I've been meaning to dine at Aldea earlier this week, but the continuous downpours forced me to delay the dinner to last night. Other than the dessert, everything was fabulous. :) and :(
My reservation was at 5:30pm, right when the restaurant opened for dinner service. To my surprise, 2-3 tables were already occupied by the time I arrived at 5:35. The maitre d' asked me if I'd like a seat at the chef's counter. How could I say no?
I'd been to Aldea once before for lunch. The kitchen was much much tamer during lunch service. During dinner hours, however, the tables quickly filled up and the kitchen swung into full bustling action half an hour into opening. It was a full house! What terrific fun it was to watch the dynamics of the busy kitchen from a few feet away. Chef George Mandes was very much hands-on: cooking some of the dishes himself, and always plating and inspecting every single plate that went out.
Enough chit-chat, onto the meal:
1. Sea Urchin Toast - cauliflower purée, wasabi, mustard seed, mustard oil, lime juice and zest, shiso
Jaw-droppingly delicious. What a beautiful harmony of texture and flavor this was. The thin toast was super crispy and the sea urchin lobes delightfully sweet and creamy. The wasabi and mustard seed provided the perfect balance to counteract the concentrated richness of the urchin. Just heavenly. It seems Aldea sources its uni from Sunrise Mart. I saw the label clearly on the box. Now you can get some quality sea urchin directly yourself.
2. Spanish Octopus a la Plancha - heirloom tomatoes, burrata cheese, apple-watercress emulsion
If Marea's Lobster with Burrata and Grilled Octopus had a child, its name would be Aldea's Spanish Octopus a la Plancha. This dish combines the best features of the two: the creamy burrata, and bright tomatoes, and basil from the lobster dish; and the smoky, tender yet toothsome grilled octopus tentacle from the octopus dish. Voila, a wonderful dish is born. Just fantastic.
3. Arroz de Pato - duck breast, duck confit, chorizo, olive, orange
This was a delicious and very generous dish. There were plenty of duck chunks and a nice amount of chorizo as well. The breast slices were a gorgeous pink and meltingly tender, the leg meat hearty and earthy, and the chorizo added another layer of satisfying richness. I've started becoming wary when ordering dishes that contained chorizo because they could easily be oversalted. But this, this dish was perfectly seasoned and not only did it taste delicious, it smelled lovely as well.
4. Sonhos "Little Dreams" - chocolate hazelnut, rhubarb compote, salted caramel dipping sauces
These were the only disappointment of the meal. I was expecting something like The Modern Bar Room's beignets. However, these fried doughs were wet in the center, not fluffy throughout like I expected and preferred. At first I thought these sonhos were undercooked, but no way would the fried doughs puff up if that had been the case, right? I tried to salvage these the best I could. They were still tasty when dipped in the chocolate hazelnut and rhubarb compote dipping sauces, just not like The Modern's airy, fluffy, puffy beignets. Maybe sonhos just aren't to my liking. Sadness.
Still, a great (though unfortunately, not wonderful due to the sonhos) meal overall. I enjoyed the Sea Urchin Toast and the Octopus the best. And, if you're a party of one or two, I definitely recommend sitting at the chef's counter and watch the action in the kitchen unfold before your eyes. I saw the Sea Urchin Toast being made at least 5 times. I can probably recite each step to assembling this toast now. Haha.
31 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011