I can sum up this post in one sentence: at the end of the meal, I said to Ari, "I wish we had just gotten here so I could eat it all again". The food was unbelievable, it was definitely the best I have had in New York (although I haven't actually been to that many restaurants here). Located on 19th and 5th, at the edge of Chelsea, Aldea opened up about nine months ago and seems to be doing very well. Chef George Mendes is the son of Portuguese immigrants and has some pretty hefty credentials backing him up (Bouley, Lespinasse, Le Zoo, among others), and clearly knows what he is doing. The interior is modern and narrow, letting the food take full precedence. Next time I am definitely going to request to be seated downstairs next to the open kitchen, but the ambiance upstairs was still lovely. An eclectic mix of music played over the sound system, including the Shins. The entire staff was lovely and very informative.
But most importantly, the food. We had a hard time deciding on an appetizer, but ended up choosing the crispy pork belly with szechuan pepper, thin slices of apple, and a maple reduction ($9). The first bite was heaven. Think of the best bacon you have ever eaten, but then in addition to the crispiness, it also melts in your mouth with just a hint of sweetness and pepper. This set the tone for the whole meal, and we were both a little worried that the entrees wouldn't live up to the same deliciousness. Luckily, we were wrong and both were excellent. I had the scallops with farro risotto, cucumber, and blood orange ($28), and Ari had the Arroz de Pato ($24), a paella-like dish with duck and sausage. My scallops were perfectly seared, and the cucumber farro set them off nicely. A little yogurt provided a tangy contrast to the sweetness of the blood orange on top. Ari's Arroz de Pato was excellent as well, the sausage spicy and aged, the duck perfectly cooked and topped with duck cracklings for crispiness. Our waitress said that they snack on it all night long. We each had a glass of Aragonês & Syrah, Chaminé, Alentejo, from Portugal ($10), which was excellent. I haven't had a lot of Portuguese wine, and as expected, it was a perfect accompaniment.We finished the meal with a carmelized brioche, served with blood orange gel and creme fraiche pink-peppercorn ice cream ($10) and the sonhos ($10), or "little dreams". Which they were. The brioche tasted like extremely light French toast, its sweetness offset by the spice of the peppercorns and the sourness of the blood orange and creme fraiche. The sonhos were like the best donuts I have ever eaten, covered in sugar and served with three different sauces: chocolate, orange-mandarin compote, and apple cider caramel. However, somehow it all managed to not be overpoweringly sweet. Our waitress gave us each a glass of muscat from Greece to go with the desserts, which was really lovely and light without being cloying.
This is definitely a place for a special occasion (at least on my budget), but it was well worth every cent. They do have a three course lunch special for $20.09, which I will absolutely be returning for...and maybe someday when I have a real job I can try the fois gras terrine.
A look of complete satisfaction after the first bite of arroz de pato -- what more do I need?