Manhattan, New York – Aldea

Restaurant: Aldea
Cuisine:
Fine Dining/Portuguese/Spanish/Fusion
Last visited:
September 12, 2011
Location:
Manhattan, NY (Chelsea/Flatiron)
Address: 31 W 17th St
Nearby subway stops: 14 St
Price Range: 
$50+

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6Tres Excellent!!

Food: 5
Service: 3
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Owner/Chef George Mendes
  • 1 Michelin Star
  • Multiple award winning
  • Opened May 2009
  • Modern Portuguese & Spanish cuisine
  • Fine dining
  • Seasonal menus
  • Lots of shellfish
  • Very small portions
  • Cocktails/wine
  • Mon-Thurs 5:30pm-11pm
  • Fri-Sat 5:30pm-12am
  • Closed Sunday

**Recommendations: Sea Urchin Toast, Shrimp Alhinho, Arroz de Pato (Duck Confit), Pennsylvania Roast Suckling Pig

Photo from Aldea website

It was on my Follow Me Foodie to New York itinerary, but it wasn’t a priority until my last few days when I heard a New York “food snob” rave about it. Aldea opened in May 2009 so it’s not new to the New York dining scene; but its quickly earned 1 Michelin Star has created hype. It’s multiple award winning reputation is acknowledged to local foodies and food enthusiasts and I took the last minute bait.

I consider it fine dining, and the menu speaks of it, but the furniture and decor doesn’t really. The interior is inspired by the Iberian countryside and incorporates elements of wood, water, air, stone, cloud and Earth. It had a modern Zen like atmosphere and I found it quite relaxing and nice. The back features an open kitchen and more casual dining space, so it’s supposed to portray a rustic elegance, but I’m not sure how well it translates.

There are seats in front of the open kitchen which I didn’t realize until later. I love sitting in front of where all the action happens, so if you do too, I would make an early request.

The Chef and owner is George Mendes who is American born to Portuguese parents. He was also on Food Network’s Top Chef Masters. His global experience in world renowned kitchens all over the States and Europe has eventually led him to open Aldea, which means “village” in Spanish. Part of the highlight for me was actually having him in the kitchen and making the food, which apparently is common at Aldea. It doesn’t happen often with big name chefs, and even though it was more likely to happen here since he only has one restaurant, I still valued the fact.

Aldea specializes in modern Iberian cuisine which incorporates Portuguese and Spanish flavours. The majority of people, including myself, know it as a modern Portuguese restaurant with a bit of fusion flare, but Chef Mendes likes to call it “his own style”. I also call it “fine dining”, but they claim to be a “balance between rustic and refined”. Rustic I didn’t see in the food, but refined it was.

The food was generally very good and more often than not excellent, but the value wasn’t great. I guess “value” isn’t something you really consider when you fine dine anyways, but personally I think other restaurants of the same caliber (if not even higher) are more worth it in New York.

Aldea has the highly trained, extremely experienced, meticulous and passionate chef, but some of the portions were so small that I was quite taken back. I do expect smaller portions when fine dining, but at times it was almost too pretentious and it stunted my satisfaction and experience. I’m glad I tried it and some dishes were incredible, but I’d hesitate to recommend it.

On the table:

The complimentary breads are made in house and served on a tray.

Complimentary Bread & Olive Oil

  • Bacon Corn Bread
    • This would have been better if it was warm.
    • It was cold, but moist, fire pit smoky, savoury and sweet.
    • There weren’t really any bacon bits or actual corn like some can have, but I could taste infused bacon grease throughout.
    • It was almost more like banana bread in texture than it was corn bread and I think I was just expecting more from it.
  • Olive Baguette
    • There was a good amount of salty olives, but it was really tough and tiresome to chew.

**Sea Urchin Toast4/6

  • Cauliflower puree, mustard seed, lime $10
  • The size of this toast was about 3.5 inches. It was really small and I thought it was an amuse bouche.
  • The predominant flavour and star of the show was the sea urchin, which it should be, but it was more than simply “sea urchin on toast”.
  • It was warm, creamy, buttery whole pieces of melt in your mouth briny sea urchin on a very thin, light, crisp and nutty cracker. It was almost like a home made Melba Toast.
  • There was some freshly grated wasabi which opened the palate and in combination with the whole grain mustard seeds it was a burst of two kinds of heat.
  • The tangy, sweet and creamy cauliflower puree added a smoothness and the hint of lime zest kept the flavours bright and made it not too fishy.
  • There was a little smokiness in the aftertaste and I’m not sure where that was from.
  • All the ingredients gelled together and melted away nicely.
  • It was very good, but I still didn’t see the value even with the two pieces of sea urchin.

