After being hyped on this place by friends and food media for the last year, I was pretty confident Aldea was going to be a John Starks over the entire Bulls team kind of slam dunk. Not the case. While some of their highly touted dishes - namely the sea urchin toast and duck paella - were certainly quite good, the rest of the food wasn't nearly as impressive. Some of it even had to be sent back, and we rarely ever play that game.
Aldea pimps out their chef, George Mendes, New Orleans style. In NOLA, chef photos and accolades greet you at the front door and decorate restaurant walls, watching you eat. By the time your meal is finished, you know damn well that John Besh or Donald Link is the man that made it all possible. Aldea revolves its world around Mendes in a similar way. Our waiter must have dropped George's name three or four times, and I guarantee he's required to do that. It all feels a little desperate...if your food is that good, New Yorkers will recognize. No need to shove it in our faces. Despite all the name dropping, Aldea is a very comfortable eating environment. We lucked out and got the best seat in the house, the back booth right in front of the kitchen, which you should absolutely request when you're making a reservation. Overall, we're not saying Aldea is a bad restaurant, it just doesn't live up to all the hype. We'll go back sometime, we're just not in any rush.
Sea Urchin Toast
Ok. This was good. Really good. But it's also incredibly rich. Sea urchin sits on top of a thin toasted cracker-thing with cauliflower cream and sea lettuce. Pretty great.Salt Cod Croquettas
Possibly the creamiest cod crox we've ever had. I personally enjoyed them, but the rest of the table was not feelin' the ultra-smooth texture of these.Wellfleet Oysters
Six Oysters, seventeen bucks. I mean, come on. That's a bit much, especially when they suck. The oysters were quite disappointing, as was the pickled ramp mignonette. Next.Slow-Poached Egg
This was excellent. A slow poached egg sitting in a light spring garlic broth with truffle, sweet peas and smoked bacon. Break the yolk and mix everything together for the ultimate bite.Tilefish
Holy crap, this was gross. So bad that we actually sent it back to catch a little fire (the fish wasn't cooked at all). It appeared that they plated and garnished the fish right out of the fridge, and this wasn't supposed to be a sushi dish. When it came back cooked, it didn't matter. This fish tasted like it'd been sitting around for weeks and the biggest travesty is that it came highly recommended from our waiter. Stay away from the tilefish.Arroz De Pato
The dish Aldea is famous for, and pretty much the reason that we came. New York Magazine awarded it "Best Paella" and the Village Voice named it the Best Duck Dish of 2009. It's definitely really good, but as with this entire restaurant, it just didn't blow us (or the rest our my table), away. A paella of duck confit, chorizo, olive, and duck cracklings, the texture is fantastic, but the flavors are just a tad too overbearing.Pork and Clams
Don't let the name fool you, this really is just a pork belly dish. I thought we'd get a healthy dose of both belly and clams, but that wasn't the case. There were maybe three clams on the plate, seemingly for decoration only. That being said, the thin strips of pork belly were quite savory and the sweet and sour glaze was really tasty.
Definitely some high quality ham, but for $21, it's not worth the high price tag. Spend the money on something else.