Aldea, NYC

July 22, 2010

Aldea, opened last year with some buzz among New York foodies. Marc Shepherd wrote “Aldea may be the best restaurant that has opened this year… The kitchen’s execution seemed to us absolutely flawless.” Zagat said, “The superb nouveau Portuguese cuisine showcasing seasonal and greenmarket ingredients is surprisingly well priced given its high quality and sophistication.” The Ulterior Epicure said: “George Mendes’s brand of Portuguese cooking is a wonderful balance between homey and haute.”

The chef, George Mendes, has worked under Roger Vergé, Alain Passard, Martin Berasategui and David Bouley. So Linda and I were looking forward to an excellent, interesting meal when we went to Aldea for dinner on July 19, 2010.

We were seated in a booth on the left side. Further on, there are tables and a counter with a view into the kitchen. There are also tables along the right side and a staircase to the upstairs dining room. Unneeded music was playing, making it hard to hear above the lively conversations of the mostly youthful clientèle in this narrow enclosed space.
 

We ordered glasses of Mont Marcal, Brut Reserva Cava and looked at the menu. The à la carte choices looked interesting, but we settled on the Summer Market Chef’s Tasting Menu with wine pairings. The bread basket was passed and a small bowl of fruity olive oil was put on the table for dipping.

The “Amuse Bouche” arrived:
a KUSSHI OYSTER (BRITISH COLUMBIA)
pickled ramp;
BACALAO CROQUETTAS
classic aïoli vinaigrette;
MAINE LOBSTER GAZPACHO
summer berries, wild herbs and flowers.

The oysters were fresh and good; the croqutte, which was hot with a liquid center was excellent; the gazpacho was fun, but quite a mish mash. The meal was getting off to a good start.

The wine with the amuse bouche normally would have been the cava, which we had enjoyed, but since we had already ordered a glass as apéritif, they poured 2009 Ameztoi, Txakolina Rosado, ‘Rubentis’, Hondarribi Beltza & Hondarribi Zuri, Getariako, Spain. This was a sparkling rosé of no interest. 

Then came
FOIE GRAS TERRINE
market cherry compote, peanuts, cocoa nibs, cherry sorbet

The bloc of foie gras and its garnishes were very cold. The brioche toast was warm and nice. This was a perfectly adequate foie gras, but not unusual and with no apparent relationship to Portuguese or market cuisine.

This was served with a strange, slightly sweet sake that I would have identified as a bad Riesling if tasting it blind.

.

PORTUGUESE OCTOPUS “A LA PLANTXA”
squid ink-lemon purée, chickpeas

The cooking à la plancha had not created the desired charred effect on the outside of the octopus. The purée was a bit sweet. The whole dish was merely okay.

2008 A. Coroa, Godello, Galicia. This Spanish white wine was tart, which did offset the unusual sweetness of the dish, but wasn’t really pleasant.

.

MONKFISH CHEEKS
stew of razor clams, potato, fennel and saffron

This mushy stew did not allow the individual flavors to come through.

2006 JM Fonseca, ‘Periquita’, Castelão, Touriga Nacional & Touriga Franco, Terras dos Sado (Portugal): okay.

.

ARROZ DE PATO
duck confit, chorizo, olive, duck cracklings

This was the third somewhat mushy course in a row. The chorizo dominated; Linda said the dish tasted like a pepperoni pizza.

2007 Joan d’Anguera ‘Finca L’Argata’, Syrah, Grenache & Cabernet Sauvignon, Montsant (Spain).  This heavy red wine might be quite good if aged and allowed to breathe.

.

There was a pre-dessert of lime granité with mint sorbet.

The flavors were too strong for what is supposed to be palate refreshing pre-dessert.

The dessert was
BANANA CUSTARD BRÛLÉE
caramelized rice, lemon, chickory ice cream

I enjoyed this as I would anything with caramel and bananas.

The dessert was served with a glass of white port.

There was a plate of good mignardises

And so we went home very disappointed, wondering if, in view of the favorable reviews we had read, we had just hit a bad night at Aldea. We will keep trying the new restaurants well aware that they will not all live up to the advance billing.

http://aldearestaurant.com

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