It’s a blurry photo, but just to show you some perspective in serving size. I could have zoomed out more.

Portuguese Sardine on Brioche - 4/6

  • Smoked trout caviar, shiso, lime $11
  • I think this was 3.5 inches again.
  • Sardines are typical at a Portuguese restaurant so I had to try it.
  • Of course you have to love strong fishy flavours to appreciate this, and I do.
  • It was a salty, fishy, and polished sardine marinated in lime juice and topped with an even layer of salty smoky caviar.
  • The shiso was very mild and barely noticeable, but it’s the ideal herb to go with strongly flavoured fish like mackerel, or in this case sardines. It has a minty-licorice flavour, but I could barely taste it here.
  • The home made brioche was a bit soft and I wish it had been crispy.
  • There was a thin layer of I think aioli spread on the brioche and it lent a nice richness.
  • Again it was enjoyable, but I didn’t see the value.

Photo from Nicknamemiket

**Shrimp Alhinho5.5/6

  • Garlic, coriander, pimenton, pressed jus $16
  • This is one of the most raved about dishes.
  • It was very meaty and crunchy shrimp and it almost tasted like lobster tails.
  • The pimento, garlic and saffron gave it a nice smoky sweetness and intense aroma that was undeniable.
  • It was smoky with a mild bitterness at the end, and it was a bit acidic from tomato to keep it balanced.
  • The pressed jus was oily and buttery with an intense shrimp crustacean and shrimp head flavour without the creaminess.
  • The garlic, shrimp shells and head were very well fried and infused into the oil.
  • I could taste some fresh mint and cilantro leaves being used, but it was never Indian tasting.
  • It wasn’t spicy or hot like the colour suggested, but the pressed jus and shrimp had so much infused flavour, aromatics and depth.
  • Although excellent, it was missing something texturally. Maybe I just wanted the deep fried shrimp heads too.

**Arroz De Pato - 6/6

  • Duck confit, chorizo, olive, orange $27 (Image above is a split portion)
  • This was a gourmet fusion version of a home style Portuguese dish “duck rice”. It’s comfort food you want to curl up to.
  • I almost always order anything confit and this is one of the favourite dishes here.
  • It was a slow poached duck breast with very little fat that was slightly chewy, but the meat was incredibly soft, tender and almost like the texture of cheese or tongue.
  • The duck leg was super juicy, moist and melting off the bone and it had a nice crispy skin which I look forward to when having duck confit.
  • Orange and duck are a classic combination and the orange, tangerine, and clementine syrup played right into the sweetness of the duck while carrying some citrus tang.

  • I loved the crispy, chewy, nutty, toasted and fried rice which reminded me of the stuck on rice you would find at the bottom of Korean bibimbap or Chinese clay rice pots. It’s always the best part.
  • The rice was garlicky, oily and infused with duck broth and fried in duck fat, so the flavour was as intense as the meat.
  • It kind of seemed like a duck paella instead of seafood paella and I think there was even some saffron in it to give it colour and aromatics. It was subtle, but I could taste it.
  • The added slices of thinly shaved chorizo was also like a paella, but I wish they had been crispier and a bit spicy since I found them quite mild.
  • The little bits of diced olives in combination with the orange gave the dish a nice salty and fruity aspect.
  • The yellow dollops of puree were obviously orange in flavour, but it wasn’t citrusy and even a bit bitter, so I think it was made with pureed zest and it had a pastey texture.
  • I almost wanted some candied orange bits for a little more sweetness and even a bit more citrus tang or saffron yogurt to balance out the smoky and nutty flavours even more.
  • Regardless, it was an amazing dish and I didn’t let any bit go to waste. If I could eat the duck bones, I would have.

**Pennsylvania Roast Suckling Pig5/6

  • Mango brulee, pickled kohlrabi, crispy potato $34 (Image above is a split portion)
  • I’m so glad this was the other recommended main because I had my eyes on it. Just like duck confit, I’m a sucker for roast pig too.
  • Ordering pig at a Portuguese restaurant is almost a must and there’s cultural pride in a roast suckling pig done well.
  • This was even richer and heavier than the duck confit rice above.
  • This was definitely done contemporary and Portuguese dishes are rarely sweet and savoury like this.
  • It was best to get everything in one bite because the creamy sweet mango contrasted the juicy pork with salty crispy skin, and the bite of crunchy pickled kohlrabi was the tang.
  • Using mango was a nice alternative from the usual apple.
  • The mango was warm and sweet with a semi-crispy caramelized brulee crust that carried a desired bitterness to offset the sweetness.
  • It was quite fiberous and it almost came across as a peach, and likely because it wasn’t in season.
  • I’m not sure if it was the best choice although it made the dish memorable and unique.

