18 of us went to Aroma on a Tuesday night to celebrate a friend's birthday. We made reservations there because a friend of a friend recommended it, and it was one of the few restaurants we knew between Berkeley and the South Bay. I checked out the reviews on this board beforehand and they were generally mixed. I'd have to agree with the people who felt that this restaurant is only so-so. I guess it's a good place for dinner if you live in the area. But I don't feel that it's worth the 20 minute drive from Berkeley. And our waiter (the only one there that night) rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning, which I get into later.
When we arrived at 7:30, only 2 tables were occuppied. We were led to the back of the restaurant, where it was sectioned off. Maybe someone with waitering experience can chime in here, but it would seem that with reservations on a Tuesday night and the restaurant practically empty, they could arrange the tables to have us sit together. Yet the 2 long tables were arranged back-to-back so that conversation was limited. When we asked if they could rearrange the tables into a U, L, or T shape, the waiter insisted that it couldn't be done. Only when the manager(owner?) came by did the waiter relent.
Since most people ordered different dishes, I got to try a few. I ordered the Pacific Medallion ($18.95)-filet mignon with 3 (small) grilled prawns, mixed vegetables, and a "rice purse." This was interesting, rice specked with sausage wrapped in a wonton wrapper-like bag and deep fried. The rice had a funny sourish flavor to it though. The prawns were skimpy and the steak was tough, but OK for the price. A couple of friends ordered the Rack of Pork, which was very good. A huge piece of very tender pork in a yummy sauce (I didn't pay attention to what it was on the menu) over garlic mashed potatoes and the same vegetables. I also tried the Seafood Linguini-noodles were a little past al dente but a nice assortment of clams, mussels, scallops, and prawns. Each entree came with soup or salad. I had a salad of romaine lettuce, a sprinkling of dandelion greens, and 2 halves of red pear cherry tomato. The citrusy cream dressing was very good. One guy who tried the clam chowder made the comment, "Mmm, just like Progresso used to make," so I guess that sums it up. Dessert was tiramisu birthday cake from Sogo Bakery in Saratoga. I highly recommend both the bakery and the cake.
Just to comment more on our quirky waiter: In announcing the specials, the waiter pulled the all-time favorite of not stating the prices. Pet peeve anyone? :) When he would recite the specials, soups of the day, or salad dressings, he would heave a great sigh and then launch into speed recitation. At the end of it, whoever asked the question would stare up at him confused and say, "OK, thousand island." Then he would say, "We don't HAVE Thousand Island. We have..." until he/she guessed a dressing that was on the list. Near the end of the meal, some people had finished so he started clearing the plates. I had paused in eating to chat with some friends and the next thing I know, my plate's gone! A couple of minutes later, he took the plate of a guy who had stopped to take a sip of his water. I admire the courage of my friend who said, "I'm not done with that."
Anyway, on the merits of its food, I think Aroma is an above average neighborhood restaurant. Every other staff member was more than nice and accomodating. If I was ever in the area at mealtime, I'd probably stop back. But there really isn't much to entice me to make a special trip out there.
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