Sake + Shochu Talk
Meet Aaron Unger. Performer/ puppet artist/ photographer/ visual artist extraordinaire. World-traveling Jew from Miami. A man bursting with joie de vivre, a culinary maverick and loving husband and father. A man who has entertained hundreds of people from New York to Berne with his ice-shaving performance (some time accompanied by girls with big bear heads), a man who has been the most convincing advocate for the rat being a witty adorable creature, a man, who has loved, and been loved, for his big heart, great art and sweat.

As his official biographer, I am pleased to offer a look into his most recent endeavors as one of the chefs at Amorina Cucina Rustica, a lovely, cozy Italian joint in Prospect Heights (624 Vanderbilt Ave. at Prospect Place). The second outpost from Albano Ballerini, who opened his first idiosyncratic cafe Aliseo Osteria del Borgo, Amorina offers a wonderfully wide range of savory and sweet/savory pies with Roman-style thin crusts, as well as some classic pasta dishes.

When Irwin and I arrived, we got some quality time with Aaron at the counter. The best pizza, Aaron explained, was what the staff ate for dinner, and was not on the menu -- a white pie with fennel, sausage and caramelized onion. We'd call it the Aaron Special, and planned on giving it a taste. Kayoko and Dawn showed up and we decided to get started -- a bottle of red (like I've said, my ability to retain wine details is nil, so if you really wanna know, Irwin's gotta tell) and a Deliziosa salad: endive, goat cheese, red beets, orange vinaigrette. Delicious!

Ryo and Chie showed up in time for the main dishes. Here we go:

Spaghetti with meatballs -- hearty and heart-warming! Big juicy meatballs, I think we were using the bread to scoop up every last bit of the sauce.

The Aaron Special -- aforementioned pie. We could all see why the staff always ate this one for dinner. I don't know when they're gonna put this on the menu officially but they should! Sausage with a kick with the sweet caramelized onions was a great preview to the other sweet & savory juxtapositions to come.

Pizza Norma -- eggplant, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, ricotta salata, basil, mint. Perhaps this was the most conventional of all the pies of the evening (and therefore I would shyly admit, my favorite -- what can I say? I love the tomato sauce and I love eggplant!)

This was certainly not enough food for six, so on we went to Round Two, along with another bottle of red:
Pizza Siciliana -- ricotta, fennel, caramelized onion, black olives, orange, mint. What a treat! The salty tartness of the olives with the touch-of-sweet orange sent the taste buds on a surprising ride.

Pizza Gorgonzola E Frutta -- gorgonzola, figs, pears, honey, which unfortunately went unphotographed because presumably it was consumed at such velocity the photographer could not get to it. Holy shit, here was the mother of all dessert pizzas. All the sweetness of the fruit and honey, balanced by the gorgonzola was an even greater surprise that the Siciliana. I think that this was Kayoko and Irwin's fave. It confused Ryo and Chie.

How could we not order dessert?! One of each kind:
Tiramisu Cup -- yummy yummy! my fave

Ricotta Cheesecake -- nice, rich without being too heavy. K's fave

Pine Nut Tart -- hmmm, wasn't crazy about this. Kinda runny inside.

The atmosphere is so great: red-checkered tablecloth and wood tables/chairs give it a very homey feel. A great place to meet with friends on a Sunday evening. I might even say I prefer this over Franny's -- just because Franny's, though the pizza is awesome, is just too crowded all the time and all fancy-like.

Aaron can make any place he spends time a warm, inviting place to be, whether it's the kitchen or a dilapidated warehouse with crumbling brick walls. If you go to Amorina's and see this guy in the back, give him a big kiss or a thumbs-up. He'll love it.




  • Just to add a few personal notes:

    The first wine we got, a Primitivo I believe, was OK, solid but a little tinny (not metallic but as in squeaky, high-pitched). Supposedly the hostess’ fave off the list.

    Better was the second wine, a Squinzano, which was fuller, more worldly, rounder.

    My favorite pizza (surprisingly) was the Gorgonzola and fig pizza, which was a perfect blend of the savory and sweet, turning the crust into a bread base for the fruit and cheese binder. Goes to show, also, that salt is a friend of sweet fruits.

    The meatballs I wanted to be more crumbly. They were a little too tough and the pasta I wanted to be fresher (ie, boiled more recently) but all in all, it was a warm, gorgeous little meal!

    tmonkey on

  • just saw that Amorina was featured in this week’s “Table for Two” column in the New Yorker. Congrats Amorina!

    kayoko on

  • this was a great place for a sunday night, you’re right, aya. it is just relaxing and unpretentious and delicious- a perfect way to prepare for a loooong work week. Amorina’s pizzas were inventive (but not crazy), flavorful and heart-warming definitely! a wonderful neighborhood joint.

    on a side note- i am sad to say, but Franny’s is really a disappointment now. i went last week, and it was pretty bad- the service, the sausage was too salty, they charged us 50 cents for a side of bread to go with our cured meats- it was just one upset after the next. my friend pointed out out that the place was too “branded”— i had never thought of that before, but when i looked up, he was right: everyone was wearing a franny’s t-shirt, or some sort of franny’s paraphernalia. scary. all that was missing was flair.

    i’m now on a mission to find my next favorite pizza place. Amorina’s pear and gorgonzola pizza will definitely make the shortlist.


    kayoko on

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