Aria is pure eye candy. Taking its name from the Italian meaning for ‘Air’, Aria has a breathtakingly beautiful interior, with 35 foot soaring ceilings in the ever prime and seemingly always changing Air Canada Centre/Maple Leafs Square. Celebrating their almost entirely new menu, and with their first anniversary next month, at least someone in the neighbourhood has a reason to rejoice.
Architect Stephen Pile carefully thought out the restaurant, with banquette seating abound and a spiffy marble bar for the target and typical demographic for this area; well-heeled Leaf fans in for a pre-game risotto, or perhaps more commonly, Telus execs down to take advantage of culinary and almost museum like surroundings. The kitchen is helmed by the young Executive Chef Eron Novalski while the restaurant is owned by Guido Saldini and Elena Morelli the proprietors of Noce Restaurant on Queen for many years. I was saddened to hear that the superstar pastry chef Steve Song was no longer with them however.
Reception is friendly and swift. We were led to our table, and I promptly secured the cozy banquette side that featured small pillows adding to that lux feel. We reviewed our menus and perused the extensive (not so shockingly) mostly Italian wine list. The view was vibrant and there was plenty to be distracted about. Throngs of disappointed Raptors fans leaving the game, bright neon lights from the buildings outside the all glass exterior windows, and at one point I even busted my dining mate checking out the score on the ACC’s giant outdoor TV (Leafs also lost).
Determined to be distracted by something other than sports, we order a couple of app’s to get the party started. The Beef Carpaccio ($18) sounded promising on the menu, the staple of so many other Italian institutions. Here, it was accompanied by a meandering of arugula sprouts, creamy gorgonzola drizzle, chewy walnuts and porcini mushrooms. Certainly a meaty affair, but under seasoned. After a quick fix (although not on tables, servers will happily tote over a small bowl of sea salt and hot chili flakes) it was much more dynamic. With a somewhat goofy presentation, my partner was presented with his Carne Cruda ($15) which is raw beef (steak tartare) with a cracked egg on top. The beef was moo-worthy fresh, the creamy raw egg, all in a delicate balance. The fries were a tasty and fun garnish. My mate was moaning about the generous garnish of rosemary, but not being a fan of rosemary I guess that’s to be expected.
The Shrimp Risotto ($26) in a lobster broth was delicate; not overpoweringly fishy and cooked properly, which for Risotto can make or break the dish. There was an abundant portion of shrimp, which were tender, and not at all overcooked. I especially liked that the shells were off, I hate mucking around the bowl searching for tails.
The Veal Striploin ($37) which was sheathed in prosciutto and swimming in a tangy balsamic reduction. The side was a lovely portion of a potato pancake, with thinly sliced white onion on top which seemed to float above the potatoes, similar to the dramatic dandelion-esque lights above our heads. The striploin was cooked a perfect medium rare, and well complemented by the balsamic.
Even though Aria is technically Noce’s sister restaurant, it feels more like a glamorous Aunt, studded with jewels and air kisses. Service was mostly attentive and very friendly. My only grumble is that the bathrooms are located outside the restaurant, accessed only by card key you must first get from the hostess.