Portuguese a la Aldea

I was first inspired to try George Mendes' Aldea in NYC after seeing his famous Duck Rice featured on Food Network's The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  It has duck three ways, and in my world, duck x 3 = magic.

Happily, my foodie/fashionista twin Steph was eager to hit this spot herself, so I conveniently made late reservations for us via OpenTable as we waited for Zubin Mehta, conductor for the New York Phil Harmonic, to take the stage and give us his performance of Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 (good God, I love technology).

ALDEA Restaurant, in New York's Flatiron district.  Pictured: Lobster Artichoke Salad and Spanish Octopus à la Plancha.
My first impression of Aldea was excellent: all open kitchen, with a dining room full of clean lines, modern palettes and simple upscale decor.  The service was fantastic, and as we settled into our charming corner table and ordered from their superb wine list, I was ready to be happy, Portuguese style.

First up: Lobster Artichoke Salad, followed by their Spanish Octopus à la plancha, served with roasted celery root, potato, and lemon-squid ink purée.  The lobster was fresh and succulent, and the artichoke complimented the frothy dish with an unexpectedly earthy bite, but the octopus...  Tender, lemony, and perfect.  It's so easy to ruin octopus, but Mendes knows what he's doing.  A favorite.

ALDEA: Duck Rice, with Duck Cracklings, Chorizo, Duck Breast, and Duck Confit.
Then we ordered the rice.  Hmm.  Beautiful, but not what I expected.  When someone raves about a dish, especially another foodie, it sets a bar that's often hard to reach, even as you hope to sail over it.  We both found the rice good, but not remarkable.  Surprisingly, it was a little greasy (not duck-fat yum, but greasy) and...dare I say it...a little salty (this from a girl who will salt her salt).  With three kinds of duck, I figured one would shine.  None did.  It's a check off my NYC Culinary bucket list, and that's that.

But then ... there were the beignets. Or, as they are known at Aldea, Sonhos or "Little Dreams," served with three equally dreamy sauces: chocolate-hazelnut, quince compote, and salted caramel.  Shut up.  I think I might have licked the salted caramel clean (see? salt freak).  I hope no one was looking.

ALDEA Desserts: Sonhos "Little Dreams" and Chocolate Mousse with Pear.
Finally, our server recommended a chocolate and roasted pear dessert that was also fabulous, creamy, and lighter than air.  I'm a chocolate & fruit lunatic, and while my favorite combo is usually orange or raspberry, I am now a nut about chocolate & pear.  It's ridiculous.  Unexpected.  Always a winner with me.

All in all?  I'd go back in a minute.  We felt tucked in, unrushed, thoroughly indulged, and left happy.  While not a best thing ever culinary adventure, it was delicious.  And in New York, as anywhere, a delicious meal is worthy of a second helping.


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