Now Aria was my first planned restaurant in Atlanta and I found it to be a busy and rather small restaurant. Well at least it was small-ish from the bar area in the front that I was sitting at. There is a larger dining space at the back but I did not get up to take a look. There is dark lighting across the board and I was sat in the corner of the very small bar while waiting for my table to be ready. I perused the menu as I waited and I found it to be very interesting and creative. I truly did want to try everything which of course led me to take a closer look at the tasting menu.
There were so many interesting dishes that I wanted to try so I opted for the tasting menu with some substitutions. The substitutions that I made were for the pork belly and chickpea fritters in place of the hamachi and beets. I also got the black truffle burrata in place of the pork tenderloin. While I was waiting at the bar, I was able to taste the pate as a quick bite. This had pickled mustard seeds atop which made the flavors decadent. The mustard was the definite crown finisher on flavor. Here we go with the tasting menu.
The first dish to come out was the burrata and I had to pause for a moment given the portion size. I knew that I would definitely not be finishing this dish but I was going to enjoy as much of it as I could. I also paired this with a champagne that they were quite generous with on their pour. This is without a doubt a homemade fresh burrata that is ever so slightly firm on the outside with soft goodness laying within. I definitely commend them on achieving this given that I struggle with making burrata at home myself. I seem to always end up with an outer layer that is too firm even though the inside is always perfect. On the cheese lays the truffle whose flavor comes in at the end. It is a sharp and distinct flavor making itself well known that it is a black versus white truffle with its deep forward flavors. The prosciutto leaned more to ham but I guess this is what cotto is as I have not had that cut before. Endives on the plate were a joy to see as having the slightly bitter endive with the burrata and arugula is quite magical. All in all a great plate and fabulous start to the meal.
Next up was the chickpea fritters. After the portion size of the burrata, I communicated to my waiter that I could not have a tasting menu with the same portions as the first and he ensured me that that would be the only plate of that size. When the fritters came out, I was beyond excited to see them placed so artfully with the dollop of whipped feta laying between the individual pieces. Now whipped feta is easy to get wrong in preparation but this was melt in your mouth smooth. On the plate were also dots of a harissa sauce which brought a beautiful spicy taste to the palate. Deciding to taste the fritter alone, I found that it tasted like a falafel but I guess that is in fact what this is. Now pairing it with the cheese and harissa really brought out the earthiness of the vegetable finishing with a the fattiness of the cheese and final burn of the harissa. I used the sweetness of the cucumber on the plate to calm down that burn though so all good.
Up next was the Brooklyn style clam chowder which I paired this with an Albariño. In my head, I was going to get creamy New England style clam chowder but there is apparently a difference in this Manhattan style preparation. This was unknown to me and since Manhattan is home it came as quite the surprise. The chowder is instead very broth based with rich russet potatoes soaking up all the flavors which all together is mildly spicy though this was more a warming spicy than a “my-mouth-is-on-fire” spicy. The carrots are definitely the key winner for me as I am obsessed with cooked carrots. Sipping the Albariño with this led the lemon of the wine to become incredibly enhanced on the palate.
Next up, I welcomed the salmon. It has been quite a few weeks since I have had salmon so I was definitely looking forward to this. I am a salmon purist, that is to say just some salt and pepper, sear in a pan then finish in the oven is what I find best. This plate came with several preparations of cauliflower, lemon and capers as the accompaniment. The cauliflower mousse line is rich and creamy and tastes just like light whipped mashed potatoes. The crispy cauliflower reminded me that they are just that, cauliflower, with a slight bitterness at the end of the crisp. The salmon, while perfectly cooked, has its flavor fully engrossed with the capers and I paused and wondered how they achieved that. All components had together made for a balanced small plate full of flavors.
I have to admit that it was the pork belly that I was looking forward to the most on the tasting menu. This version came with an apple-cranberry confit so I was definitely looking forward to the play on the fruit to the fatty pork belly. The confit on flavor is definitely higher in ratio on the cranberry to apple balance. Though the pork belly is breaded, fried and crispy on the outside, it still falls apart when you put a knife to it. The confit when paired made the pork belly taste like Chinese orange chicken. Pairing this with a Tempranillo flattens all flavors providing almost a reset on the palate for the next bite.
The final dish of the savory was the short rib. The first thing I reached to taste was the mashed potatoes. I did so because earlier with the whipped cauliflower, I thought I could easily replace mashed potatoes with this. However, after having actual whipped potatoes, I can say that that is a definite no. The peas on the plate are not fully cooked maintaining their largely herbaceous flavor. I took notice that actually, all the vegetables are very lightly cooked to the point that they could actually be confused for raw. The short rib was sous-vide so it did not require the use of a knife to cut through. The finishing touch of the jus is that of a mild bbq flavor and I was very pleased that this was the final savory plate to end this tasting menu with.
There were only two dessert courses which I was eternally grateful for as I was feeling quite full at this point. The first was the raspberry sorbet and I paired this with a 24 year old tawny port. The sorbet was silky smooth and spends barely any time on the tongue before melting away. The sorbet sits on a crisped meringue which is quite wafer like in texture. In truth, I was not the biggest fan of the meringue. Now instead, the pairing of the port was magical with the sorbet, almost creating a fireworks show in my mouth.
I had to take a break before the chocolate cream pie because I was just so full but I still had some port to sip. I figured this decadent finish was my replacement for Red Phone booth that I was supposed to go to to sip rum and smoke cigars. Alas, I will have to wait to go to the DR for that. The plating of this dessert was just too beautiful that I did not want to eat it immediately. I paused to appreciate but not as long as I normally would as I was quite tired at this point and a food coma definitely possible in the not too distant future. Starting with the whipped cream, I found it to be full fat whipped cream that appeared to be slightly sweetened. Beneath what appeared to be a flourless chocolate cake, there is dark chocolate base which was slightly firm. Atop the cake, was a dainty scoop of what I presume to be the chocolate cream. Tasting all components together was definitely a delight, transforming all the dark chocolate components into a bright milk chocolate flavor. Adding in a sip of the port, and the dessert win is transformed to taste like brandy. Now this is undoubtedly the perfect way to end a meal.
So with this it was time for me to get to bed with my makeup still on because I am beyond full and well satisfied. Atlanta, you have a definite win with Aria and I encourage all to visit.