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Good News/ Bad News Aldea

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Horine, 5/8/09

After several, well documented delays in opening his Flatiron "Modern Iberian" eatery Aldea, chef George Mendes--formerly of Bouley and Tocqueville--has finally started recouping his investment on those much talked about 400 hanging acrylic rods. So far, the reviews mostly skew towards the positive end of the spectrum. Everyone seems to agree that the "chefs counter" is the place to sit. On to the specifics:

The Good News: Gourmet checks in, has only good things to say, and hints at a possible crush on chef Mendes: "Plump, meaty sardines sandwiched between super-crisp crackers of toasted brioche were perfect for dredging through a coarse paste of bitter almond milk laid out in squiggles on the plate. A dash of lemon kept the richness in check, and a couple of soft, subtle green almond...delivered on the restaurant’s promise of “Iberian influences.”...It’s true, as reported, that Mendes [...] is very handsome. But it’s the food you should go for." [Gourmet]

The Okay News: A Yelp user files a mixed bag, liking a few of the entrees and hating on others, even managing to include a jab at the "New American" restaurant scene, "Newly opened Aldea has a committed 'adult' palette that is a far cry from those dime a dozen tasty 'new Americans' and their ilk that dot Chelsea from east to west. What you get at Aldea is a sense of genuine Portuguese tastes, what's missing is more taste and particularly more balance.The large entree sized plate-bowls are unmanageable with silverware...Aldea knows what its about, rightly believes in the complex specificity of Portuguese cooking. But the flavor combinations are too serious, almost parental. What they need to do is create food that makes yummy noises trip from the tongues of happy guests - after all, that is the point of cooking, no?" [Yelp]

The Great News: An Eater commenter reports a successful trip, loving all of the entrees, but paying special mention to the escolar, "The interior design evokes that same reverential, minimalist feel that Corton possesses. Staff was helpful; I asked permission from the front manager to photograph the food (no flash photography allowed). Wine list is extensive and pulls from all corners of the earth. All three main courses were exceptional, but we both felt that the escolar, with its market vegetable medley and lovely wine sauce, was the clear winner. The arroz de pato was also unbelievably good. All in all, it was a lovely dinner, and I do plan to return soon. [Eater]

The Mixed News: Another Yelper enters a split verdict: "The decor is small, modern. The service was spot on. Efficient. None of the missteps that you often see in a new restaurant. The ramps weren't your typical sweet pickled ramps. They were flavored with cumin and crunchy with greens. The pig ears were crispy but bland. No salt. No nothing. Just crispy. The jamon serrano was great. It came with one slice of pan con tomate (pa amb tomaquet) which was painfully bland and UN-salted... which made the salty half of my tongue sad..." [Yelp]

The Brief, Outstanding News: @gastropoda sends word that there must be something in the "duck rice," tweeting, "'Duck rice' at Aldea best thing in a restaurant in a long time: confit plus chorizo. Pig's ear w/ramps chewy. Counter is where to sit." [Twitter]
—Matt Duckor


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