Reliably good, reasonably-priced restaurants are a welcome addition to any neighborhood, but when the apparently much-loved Aurora of Williamsburg opened an outpost in western Soho recently, the anticipation machine cranked up a notch or two. Debbie and I went on Saturday night to sample the molto-appealing rustic Italian menu and see what the excitement was about. In the end, we weren't totally convinced, but there were enough truly tasty moments to give the place another shot once the kitchen gets settled in a bit.
As an antipasti Debbie ordered the I Carciofi, a crispy artichoke and white bean salad with fresh mint and shaved pecorino, all of which was too chewy, too dry, mostly flavorless. There are much, much better versions of this dish all over town... at Otto, for instance, and most especially at Col Legno on East 9th Street, which Debbie turned me on to a couple of years ago. Meanwhile my La Quaglia was more successful, a rich and succulent roasted quail stuffed with kale, foie gras (yes, you were right, gorgeous), leeks and apple puree. This had excellent balance, lots of flavor and a fun crunch.
We both opted for le paste as our mains, and, again, I chose the clear winner of the two: Le Pappardelle, for which the wide pasta was infused with black pepper and tossed with tender braised veal cheeks and pieces of crisp asparagus. Although perhaps better suited for winter—it definitely had that comforting "brown" flavor of well-made hearty stews, which also perhaps confused the asparagus a bit—I was hungry, and this totally satisfied. Debbie's Gli Gnocchi was perfectly pillowy, and the tomato sauce fresh and bright, but the crab-meat topping seemed not to really go with anything else, making the whole dish feel a little off.
Then, dessert, which was delicious: a milky, intense fennel pollen Pannacotta with delightfully sour, caramelized rhubarb and sweet chocolate sauce. Not Debbie's thing, true, but it actually may have been my favorite part of the meal.
Aurora Soho is located on Broome Street between West Broadway and Thompson. We made reservations for 7:00, which maybe wasn't necessary, but the place was pretty full the whole time we were there. Also noteworthy: the generous, interesting breadbasket.