A slice of Northern Italy in rye
Another welcome addition to Purchase Street’s burgeoning “Restaurant Row.”
In unintentional defiance of the look of the moment for restaurants—you know, the deep rich wood, graceful sweeping arc shapes and amber lighting that lend an air of chic hush even when the place is screamingly loud—Aurora is a restful (dare we say soothing?) combination of soft beige, mauve and apricot tones. But don’t panic at the word restful—this is not a spa-like atmosphere so assertively serene you feel guilty not sitting cross-legged in a pose and entering your special place in the middle of the meal.
The primarily Northern Italian cuisine at Aurora gives new sophisticated meaning to the term “comfort food.”
I will admit, however, I was transported on my first visit to Aurora. I had a special that night of three sardines that tasted like the sea and brought me back to a certain day far in my past, dining in an open-air restaurant overlooking the southern coast of Portugal. Dots of barely discernible pesto didn’t spoil my trip and, like the soft and crunchy mound of ever-so-faintly licorice-sweet fennel, added a lingering dimension to each bite.
A pizza with a crust so thin it was nearly a cracker—and a splendid one at that—was topped with unapologetically bitter broccoli rabe, highly seasoned sausage and glaringly sweet onions, all three so sure of themselves they shouted out their attributes in roaring harmony.
In contrast, a salad of monochromatic pear, romaine lettuce and endive was a study in restraint: Highlighted only with bits of chopped dried fig, it was dressed in a clingy, silky and mild Gorgonzola dressing. How surprising to learn Gorgonzola could be this subtle!
Boneless spinach and mushroom stuffed quail was not meant to merely garnish the over-the-top marscapone polenta laced with intoxicating truffles. Anything would have paled in comparison to this incredibly rich bed of grain, but the quail was somehow a jumble of indistinct flavors. The polenta was wonderful; the quail a disappointment.
There were no missteps with a dish described as “filet mignon and grilled foie gras, horseradish mashed potatoes, Borolo wine sauce.” Every element contributed its best attribute to the dish; the meat, tender enough to cut with a fork, delivered just enough beefy chew; the foie gras lent meltingly rich mouth-feel; the Borolo wine sauce an assertive winy and acidic drizzle for contrast and, beneath it all, were the horseradish mashed potatoes waiting to be discovered, much like the prize in the bottom of a Crackerjack box.
Roasted chicken—a dish that reveals what a chef can (or can’t) do—was moist and tender and had an earthy flavor, thanks to the wood in which it was roasted.
The dessert menu is artfully designed to appeal to every sweet tooth. The desserts are sophisticated versions of traditional Italian sweets, including a plate of cookies, fresh fruit and sabayon, tiramisu, chocolate cake and more.
Do not wait to make a reservation: the restaurant books up on the weekends weeks in advance. And for good reason.
60 Purchase St., Rye
Lunch, Mon. to Fri. 12-2:30 pm, Sat. 12-3 pm
Dinner, Mon. to Thurs. 5:30-10 pm, Fri. and Sat. 5:30-10:30 pm, Sun. 5-9 pm