Monday, September 22, 2008

Aroma Coffee and Tea: One Trip, Two Experiences

I've had Aroma Coffee and Tea on my radar for a few months now, but because I live in West Hollywood and Aroma lives on Tujunga Avenue in Studio City, up until Sunday, I never connected the dots between my apartment and the cozy Valley cafe. I'd perused the extensive menu on-line, read the rave reviews on and heard the glowing endorsements from close friends. I knew that it was only a matter of time before Aroma and I came together in perfect harmony, and I became hooked on making mad dashes over the hill to spend a lazy weekend afternoon or morning there.

When my two Sunday brunching partners insisted I pick our Valley-centric brunching location for this weekend, I immediately knew I wanted to go to Aroma. Their enthusiastic "yum" responses sealed the deal, and we descended upon the bustling bakery cafe at precisely 12:45 pm yesterday. While I was somewhat leery about breaking my Aroma seal during primo brunching hours, the cafe was decidedly less chaotic than Toast, Urth Caffe or Coral Tree Cafe in West LA/Hollywood. Unlike 3rd Street, parking near the restaurant was a non issue, and the line that wound out the door moved quickly. Before I knew it, my friends and I were already at the counter placing our orders. I was grateful for the time we did have to wait, because it took considerable effort to read through the tantalizing descriptions of hot pressed paninis on focaccia bread, customizable omelets, heartily-topped salads, and the other delectable sounding breakfast and lunch fare.

I went back and forth between my options -- salivating over one table's buttermilk pancakes topped with strawberries and bananas, and engaging in a staring contest with a prosciutto and chicken panini that oozed provolone cheese. Fortunately, my two brunchmates were both in the mood for salads, and because girls always order (and pee) in packs, I settled on the Goat Cheese + Walnut Salad with herb encrusted goat cheese rounds, candied walnuts, tomatoes, and cucumbers on a bed of mixed baby greens served with balsamic vinaigrette ($10.95). I requested that grilled chicken ($2.95) and beets be added on, and then I spruced it up further with the orange slices that a delightful little gnome was guarding in the garden for diner's water glasses.

Without the oranges, the salad might have been a bit pedestrian for my tastes (and its $16.13 total price tag), but I was ultimately pleased with the end product. The combination of the creamy goat cheese, crunchy walnuts, tangy vinaigrette, sweet oranges, and warm lean pieces of chicken was incredibly satisfying, and I devoured every morsel in my heaping bowl. Aside from the dry as a sponge sesame roll, and one and a half of the three goat cheese rounds. It was a little too much goat for me, but I suppose if I didn't have chicken, I'd be happy to ingest all three of the sizable pieces that together, approximated the size of the baseball-sized roll.

My friends seemed equally pleased with their salads (the Classic Cobb Salad and another amended Goat Cheese + Walnut salad) and by the time we'd cleaned our bowls (and ignored our rolls), we were "too full" for dessert.

Or at least they were.

It's a well known fact that if one person orders dessert, all others at the table will break their diets and cave in for a sugar coma as well. So when my two friends shook their heads at a slice of one of the over half-dozen cakes in the bakery case inside, I knew that I wasn't going to be shocking my insulin levels either.

Yet as I walked out of the restaurant after a quick trip to the bathroom, I couldn't help but be drawn back to the cash register. My friends were already gone, but my desire for a sweet ending to my Aroma experience was not. Before I could convince myself to be "good," I ordered a chai latte and a chocolate chip cookie. As I waited with my cookie plate in hand for my latte to be mixed and foamified, a gal in line said to me, "You are going to love that."

"What?" I asked, somewhat mystified by someone in LA speaking to me without prompting.

"The way you are holding it." She explained. "You look so happy."

I smiled. I was happy. And even happier when I dug into the freshly baked cookie and creamy, sweet chai latte moments later.

Instead of heading back out to the patio where tables were speckled with groups of friends and couples enjoying the nice day, I selected a small table inside near the attached bookstore. I nabbed a section of the NY Times from the empty table besides mine and settled into my cozy corner seat. Not only was the chai the best I've had in Los Angeles (more sweet than spicy, but not sickeningly so), but the cookie was impressive as well. I loved that they used a dark bitter chocolate for the chips and found the textural contrast of a soft interior with a slightly crisp exterior, equally pleasing. I would have liked the cookie to have a more caramelized flavor rather than a shortbread quality, but it was certainly better than the chocolate chip cookies I've encountered from Milk, Clementine, Susina Bakery, and the industry favorite, Snookies.

As I left Aroma yesterday, pausing to peer in the windows of the neighboring shops and restaurants, I had the distinct feeling that I would be connecting the dots between my apartment and the cafe some time again soon. Maybe for a casual and relaxed lunch with some friends, maybe for a quiet conversation over tea, or maybe for a chai and cookie, eaten solo with just the companionship of a really good book.

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