Trattoria Aroma North French, the third outpost of Dave Cosentino’s homage to northern Italian cuisine, is in a building so new that the sidewalks are still shiny. Inside, a two-story space has been hemmed in century-old wood, with reclaimed hand-hewn beams crossing overhead, and walls paneled in barn planks. Cosentino continues his efforts to serve food raised within an hour’s drive. Our meal suggested his efforts are bearing delicious fruit. ¶ The menu at North French overlaps much of the other two Aromas, with antipasti, brick oven pizzas, pastas, plus meat and seafood entrees. Bread, desserts and many of the pastas are made in-house. ¶ Our server knew the menu well and answered detailed questions about dishes and ingredients. Unfortunately, it was hard to hear his answers because of the deafening crowd noise. Soaring as the room filled, it had us joking about texting each other. (Cosentino said noise-deadening fixtures are on order.)
To start, we ordered specials of arugula salad ($9) and grilled vegetable panzanella ($8), and two pizzas, a special mushroom pizza ($15) and a quattro stagioni (“four seasons”) pizza topped with a sunny-side-up egg ($16).
For entrees, we asked for a special of stuffed pork loin ($25), rigatoni piselli ($22), risotto arrabiata with shrimp ($22) and pappardelle alla lepre ($22), which is rabbit.
We watched other tables get bread. When we asked for some our server apologized and said our appetizers were imminent, so we told him to forget it.
The salads, built on produce from Alden’s Oles Farm, showed the difference truly fresh vegetables can make. Both were composed of common ingredients with uncommon flavor.
Peppery arugula dressed lightly in a citrus-goat cheese emulsion was satisfying by itself, and it got better when accented with shaved ricotta salata, cherry tomatoes and spiced pecans. The presence of dried cranberries was puzzling but didn’t ruin the dish.
Grilled eggplant and squash got a toss with herbed vinaigrette and more cherry tomatoes in the panzanella salad, which was accompanied by non-local frisee and oozingly creamy burrata. The cheese’s fresh dairy richness elevated the vegetables to a winning combination. Apparently I should stop expecting tomato-moistened bread in panzanella, so I can eat my croutons in peace.
We ordered two pizzas intending to take some home. When they arrived, their look and aromas made it clear those plans, and the rest of our dinner, were at risk. Cosentino recognized me when he brought one of the pizzas to our table.
The smoked trumpet mushrooms and wine-braised fungi, combined with discreet clumps of gorgonzola, made the mushroom pizza a palpable hit. The quattro stagioni packed artichoke hearts, mushrooms, prosciutto and olives whose agreeably briny fruitiness reminded me that I’m usually eating cheap olives. The golden-yolked egg was separated onto four pieces, and we all agreed that eggs on pizza made sense after all.
My pork entrée was stuffed loin topped with red onions and fennel. The meat perched on a creamy risotto whose rice was tender, not mushy and enriched with mascarpone cheese. The well-seasoned stuffing, and jus that was plate-licking good, bite by bite made up for borderline dry pork.
Cat’s risotto arribiata was topped with eight large shrimp, cooked perfectly. The dish wore a topknot of frizzle-fried leeks to add texture and a toasty note. Even with nubs of porky pancetta and banana peppers, her risotto didn’t seem as lush; I suspect the mascarpone.
Liz’s rigatoni piselli was vegetables with pasta, but what vegetables: sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and squash, each left with a bit of bite and not cooked into paste. Tossed with cheese, herbs and a sauce made of grilled corn, it “tasted like summer,” she said. Kevin’s house-made papardelle with rabbit showed how the dish has remained on Aroma’s menu for years. The meat, cooked with wine and mild spices into a tender ragu, tasted like dark-meat chicken with more flavor. The sauce was concentrated, so the pasta was almost dry in comparison to many pasta dishes.
For dessert, we asked for tiramisu, cheesecake, affogato (all $7.50) and cannoli ($3.95). The tiramisu was fresh and fluffy with its boozy coffee flavors. There was even more coffee punch in the affogato, espresso poured over ice cream, with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and biscotti.
The cannoli, decked out in pistachios, chocolate chips and more cannoli filling alongside, was decent. Cheesecake was my favorite, not for the rich, dense cake as much as the accompanying little dish of local Cavalier cherries in crème fraîche.
This place is noisier, with more bustle, than the other two Aromas, but during our dinner, the food kept pace. You’re not supposed to talk to your dinner companions when your mouth is full anyway.
Trattoria Aroma North French - 8
New outpost of Northern Italian menu can be noisy but delivers worthwhile fare.
WHERE: 4840 N. French Road, Amherst (688-8848, www.aromanorthfrench.com)
HOURS: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday though Friday; 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday; and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
PRICE RANGE: Antipasti, $7-$12; pizzas, $12-$16; entrees, $22-$33
PARKING: Lot. WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.