assumed it to be just another new, cute village spot whose atmosphere would probably make up for the overpriced small plates.
Well, I apologize now for being so quick to judge. But, in all actuality, I am really the one who was missing out all of these months. Aria has been an excellent addition to the west village dining scene since its opening in the early summer. And as the weather gets colder, this is the kind of spot you will want to head to and simply linger over several glasses of wine. I can imagine that on busy nights, the acoustics are not the best. However, I think the key in such a small space is just going in small groups. Anything more than four and you may as well keep walking. While they do offer a communal table in the middle of the restaurant, think of that option as more of a chance to get to know your neighbors and less of a chance to actually toast an entire table.
Each night there are additions to the menu that are definitely worth noting - so much so they even write them on the paper menu in front of you. And for a menu of small plates, the portions and prices are really very reasonable. The same goes for the assorted glasses of wine. The only draw back of encouraging small group dining here is that you probably won't get to sample as many dishes as you would like in one sitting. However that is the beauty of a neighborhood spot such as Aria. Your next visit is never that far away.
On any menu, if burrata is offered, it is a must - and this is no exception at Aria. We were lucky enough to stop by on a night when one of the specials was burrata served with tomatoes and prosciutto, dressed in balsamic vinegar. Another one of our favorites, also a special of the evening, was the shrimp skewers served with large white beans in a hearty red pepper sauce. I was underwhelmed by the oven roasted peppers and marinated anchovies with goat cheese, but a few heartier dishes on the regular menu really caught my attention. I highly recommend the beef meatballs and oven roasted tomatoes topped with fresh parmesan. But, it was the stewed calamari with capers and basil that really was unique and so full of flavor from the fresh herbs and berries. I have never eaten calamari in such a way, and it was a welcome change for a dish that usually only succeeds when fried.
Even though Aria has been around for several months, I would like to officially welcome it to the neighborhood. If the other abandoned storefronts continue to fill up in the example of Aria, we are in for a good year ahead. And just the other day as I was passing by, Aria took me by surprise yet again. In the face of scaffolding that has recently gone up out front, the restaurant has embraced a typical NYC hindrance and made the most of it - dressing the steel poles with festive greenery and vines. This place definitely deserves a second look.
117 Perry Street
New York, New York 10014
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):