It is so satisfying to walk out of a restaurant and feel good about having spent your money there. This is how I felt when I walked out of Aldea. I was full, happy and already thinking about my next visit. Better still, when I got home and opened up my twitter account, there was a DM from Chef George Mendes thanking us for stopping by (I tweet all my meals and have no relation to Chef Mendes). I thought this was a very classy touch.
I needed a special place to have dinner with three very special people: Roger Sherman, Dorothy Kalins and Antonio Evans. I knew I had to pick the perfect place, but I was not in the mood to be safe and repeat a place I love. I kept hearing from anyone and everyone that Aldea was excellent; so I made some resos. For those of you who have not heard of Aldea, it is located in the Flatiron district, the entrance is nondescript; the interior is small, clean and modern yet inviting. The word Aldea means village in Portuguese (Chef George Mendes’ ethnic background), but there is nothing primitive or unsophisticated about the dishes here. Classic Portuguese dishes are elevated to a level rarely seen from a Portuguese restaurant. Chef Mendes has raised the bar for any other Portuguese/Iberian restaurant opening in NYC.
When our party arrived, we were escorted to our table, right next to the kitchen. We could see Chef Mendes and his team working diligently in the open kitchen. Our server was convivial, knowledgeable and helpful. She started off by asking if any of us had allergies (two people in our party did). This is a small touch, but just sets the tone of good service for the evening. More restaurants should do the same. We ordered some wine; conversation struck…and we were never rushed to place an order. Another touch of class and a well trained staff.
The first thing we ordered was the Portuguese sardine on brioche. It was off the hook. Like I mentioned, some of our party was allergic to shellfish; and by association an aversion to fish. Telling you that everyone was delighted at the sardine is the best way to describe this perfectly prepared dish. The caviar had a strong yet sweet flavor that worked extremely well with the sardine. The shiso added the slightest bit of freshness to brighten up the dish. The result was divine. ($11)
Being Latina, I can tell you that I would not have been able to leave the restaurant without trying our next pick: crispy pig ears with ramps. Latinos love pork and specially chicharron. This of course was no base chicharron. This was a lovely, thin, crispy pig ear; delicately prepared to disintegrate with each bite. This was one fancy piggy. ($12)
One ingredient that I have a particularly hard time with is sea urchin. I always order this at high end restaurants; it is a good way to tell if the restaurant is actually good or not. Aldea passed the test. The sea urchin toast was made with a cauliflower puree, mustard seed and sea lettuce. This is one of the best uni dishes I have had in the past six months (Esca and Morimoto also did not let me down). ($10)
I also have a very healthy obsession with eggs, the Knollcrest Farm egg was next on the list. This baby was scrambled with bacalao (or to those not so familiar with Portuguese fish names is cod). This is a dish I must learn how to make. The texture was lovely and the fish added an elegant salinity that was in no way over powering. ($8)
Continuing with the egg theme; we decided to get the bacon, egg and peas. This was a soft cooked egg, with black truffles, peas and a pea sorbet. While the egg and bacon were definitely the most prominent flavors in the dish; the pea sorbet was the star. The sorbet was delicate with a little sweetness and a perfect foil to the yolk of the egg. ($17)
For my main course, I got the arroz con pato. This was the only disappointing dish, not that it was bad by any means; but after having such strong dishes to start it was hard for this dish to stand up. The dish was good, the duck was nicely juxtaposed with the heat in the chorizo; but I think next time I’ll try the Spanish Mackerel or the Skate…or perhaps order three more of the petiscos. ($27)
Dessert, brought things back around. It started off with a surprise treat from the restaurant. It was a pineapple and ginger granita. I could have eaten a whole bowl. It was fresh, clean and full of flavor. A nice predictor of things to come.
After this delicious treat had come out, the dessert we had actually ordered appeared at our table. Two sets of desserts during a wonderful dinner was quickly converting me into an Aldea addict. The four of us decided to share four desserts, I have a feeling that none of us really wanted to hit the gym all that hard the next morning. Both desserts were stupendous. The caramelized brioche was a treat; maple crÃ¨me, oat crumble and orange ice cream all in one dish. The gentle flavor of the orange playfully stood next to the caramel and maple flavors ($10). The chocolate cinnamon tarte was as elegant as dessert can be. The honey lavender ice cream was delicate and delectable. The chocolate, citrus and orange caramel played like well behaved children. And the plating would have made Alexander Calder jealous of their design. ($10)
By now, you are probably thinking that the night was over. But alas, it was not. A plate of petits fours came out…and somehow; all of us managed to eat each of these delectable little bites. The check came, and I was incredibly pleased. While this is not an inexpensive restaurant, the food is incredibly priced for the quality, a value for quality that cannot be beat. Chef Mendes has won me over and I can see me becoming a regular at the restaurant very, very soon.
Aldea is located at 31 West 17th Street, New York, NY (212) 675-7223