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Dinner at Aurora (Williamsburg outpost)

  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Atmosphere: rustic, exposed brick, romantic
  • Attire: casual
  • Ideal for: small groups/1x1, date night, outdoor dining, Brooklyn retreat
  • Price: moderate/all menu items under $30
  • Phone: 718-388-5100
  • Reservations: via phone or www.opentable.com
  • Website: www.auroraristorante.com
  • Location: 70 Grand St. (btwn Wythe Avenue & Kent Street) - Brooklyn, NY 11211
  • Note: cash only

*All of my photos from this meal can be viewed on Flickr

Simply put, there are a slew of things that Brooklyn does much better than Manhattan; case in point: Italian food.  From my two most-recent dining experiences in the BK, I've found that the (Italian) food, restaurant space/atmosphere, and service far surpasses that of most of my local favorites.

In honor of Tara's recent engagement, I invited the bride-to-be to dinner on Saturday at Aurora in Williamsburg (Brooklyn).  If it's charm and romance that you're seeking, look no further than this  authentic Southern-Italian oasis in the middle of Brooklyn's concrete jungle.  Enclosed by exposed-brick walls and rustic wood paneling, the dimly-lit space is minimally decorated with old fashioned cooking ware and utensils, twinkling votive candles, and a bounteous vase filled with sprawling cherry blossom branches.  Make sure to grab a seat either inside of, or looking out at, Aurora's gorgeous garden space.

Aurora: table setting Aurora: view of garden from my seatMoments after we were seated, Tara and I were presented with dinner menus and a bountiful basket filled with homemade olive bread, caramelized-onion focaccia, and a small bowl of fragrant olive oil.

Aurora: le menuAurora: basket filled with homemade olive bread and caramelized-onion focacciaAfter perusing Aurora's dinner menu, and Tara's ginormous engagement ring, we came to the mutual decision to split various plates-under the volition of our painfully-attractive Italian server.  We were so mesmerized by his accent, wavy brown hair, barely-there 5 o'clock shadow, perfectly chiseled nose, etc., that his offer to hand-select each and every aspect of our meal seemed like a brilliant idea...at the time.

The first item we received was "le olive," which was chosen from the portion of the dinner menu referencing, "suggestions for the table."  A small dish was filled with a colorful assortment of voluptuous, marinated olives that had flavor notes of cumin, citrus zest, and bay leaf.  Shortly thereafter came a thick, oval-shaped slice of toasted artisan bread that was liberally topped with: olive oil, freshly-ground black pepper and sea salt, creamy homemade mozzarella cheese, Meyer-lemon rind, Italian parsley, a dash of paprika, and bottarga di tonno.  Aside from the overly-salty/offensive/fishy tuna (bottarga), Tara and I loved the bruschetta.  The third appetizer to arrive was "Lo Sformato Di Carciofi," or a savory artichoke flan with gorgonzola cheese.  This saliferous dish was reminiscent, both in flavor and texture, to the creamy interior of a quiche and/or warm artichoke dip on crack; yet identical in shape and appearance to a dessert flan/panna cotta.  That being said, I've never had a quiche laced with chunks of fresh artichoke hearts and gorgonzola cheese-topped with freshly-ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.  Tara and I found ourselves fork-fighting over who would get the last bite.   

Aurora: le olive (marinated olives)Aurora: bruschettaAurora: artichoke/gorgonzola flanThe next two dishes to arrive were our entrees: a creamy pasta dish, and the L'Agnello Brodettato (lamb stew).  Tara and I were told that, with the exception of the spaghetti noodles, all of the pasta served at Aurora was made in-house.  Since Miss T doesn't eat beef, our options were slightly limited.  I, for one, was craving "La Pasta Al Ragu," which was comprised of a pasta base of your choice, and smothered in a slow-cooked meat gravy (Oh well, that gives me a very good excuse to return now, doesn't it?).  The pasta we received was composed of homemade, perfectly al-dente ditaloni noodles (short "tubes") that had been tossed with green peas, chopped ham, pecorino cheese, olive oil, and a dash of salt and pepper.  While both the texture and flavor were spot-on (the peas were earthy and as full as blueberries - the pasta had a nice "bite" - the ham lent a rich smokiness - the pungency of the pecorino cheese was cut by the delicate fragrance of the olive oil), I wasn't able to enjoy this dish to the fullest, as I simply could not get my mind off of something heartier, something...meatier.

When our server explained the "L'Agnello Brodettato (lamb stew)," I couldn't get past the fact that it was thickened with egg yolk.  Those four words kept repeating themselves in my head and, to be quite honest, I was beginning to question my logic in letting this man choose every aspect of our meal.  In a shallow pool of caramel-colored egg-yolk "roux/gravy," were 1x1/2"-thick chunks of lamb and roasted cubed potatoes.  I must have looked like a deer in headlights as I watched Tara take her first bite.  As our eyes met, she smiled and moaned, "this is amazing!"  She was right-and our server was right-this lamb stew was amazing!  The gamey meat fell apart from the slightest prick of my fork-the potatoes were crisp and buttery on the outside and tender on the inside-and that gravy!  If you had left out the "egg yolk" portion of the description, I would have never known/guessed that it was in there.  I found no awkward egg-y aftertaste, or the slightest hint of a scramble.  The stew had these lovely notes of rosemary that lingered on my tongue after every bite.  Never have I had a preparation of lamb that I can actually say that I truly liked, much less loved; this entree changed everything for me.

Aurora: pasta tossed with green peas, chopped ham and pecorino cheeseAurora: lamb stew Just when we thought we couldn't eat anymore, our server presented us with two desserts: a vanilla-bean panna cotta drizzled with the most lip-puckering tart pomegranate reduction, and some sort of a strange "crisp" that, had I not been bold enough to pick it up and eat it with my hands, would have caused some serious damage had I been polite and used a utensil.  The oat/nut cluster (think along the lines of a fruit crisp, only minus the fruit) was so hard, Tara and I agreed that we would have broken our spoons/plates/hands had we tried to cut in to its granite-like mass.  Needless to say, our dessert course was a total flop and neither one of us were impressed.

Aurora: vanilla-bean panna cotta with a pomegranite reductionAurora: "crisp" served with homemade whipped cream and chocolate ice cream (trust me, it looks much better than it tastes-and that's not saying much!)Conclusion: Aurora is, without a doubt, a neighborhood gem and a destination restaurant (that I would travel to outside of Manhattan).  While I had random complaints about the food we received (I can't say "ordered" because we allowed our server to do that for us.), I know that I can chalk it up to having a difference in taste/palette from our server.

And just like Biggie once said, "Spread love, it's the Brooklyn way."

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