In the restaurant world, imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery; it's a surefire way to win an audience. Chef Roberto Passon (ex-Le Zie, Scarlatto) emulates many of his West Village neighbors in this new hideaway wine bar. There's a wine list dedicated to female vinters (a la Annisa) and retro cocktails (a nod to Employees Only). Chalkboards, wood-beamed ceilings and white subway tile evoke Pastis/Morandi and scruffily attractive, off-the-boat servers reminded me of Malatesta. Add late-night hours (like Corsino) and how could anyone resist? Despite being stuck under scaffolding, Aria packs in the locals, who graze through a gently-priced repertoire of Venetian cicchetti (small plates). The M.O.: Choose from two dozen "ombre," 5 oz. tumblers of wine ($5-10); cheese ($5); salumi ($7); or cicchetti ($9), like dense but flavorful beef meatballs dotted with fresh herbs, and a burrata served with a generous portion of salty prosciutto di San Daniele (two cicchetti-in-one for $18). Balsamic vinegar ramps up the smokiness in a tender, grilled lamb chop, and a hearty truffled mac and cheese hits all the homey spots. Despite these high points, there's room for improvement: a tasty mix of capers and basil couldn't distract from rubbery rings of calamari nor balance an acidic assault of artichoke, olive, tomato and sharp parmigiano. Those missteps fade with a few more glasses of wine and classic desserts, like a panna cotta with blueberries ($8.) Overall, Passon's cherry-picking has paid off. Aria might not be the most original venue, but its amalgam of nabe faves offers a genuine familiarity that explains its instant popularity.
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