I had been promising BOOF Buddy, Sho, that I would visit her in NYC for about a year. The opportunity finally presented itself for her birthday weekend and despite some other intimidating factors, I got on the road and headed to NYC to spend a little over 24 hours with one of my most favorite NYC transplants.
Arriving in NYC on a beautiful and sunny Saturday afternoon, I quickly texted Sho to find out where I should stop in for lunch in her hood of the Upper West Side. She gave me a couple of good recommendations, and I opted to go with her choice of Aroma Espresso Bar.
Some buds may have heard of Aroma before because it is one of the biggest and most successful espresso bars in Israel. They opened up in 1994 and have about 25 locations in Israel and have recently opened up a couple of locations in NYC and in Florida. They pride themselves on their coffee and they have their arabic beans imported from Africa. They are currently expanding to more international cities and I foresee a lot more success in their future. The menu is influenced by Israeli culture as well as various Mediterranean and Middle Easter flavors.
As previously mentioned, Aroma sits in the upper west side on 72nd between Amsterdam and Columbus, but they also have additional locations in the lower east side and in Soho. The decor is modern with lots of red and blacks, comfy chairs and long tables for communal dining. The location in the UWS has both downstairs and upstairs seating and with wall length windows, the espresso bar has tons of natural light coming in. The upper level actually has an outdoor deck so they get major bonus points for that feature.
The cafe is definitely busy but despite the continual bustling crowd, the noise level never gets unbearable. Because of the various communal dining tables throughout, it definitely has the feel of a place that if you came every day for a few months, you would be easily able to make friends with someone else who came everyday for a few months. It has a good mix of both locals and tourists which sometimes is difficult to find. The major drawback of Aroma is their lack of free WIFI. The city that never sleeps has also become the city that is always connected; therefore, it only makes logical sense that any establishment that markets themselves as a “espresso bar” which in layman’s terms is just a coffee house, there should be free internet. I understand that this is to limit the individuals who will come and sit for the entire day, order one coffee and get refills, but if that is the case, they just need to password protect and it and put a time limit on it. However, not having free WIFI just makes people angry and not want to visit your establishment regardless of how good the food is and how awesome your upstairs outdoor deck is.
Onto the food. Aroma serves up both breakfast and lunch with various hot options for both. For breakfast, they have the standard egg sandwiches, omelettes and also french toast (which looked delicious), and they serve breakfast all day. They also have your typical collection of pastries but those give a sort of starbucks pre-made feel (though they are baked fresh daily) and judging from other reviews that I have read, there is nothing spectacular about them. For lunch, they offer numerous types of sandwiches and salads ranging from an avocado sandwich with avocado spread, red onions, parsley, jalapeños, lettuce, tomatoes to a vegan portabello with grilled mushrooms,pesto, tomatoes, arugula, red onions to a steak sandwich with steak, mayo, jalapeño, sauteed onions & red peppers, and swiss cheese. They really cover their bases by having a little bit of everything for everyone because they also have a grilled chicken sandwich, a turkey sandwich and a salmon sandwich, so essentially no dietary constrictions are not considered. They also have numerous different and fun salads which I was extremely happy to see because my biggest pet peeve is when places have a caesar salad, a house salad and some salad with some pre-frozen grilled chicken strips thrown on top. Really? Come on. For example, Aroma has a quinoa salad with organic quinoa, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, mint leaves, and red onions (I know, right!), a mozzarella beet salad with mozzarella cheese, beets, tomatoes, red onions, homemade garlic croutons and arugula, and a warm garbanzo bean salad with garbanzo beans, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, homemade garlic croutons, and a tahini sauce. You must be wondering how I made my choice. Let me tell you, it was extremely difficult and I had to let a couple people go ahead of me before I finally came to my conclusion.
I ended up opting for a salad because I knew that I would be having authentic Italian that evening, so I had the Sweet Potato lentil salad which had arugula, red onions, lentils, sweet potatoes, granola, goat cheese, olive oil and a lemon dressing. Yes, it was delicious. Everything was fresh, yummy and came together extremely well. Although I know that they were trying to keep the dressing simple, I did feel that the dressing could of at least used a little bit of seasoning because it really added nothing to the salad. However, the ingredients of the salad itself featured a little bit of sweet, a little bit of pungency, a little bit of sharpness and a whole lot of flavor.
Oddly enough, despite my being in an espresso bar I did not opt for any coffee on that day (really, this is a major shocker), however, as previously discussed they really pride themselves on their coffee and judging by the many people who just came in for a quick cup to go, I am certain that it is good. The prices are not cheap but wont break the bank (around $10.00 for a full meal with drink), so it is definitely comparable to other similar style restaurants and cafes.
All in all, I did enjoy my lunch at Aroma and if I ever became a NYC resident, I would be inclined to make a weekly stop in. I think they should definitely reconsider their stance on WIFI and continue to expand to other cities because their inventive sandwiches and salads are definitely a huge draw.