Monday, July 26, 2010

Aroma Cafe - Midday Getaway

Tucked away amongst quaint boutique shops and restaurants in Studio City, Aroma Cafe is a not-so-hidden neighborhood gem that quickly converts every visitor who sets foot into the place, into a regular. 

The small strech of Tujunga Avenue on which Aroma Cafe  sits is like a calming oasis in the culinary desert of the San Fernando Valley.   Its leisurely-paced foot traffic, set against the backdrop of tree-lined suburban sprawl, and customers whose biggest concern seem to be where to kick back with a latte while on a two hour break from walking their dog - is a stark contrast to the tourist-jammed tween/teen mecca of lights, sound and fury that is Universal Studios just 5 minutes' drive away.

A large part of Aroma Cafe's charm lies in its fluid, eclectic layout and dining areas - as well as its delectable culinary and adorable gift/stationery offerings.  A few tables, padded wooden bench and planter line the entrance to the cafe - stepping inside, you will find a cute counter filled with mouth-watering pastries and pies, topped by tiered displays and jars of freshly baked cookies and sweets.  Ceramic bowls filled with greens and savory treats also abound. 

Small tables housing fragrant bags of coffee or handcrafted cookies shipped from artisan roasters or bakers from the pacific northwest round out the area around the front store window and provide points of interest for those waiting in the long lines at lunchtime.
Be prepared for at least a 10 minute wait at weekday lunch, and 15 minutes on weekends, just to reach the counter to place your order - it's a whole other challenge, after getting your number placard from the cashier, to find a table (the server then has to locate you by said number placard in order to bring you your food).

As far as seating goes, there is something for everyone:  for the office worker looking for a quick fix on a schedule, there are rows of elevated tables and barstools just opposite the counter, in the main front of store area.
For those who can afford a slightly more leisurely lunch, but wishes to stay out of the California sun (blasphemy!) which can be intense at midday, there are just a few tables set indoors along the passageway through a gift/stationery store that is nestled in the middle of the cafe.  If you can make it past the cute trinkets and handmade cards in the store area, you will not be able to stop yourself from taking in a breath as you step outside into the 'backyard' area - greeted first by the soothing sounds of elegantly placed water fountains, then soft sunlight floating through spaces between patio umbrellas - and the occasional friendly squirrel running along the wooden picket fence - one can't help but be charmed by this amazing little place that feels like a mini vacation in the middle of your day.  (I was unfortunately on a lunch break with a co-worker - but we were both severely tempted to just stay at this idyllic hideaway for the rest of the day!)  The backyard patio is great for people watching as well - there are all species of industry types here, but thankfully not of the obnoxious sort - you might see screenwriters quietly discussing their scripts with production execs, or the occasional B or C list star (on this specific day, I passed by 'one of those brunette chicks' from Gossip Girl!) - all seem to have an unspoken respect for their surroundings and other diners, and maintain a very peaceful, laid back, cell-phone free environment.

So, have I raved (at uncharacteristic length!) enough about the ambience yet? ;P  Time to move onto the food, which I am extremely happy to report, is equally praise-worthy!
It was tough for me to narrow down just one dish from the extensive menu - which alone would merit a week-long diatribe - but I will spare you the pain of a post that spans the length of the site - suffice it to say I felt like I was going to get whiplash, with my eyes excitedly hurtling back and forth between pages filled with words like "kobe bleu burger", "crab cake sandwich...applewood smoked bacon", "proscuitto and eggs panini melt" and "shrimp and lobster omelette".  After what seemed like hours of painful indecision, I finally choose to go with the Lobster Club sandwich ($13.95) - heaven on a toasted brioche, with fresh maine lobster, romaine leaves, vine-ripened tomatoes, and applewood smoked bacon with an ancho aioli...AND fries (you are given a choice of style - I went for curly)!

Of course, being afterall a cafe, there is also an extended list of coffees, teas and other handcrafted drinks on the menu.  I went against the grain and opted for a bottle of Orangina, so that I can blow my quota for sweets all on the Chocolate Chip Cheesecake ($4.95), which had me salivating on sight.  This was no ordinary cheesecake - it is at once both fluffy and creamy, light yet filling - perfectly proportioned with a crunchy dark cookie crumb crust, filled with smooth, creamy cheese center, topped by perfectly airy whipped cream, and taking it over the edge with a dusting of miniature chocolate chips.  I still have dreams about this cake, days after the first taste.

On later (more leisurely weekend brunch - breakfast items served til 2:30pm) visits, I have had the Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse Pie (also excellent, but very rich as you would expect - I preferred the Chocolate Chip Cheesecake over this PB one), and a Shrimp & Lobster Omelette ($13.95) with black tiger shrimp, chunks of maine lobster, spinach, vine-ripened tomatoes, topped with chardonnay dill hollandiase sauce served with very flavorful roasted rosemary potatoes and choice of toast (I chose olive bread, which was awesome).  It may be a $14 omelette, but well worth every penny as they don't skimp on the shrimp and lobster - both come in fairly large chunks and taste fresh - the size of the omelette itself was big as well, and makes for a filling meal - I actually couldn't finish the potatoes and toast even though I wanted to scarf down every last morsel! 

Their Salmon Stack ($13.95) is another great breakfast item - a creative twist on classic eggs benedict, this dish features two potato pancakes (instead of English muffins) stacked with smoked salmon, two poached eggs, and asparagus topped with dill chardonnay hollandaise sauce.  All served with a side of fruit.  Though definitely above average, the eggs were a bit bland with just a little too much white, and the potato pancakes could have been a bit crisper and hotter - it is the Shrimp and Lobster Omelette that truly haunts my dreams. 
Though obviously their coffees and teas are excellent (love the macchiato) I've also tried the pineapple, mango, banana fruit smoothie with apple juice and loved it - it's not so thick that you feel like you should be eating it with a spoon, and the balanced sweetness tastes like it come from fruit rather than scoops of sugar - yum!

All-in-all, this is The Perfect spot for a laid back lunch / brunch with friends or your significant other - and has become one of my favorite spots to go on a sunny day in LA (well that was a redundant expression!).  This one, I almost selfishly didn't want to write about, to prevent crowds from overrunning the place more than they already have - but Aroma Cafe definitely deserves to be the talk of the town on every level - and I will be back for many, many more bites - calories be damned!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 4 bites
Ambience - 7 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%


Aroma Coffee & Tea
4360 Tujunga Avenue
Studio City, CA 91604
Ph: 818.508.6505

Aroma Coffee & Tea on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. next time? you must try the individual-sized bread puddings.



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