AROMA ESPRESSO BAR (500 Bloor West, at Albany, 416-536-7750) Complete meals for $14 per person, including all taxes, tip and a cappuccino. Average main $8. Open Monday to Friday 7:30 am to 11:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 7:30 am to midnight. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on ground level. Rating: NNN
A second North American location of Israeli-based Aroma - the other is in New York - has opened in the heart of the Annex's Mochalattefrappaville, right next to Starbucks, T-Ho's and the Second Cup. Always with the Occupied Territory?
But you can't live by java alone. Sandwiches and salads are the focus of Aroma's menu, and here they're made to order - in a kitchen no less.
Most of the sandwich fillings are fresh and wholesome, free of extravagant applications of oil or butter and can be ordered as halves or wholes. The Mediterranean ($7.80, all prices for whole sandwiches) features some well-charred, not sloppy eggplant along with hard-boiled egg and pickles.
Aroma really has a knack with a pickle. The avocado ($7.80) brings pickled jalapeños into play to good effect, accompanying mashed avocado, tomato and onion. Roast beef ($8.80) gets both horseradish and pickles along with "Aroma" sauce, which looks a lot like mayonnaise. The three kinds of bread - white, rye and light grain - are fairly bland and very similar in taste and consistency. The sandwiches are kind of deceptive. They're wide but not very high. In some cases they seem kind of stingy.
The bureka treat ($4.80), partially prepared off-site like the bread, offers some novelty. The sesame-seed-laden phylo pastry triangle stuffed with cheese, hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, tahini and pickles makes for a tasty, self-contained lunch.
The roquefort salad ($8.90) is a massive bowl with no stinting on the good stuff: blue cheese and walnuts. Management admits it's not roquefort I'm eating (or this dish would be twice the price), so why they don't call it a blue cheese salad is beyond me. The rest of the salad consists primarily of finely chopped tomatoes and cucumbers and some greens and sprouts. Accompanied by bread and butter, it could easily stretch to two reasonable servings.
Good-quality pastries and cookies round out the menu. The small chocolate chip cookies (half a buck) are sweet and dense while the yummy alfajores ($1.40) provide a light touch.
Aroma offers discounts on all take-out goods - or they charge extra if you eat it there. Your call.
And the coffee? What's it matter? The appetite for joe in this neighbourhood is so insatiable, they could probably serve diluted Marmite and do all right.