On the first Tuesday of every month, Aurora Williamsburg hosts a special wine dinner, highlighting a different region of Italy each time. For April, the flavors of Lombardia, in Northern Italy, will be featured. Enjoy 4 courses ($60 + tax & gratuity) of chef Adam Weisell’s interpretation on traditional Lombardy fare, as he explores the ingredients of the region, including its famous Bresaola. Each course is paired with a glass of wine from Lombardia, carefully selected by Aurora’s wine director Gianluca Legrottaglie. Aurora’s wine program features not only Italian vineyards but all Italian grape varietals. So venture to Aurora Williamsburg on April 6 for a delectable Italian meal from start to finish.
70 Grand Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Italian Trattoria Aurora Lights Up Williamsburg
Williamsburg’s smash trattoria, Aurora, had a certain je-ne-sais-quoi from the start: the day it opened, in a strange act of coincidence and possibly fate, the Aurora Borealis was visible in the night sky. Some would say that Aurora has had their share of lucky stars, emerging as a runaway success in an off-the-beaten-path location, but the truth of Aurora’s success all started with owners Gaspare Villa, Elena Fabiani, and Riccardo Biutoni and the relentless passion and spirit that went into their cozy Brooklyn spot. Having constructed everything with their own hands on a shoestring budget, from the custom arched windows overlooking the garden to the original rustic wood tables, Aurora was—and still is—a labor of love.
The first in a series of successful New York restaurants including Aurora Soho and Emporio, Aurora Brooklyn was conceived as a way to bring authentic Italian food and wine to Williamsburg. It was seven years ago that Villa, Fabiani and Buitoni set out to fill their neighborhood’s culinary gap, and then they were ahead of the trend in more ways than one. Today, they stay on the same progressive foot by continuing to explore the relationship between Italian cuisine and wine in a cutting edge way: their wine list, for instance, is the only one in New York City to focus exclusively on Italian varietals, and the kitchen designs regional menus each month to showcase the uniqueness and breadth of their country’s culinary gifts.
Orchestrating it all is executive chef Adam Weisell, who took charge of Aurora’s kitchen this past August. A self-trained chef with a prominent career featuring such names as Il Buco and Lupa, Weisell uses the changing seasons—as well as his 18 years as an Italian resident—as inspiration for his culinary direction. In his hands, the menu has taken a largely traditional shape, though most of the dishes are Weisell’s interpretations of authentic eats rather than cookie-cutter classics.
Take, for instance, one of Aurora’s must-try appetizers, the Cauliflower Sformato. A riff on a traditional Piedmontese dish, it’s like a savory cauliflower flan: the vegetable pieces are combined with a cauliflower puree, béchamel, nutmeg and gorgonzola before being gently cooked in a bain Marie. The result is an impossibly light and flavorful custard that oozes comfort in each bite.
Seafood lovers will opt for one of Aurora’s most popular appetizers, the Octopus and Potato Salad. Chunks of grilled octopus marinated in chili, paprika, rosemary and garlic are artfully stacked on top of tenderly cooked fingerlings; together, they’re a harmony of smoky and spicy, tender and hearty.
Pastas, like the breads to start, are all made in house, and feature similarly playful twists on regional Italian comforts. One of Weisell’s specialties, the hand-cut Tagliatelle al Limone, takes inspiration from the Amalfi coast with a unique sauce made from Meyer lemons, basil, chili, and crushed almonds, a creative and refreshing twist on citrus flavors. Another seasonal spin on pasta, the Ravioli con Castagne in Salsa Tartufata—chestnut and ricotta-filled ravioli with Black Truffle and butter—is an exercise in comfort and warmth: earthy, sweet, buttery, smooth. Pair it with a sage cocktail (even the drinks get seasonal flair) for an even more special treat.
Ask the servers about their favorite entrees and most answers will point towards the Roman lamb, an ultra-tender and homey stew with lemon, pecorino, rosemary and white wine, all thickened with egg yolk and served alongside roasted potatoes. It’s straight out of nonna’s cucina, if nonna’s recipes were kicked up just a few notches for sophistication and style. Also recommended: Pollo alla Diavola, a half chicken grilled and served with black pepper, white beans, and a bright orange-radish salad.
Save room for dessert, as they’re no exception to Aurora’s high standards. Like the entrees, they’re classics with flair, simple preparations of exquisite ingredients. The panna cotta, for instance, gets dressed up in pomegranate with a sprinkling of fresh seeds and pleasantly tart molasses. Ricotta fritters drizzled in chocolate and vanilla are melt on the tongue like puffy cheese clouds, and the chocolate budino—a thick custard topped with homemade cookies and cream—is decadent and rich. Picking from the bunch may prove to be near impossible.
The food might be the star at Aurora, but general manager Gianluca Legrottaglie and his work with the wine list play award-worthy supporting roles. It’s due to his gracious hospitality that Aurora can deliver the Italian ideals of service, never turning customers away and seeing that everyone leaves happy—vegetarians and those with dietary restrictions, too. And though his customer-oriented service is enough of a boon to the Aurora experience, it’s Legrottaglie’s expertise that has also shaped their unique wine program, which features not only Italian vineyards but all Italian grapes. It is one of the most expansive wine lists in Brooklyn, in fact, and stocks unique bottles that are rare across the USA, including a beautiful Odoardi Valeo dessert wine that is carried nowhere else in the country.
To accommodate their regulars and provide ample variety, Aurora offers nightly specials as well as their light Aperitivo, when quartinos are sold at the price of a glass and appetizers are provided on the house for diners at the bar. Sundays see a traditional Roman porchetta feast: for just $20, diners get a thick slice of pork roast, a well-made salad, and $3 glasses of wine. It’s clear from all the staff’s efforts: the reasons to dine at Aurora are plentiful, as are the reasons to linger and return.
Aurora is located at 70 Grand Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and is open for dinner Monday through Thursday from 6PM to 11PM, Friday and Saturday from 6PM to midnight, and Sunday from 5 PM to 10PM. Aurora is also open on weekdays for lunch frfom 12PM t o 3:30 PM and for weekend brunch from 11 AM to 3PM. For more information on private parties, catering options, and reservations, please call 718-388-5100 or visit www.auroraristorante.com.