In a restaurant genera often associated with mediocrity, AURA is changing the ballgame. While it’s located at the Inn at Laurel Point, it’s a far cry from hotel dining. This Inner Harbour gem is a destination for tourists and locals alike.

Executive chef Takashi Ito and his team focus on utilizing locally sourced ingredients and inventive techniques. The result is food that does more than satisfy – it inspires.

At AURA, artful plating delivers on its promise. Dishes don’t just delight the eye. They delight the palate. The menu features a riot of flavors. Here, acidity plays against heat, savory bites are mellowed by sweet touches, and umami is given its due. 

What’s the secret behind this dynamic menu? Pacific Northwest cuisine infused with chef Ito’s Japanese heritage.

A master ice carver, chef Ito was out of town during my visit. He was competing at Wintershines, a renowned international ice-carving event. Luckily, I was able to meet up with AURA’s restaurant chef Ryan Harney.

Joining the AURA staff in 2011, he was named head chef nearly 2 years ago. “Working with Chef Ito is amazing. He really pushes the boundaries and introduces ingredients that ask us to think beyond what you would typically serve,” said chef Harney.

The results? “It makes for a fun place to work. And more importantly, a fun place to eat,” said chef Harney.

The menu follows the season, highlighting the freshest ingredients from both the land and sea.

Fried sushi is given new form. The rice stuffed shiso leaf is served crispy and flat, maintaining the crunchy texture you want in all things fried. The seafood trio atop this deconstructed roll – albacore tuna, stripe shrimp and mayo scallops – is each given the treatment it deserves. From torching to poaching, the full flavor of the seafood is allowed to shine.

The classic bacon and egg is elevated as smoked duck breast is paired with a soy cured egg yolk. Gnocchi is made in house with the tangy punch of sour cream. Grilled tenderloin is served with a hay-smoked yam and veal cheek hash that might make you think you’re in a steak house. And a hearty sablefish is paired with pork belly for surf-and-turf that toes the line between fresh and succulent.

While most restaurant menus that require such care and attention skip baking in favor of store bought bread, AURA’s not most restaurants. Their in-house pastry chef Ian, turns out daily-baked goods that attract attention all on their own. His cookies are delightful, his muffins moist and his chocolate croissants are so light and flaky they transports you to France. But it’s chef Ian’s buckwheat croissant rolls that steal the show. In a surprising feat, he has crafted a unique roll that’s a marbled combination of buckwheat dough and regular croissant dough. Buttery enough to stand alone, it has a hint of sweetness that’s addicting.

I guess the question is, how quickly can you make a reservation?