Below is a recap of a recent meal at aldea. The photos can be found on my blog: http://ulteriorepicure.com/2010/05/19...
Recently, on the one-year anniversary of aldea’s opening, the chef and owner, George Mendes, tweeted, “Never thought 1 year ago that rice would be our signature dish.”
Mendes’s “Arroz de Pato” – a paella stained with pimenton and saffron and enriched with duck stock – is delicious.
There are salty bits of black olives. There are strips of duck confit, meaty and tender. There are slices of chorizo, spicy and smoky. And there’s duck “crackling” - impossibly crisp duck skin that’s crumbled over the dish at the last minute.
All of this decorates a fantastically oily and flavorful tumble of rice topped with slices of juicy duck breast, sous vide. There wasn’t as much soccarat – the crisped rice at the bottom of the paella – as I expected, but everything else about it was so comforting, so engaging, I hardly minded.
A little salty? Perhaps. But clip of that sweet-tart apricot puree streaking across the dish like a comet and everything falls back into balance.
A favorite dish?
It might have easily been that rice and duck paella. But it might just as easily have been the "Foie Gras 'Mi-Cuit'" also.
That silky plaque of foie gras was escorted by a famous couple: beer and nuts.
I think that they forgot to plate the birch beer gelee, as it arrived later in a side dish. But once it arrived, the party was complete, painting a daring and successful portrait of bitterness, a difficult flavor to flatter. Upending expectations, the creaminess of the foie gras helped temper the bitterness of the beer foam, beer gelee and cocoa nibs. Chopped peanuts rounded out the flavor as well, along with dabs of sweet syrup (was it madeira? root beer? I can't recall exactly). This was truly an exciting dish to experience.
Our dessert, the "Banana Brulee" seemed to ping that foie gras experience, with bitter chicory ice cream checked by a rich, sweet banana parfait on one end and a tart lemony cream on the other. Clusters of rice puffs glazed in dark caramel gave the dish a crunchy echo.
The food at aldea is not boring. At its best, it’s big-hearted – a generosity of flavors, a playground of textures. There’s something unexpected in each dish (for that scallop, it was a tiny supreme of orange perched on top and those sturdy cubes of cucumbers).
At noon on a quiet Tuesday, the restaurant was empty. By the time we left a couple of hours later, quite a few tables had been occupied and vacated, including the other two seats at the counter. But even still, aldea deserves more traffic. It’s a dependable restaurant with a unique voice. And it hits its mark exactly, not attempting to outdo or over-think. I recommend it.