NYC Recommendation

February 4, 2010

A friend asked us for a restaurant recommendation for NYC, based on our recent stay there.  Robataya comes second, but hands down we vote for:

31 W 17th St
NY, NY 10011

A loving parent wanted to take us out for dinner, and that Saturday she got us a reservation for 8 pm at Aldea. The last-minute availability made us a bit skeptical, but while perusing TONY’s 2009 best dishes, we realized that there were two Aldea dishes in the article (Appetizer: sea urchin toast; Entree: arroz de pato). We perked up after learning about these dishes, but did not anticipate such a fine affair.

Aldea is a Portuguese restuarant, and its chef is George Mendes.  The restaurant is nestled in a long, narrow space with clean lines and minimally elegant decor–perhaps belying the complexity of food that Mendes serves up.  Our table started off with a pestico, appetizer, and charcuterie.  The sea urchin toast was better than promised:  the fragile balance of the sea urchin, cauliflower cream, and sea lettuce was unbelievable in its imagination and execution.  The caramelized lychee that accompanied the cuttlefish appetizer had the same imaginative flair, but 2/3 of the table weren’t completely seduced by the baby cuttlefish.  The foie gras terrine had the right infusion of sweetness and richness.  It was gout-inducing decadence, but with a moderation that made us want more.

As an entree that seems to be too many things duck (confited legs, poached breasts, and CRACKLINGS!), the arroz de pato brought out the best qualities of duck (savory, rich tenderness), set against saffron rice cooked just right and garnished with olives to give one last zing.  A had the lamb dish–loin and belly. We’d  never seen lamb belly on a menu before, but it was fabulous.  Not as fatty as pork belly, but with an earthy flavor.  L wanted her arctic char grilled with no salt, no nada, and the kitchen managed to turn those requests into a good dish, with everything on the side.

The service, from the front of the house to the runners, was attentive.  Our waiter was an abd, Berkeley grad student (is there a better way to get at our hearts?) who knew his wines well and suggested bottles and glasses that complimented each course.  So much so that I don’t seem to recall the finer details of our desserts.  We stayed and lingered much later than we normally would, to soak in and prolong the experience.

Speculating on the easily obtained reservation and not-so packed house (there weren’t that many turns the night we were there), the problem with Aldea is actually its under-priced menu (entrees:  $23-$28).  The undervalue here compliments too well the understated restaurant–thus it’s unable to create a constant buzz.  The opposite can be said of another memorable NY experience we had:   Scarpetta, which has the most amazing spaghetti (touche Bruni), but the din of the pretentious crowd and the obsequious service was a bit over the top.

Make that reservation at Aldea, T-Bone.

Aldea on Urbanspoon