Sunday, September 10, 2006

Best Valley Coffee Houses: II

In which Travels West explores Aroma Café, the second in a series about the Valley’s best coffee houses

Aroma Café is a coffee house like few others. Located smack in Studio City’s shady cultural and shopping hub, Tujunga Village, Aroma has for years served as the locus for the community’s large crowd of film and television writers. One of the most common opening phrases you’ll hear among Aroma patrons is, “So I was working on the script and… ” leading to a story about how the writer's work was interrupted by some funny domestic happening or other. (The work, among professional writers working on an actual show, is always called “the script.” “My script” is for those lone geniuses who have not yet broken into the paying business.)

Aroma is a riot of color, sound and fragrance. Inside it’s quite small. But it’s surrounded by a brick patio dining area—or rather several areas—that seems to go on forever. The place is decorated in a profusion of plants, French country furnishings, chandeliers, ironic statuary—garden gnomes, Elizabethan rakes, etc.—and obscure flowers that the owner can be seen arranging each morning. The attention to detail is arresting.

There’s usually a line out the door, but once inside you’re greeted warmly by one of Aroma’s attractive counter-jumpers over the brightly burnished copper counter. (I can’t help feeling that the owner insists on at least one attribute when profiling prospective employees of both sexes: “easy on the eyes.” Well, more power to him.) It’s best to grab a menu before your turn comes at the counter so you’ll be ready to order. Aroma serves typical coffee house fare, but also offers full breakfasts, sandwiches, burgers and salads, all made to a generally higher standard than your local greasy spoon or sandwich shop, and priced accordingly.

Recently, Aroma’s owner applied for a license to offer beer and wine with meals. The petition didn’t go over too well with the neighborhood's stuffed shirts, however. I suppose they saw Aroma becoming a rout of drunkenness every night. Vitello’s is, after all, just across the street; that place being notorious for certain liquored-up patrons playing William Tell with their unfortunate wives. It’s silly really. Aroma’s license would only permit the selling of beer or wine with food, according to one staffer, and it’s not the sort of place to attract or tolerate drunks.

Adding to Aroma’s literary air, the building also houses Portrait of a Bookstore, a boutique bookshop, gift shop and stationer that offers a surprisingly wide and eclectic variety of books for the size of the shop, including a collection of antiquarian books from England. Like Aroma, Portrait's attention to detail in the way things are presented and placed is truly remarkable.

Clearly both the café and the bookstore are labors of love, which is what makes the experience special.

Aroma Café
Portrait of a Bookstore
4360 Tujunga Avenue
Studio City
818-508-6505 (Café)
818-769-3853 (Bookstore)
Rating: ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

  • Setting—Superb presentation and attention to detail in an Arcadian environment

  • Location—Feels like the center of small town

  • Attentive staff—They seem to like their jobs, and that’s a definite plus

  • Choice—Aroma offers more choices than most coffee houses

  • Quality—Everything I’ve tried at Aroma thus far is top notch
  • Prices—Everything at Aroma, from a cup of joe to a side of eggs is priced just a smidge higher than at comparable cafes. This is not surprising, however, given the pluses
  • described above. It's never stopped me going there.
  • Wait time—As mentioned, there’s usually a line out the door. This is mostly the fault of slower patrons, rather than staff who, poor things, are forced into conversations with those who can’t figure out what they want.

  • Giant coffee cups—The line from "Friends" was, I think, "these cups are so big they ought have nipples on them." Aroma's cups are way too big at the brim. This causes the coffee to cool too fast and makes spills too easy. The cups Aroma uses are really meant for cafe au lait or latte. We humbly suggest Aroma get simple mugs.

Know of a Valley coffee house you'd like Travels West to review? Leave a comment here.


Blogger leelu said...

I finally gave up today. When there are so many choices in town, I've realized it's just irresponsible to go to Aroma and spend so much while getting poor counter service - i.e., service without a smile! Starbucks employees are delightful by comparison to the sullen and/or phony hipsters working at Aroma. If the coffee were consistently good, I'd have something good to say, but both the food and drink are inconsistent. Urth in LA is a drive but the service is far better there.

10:49 AM  

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