  • The pork was absolutely heavenly! It was creamy and very soft and falling apart with the touch of my fork, but it wasn’t juicy although moist.
  • The skin was perfectly crispy and there were dots of truffle puree to accompany the pork.
  • The dollops of truffle puree were intense with black truffle and likely truffle oil too. It was extremely delicious, but there was so little of it that it was almost pointless and more like garnish.
  • The crispy shaved potato on top and strand of pickled kohlrabi (turnip) gave nice crispy and crunchy textures to the dish and the few herbs made for colour more than flavour.
  • There was an orangey caramelized pork au jus that was sweet, smoky, aromatic, sticky and very well reduced and the pork absorbed it all very nicely. They poured this over the dish upon serving.
  • There was also random bites of spicy and tangy green onion slices to ease the richness of it all.
  • There were many small details for this labour intensive dish, but it was very well delivered although again quite pricey.
  • I probably wouldn’t order it again, but I certainly savoured every moment and would recommend it as a main if you visit.

Chocolate Cinnamon Tarte4/6

  • Honey lavender ice cream, citrus, orange caramel $10
  • This sounded like a whirl wind of flavours and I had no idea how they would complement, but I was very curious since I liked each component.
  • The chocolate tarte was rich, but the fruit was a nice contrast and it was almost a play on chocolate fondue.
  • It was a sweet, thin and crispy sable cookie crumb tart shell filled with a warm bittersweet flourless cake and chocolate sorbet on top.
  • The lid was almost like an almond fortune cookie sugar crisp with crunchy toasted almonds.
  • The juicy bursts of fresh citrus fruit included honey tangerine, grapefruit and orange segments so there was that orange and chocolate dynamic.
  • The honey lavender ice cream was floral, icy and light with lavender flowers infused into the cream, but it wasn’t actually that strong with lavender flavour.
  • The ice cream was delicious and I love lavender, but it was slightly random with the orange and chocolate aspect since those flavours are so much bolder and stronger. I felt like it should have been either orange or chocolate. I’m not sure if honey and chocolate was necessary either.
  • The orange caramel wasn’t as well executed or presented, but it was the bridge to the chocolate tarte and it helped tie the two components together.
  • Usually it’s spiced chocolate, floral chocolate or fruity chocolate, or a combination of the two, but this just threw everything in one pot and there was a lot going on.
  • It was still very good, but the combination took away from each other and I almost couldn’t appreciate any of the flavours unless I ate them individually.

Complimentary Pistachio & Sour Cherry Cake & Pate des Fruits

  • Pistachio & Sour Cherry Cake – It was a very nutty and moist ground almond and pistachio tea cake with a tart sour cherry and a sweet caramelized glaze. Since it was so thin and small, it baked up a bit chewy and it also tasted like marzipan, which I love.
  • Strawberry Pate des Fruits – It was on the sweet side for me, but intense with real strawberry fruit flavour.

Complimentary Chocolate Raspberry Truffles

  • It was a bitter sweet creamy truffle made with fresh seedless raspberry jam puree.
  • It was light, but obvious with raspberry flavour and a nice way to end the meal.

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Aldea on Urbanspoon

5 Comments

  • Bow says:

    This cuisine is so good, so flavorful and so unpretentious, luv it ! There is an intensity of flavours and certain imagination…I’m afraid that French haute cuisine is ebbing away. people want less expensive food, simpler dishes and less formal presentation. Too bad it was expensive because at a lower price point this place would have “value”, but that Michelin star allows one to raise prices. Not crazy ’bout that cool interior, not a fan of greys and whites.

  • Mijune says:

    @bow – oh really? See it was a bit pretentious for me… the portions were really small. The food was good though! I agree that people are looking for more simple too… but there’s a time and place for fancy and fancy is still fun :)

  • Linda says:

    wow, the interior of this place looks gorgeous!

    the complimentary bread was served on a tray?! omg, i think that right there sealed the deal for me.. i always judge a restaurant on their selection of bread (think, l’abbattoir!) and this place got it right :)

    thank goodness you stated that the arroz con pollo was a split portion otherwise, i would’ve fainted by the lack of food on the plate… i don’t mind if restaurants have smaller portions as long as those portions are full of flavour and are uber delicious :)

    wow, sardine on brioche? maybe i should try a variation of it at home.. seems like a great idea with the butteriness of the brioche matched with the pungency of the sardines! wow, that prawn is HUGE! and i guess now the trend is moving slowly from pork belly to suckling pig? mmmmmmmm!

    when i saw that torte, i thought it looked like a clam opening up :)

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – I don’t like small portions with big price tags though… to some degree it’s understandable especially with fine dining, but size of a cookie for $10 is a bit ouch :(

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