Apple Slices

9th October
written by spd

The austere, but elegant dining room at Aldea (img: Aldea)

Until two weeks ago, I hadn’t had much Portuguese fare since performing in Macau, China with West Side Story in 2005. This might partly explain my attraction to Aldea, George Mendez’ debut Flatiron restaurant, which has garnered glowing notices since it’s opening in May. His understated riffs on tradition Portuguese meals combine rusticity and refinement to create seemingly simple food that you want to eat. The setting is a narrow, austere two-level dining room, with six coveted seats overlooking the open kitchen in the back.

The concise dinner menu lists twenty-two items, of which fourteen are petiscos (Portuguese amuse), charcuterie, or appetizers. We began with the Sea Urchin Toast with Cauliflower Cream, Sea Lettuce, and Lime. I could take or leave it, but I appreciated the homage to Portugal’s Asian outposts. I followed with the dish that initially caught my attention when reading the review in Time Out New York: Migliorelli Peas with Tennessee Bacon, Soft-Poached Egg, Green Garlic and Truffle. The dish was comforting and straight forward and the egg was a thing of beauty, poached to perfection at precicely 64 degrees. However, the Tenessee Bacon was oppressively smoky and robbed the shaved black truffle of its presence on the plate. Still, I found myself finishing every last pea. David’s Baby Cuttlefish with Carmelized Lychee, Mentaiko, and Squid Ink was clean and focused, but I longed for more delicious lychee to balance the bitterness of the ink. He loved it.

When ordering our entrees, we asked the waiter for suggestions. He described the Arroz de Pato as simple and classic — “something your grandmother would make.” Sure, if your grandmother could sous vide a duck breast! This dish took traditional Portuguese flavor profiles to new heights! Duck appearing in three incarnations (sous vide breast, confit, and mouth-watering cracklings), dehydrated olives packing quite a punch, dollops of apricot paste lining the plate, brightening the rich flavor of the duck and thinly sliced chorizo. It was strongest dish of the evening — one worth returning for. We also had the Sea-Salted Chatham Cod with market cranberry and fava beans with lemon-basil mussel broth, because I couldn’t conclude a Portuguese meal without tasting Mendez’ preparation of this signature ingredient. Satisfyingly seared on the outside and resting on a bed plump beans, this dish looked very promising. The fish was quite nice, and the mussels hiding among the beans were so tender that my fork could could slice them without a fight. However, the same smoke permeated the broth. When we asked, the waiter said that the chef uses lardon to flavor the mussel broth. This is a case where the phrase “everything’s better with bacon” might fail to be true.

It appears that Mendez creates his menu like a couture designer creates a collection. Just as a fabric would re-appear two looks later, Mendez echos certain ingredients throughout the meal. In the case of the bacon, it felt redundant, but we were happy when the apricot paste showed its face again as one of the dipping sauces for the delicious “sonhos ‘little dreams'” (small donuts, elegantly enveloped in a linen napkin).

We probably didn’t need to order dessert, as a selection of small confections come with the check. The meal was flecked with these fine dining touches, presented here in an unstuffy setting. The food was moderately priced and inventive without being challenging. It’s the sort of restaurant that is easy to enjoy, and I would spend my time and money here again.

Aldea. 64 W 10th St.  New York, NY 10011-8702.  ph. (212) 505-7777

Comments Off on Apple Slice: Aldea in the Flatiron District
16th July
written by spd

The bar at Aureole in the Bank of America Center. image: courtesy of Aureole. all food images: Steve Legato

Until last Tuesday night, if asked where I had enjoyed my greatest meal in New York, I would have replied: ‘Hmm… Prune.  Either sitting at the bar with my brother, sucking down bone marrow, and indecisively sharing a slew of starters and entrees under the attentive eye of the lesbian bartender… or picking apart a whole roasted Branzini with my boyfriend at the same place.  Or perhaps, luxuriating for hours at the Michelin-starred Public with my boyfriend, brother, and best friend Bree.  I still remember the scallops!’  Now, without question, it’s Aureole, Charlie Palmer’s chic new digs at the Bank of America Building off Bryant Park.

In a gorgeous private dining room reserved for diners trying the reasonable $84 dollar three-course pre-fix, exquisite food made up for the piped-in elevator music that I hope will be replaced.  This is American cuisine at it’s best… and we paired it, shamelessly, with a White Burgundy.

3701681282_7a14b44570If an amuse bouche is intended to, literally, amuse your mouth, the White Asparagus Soup with Watercress “Caviar” and Tapioca did exactly that.  Not an overpowering start to a meal, but texturally playful, and beautiful.  My boyfriend started with the Diver Sea Scallop “Sandwich” with Pan Seared Foie Gras, Sugar Snap Peas, Passion Fruit, and Chives.  This starter, pictured in the Time Out New York article announcing Aureole’s chic new location, was one of the stars of the evening.  A perfect scallop, cooked between paper thin Pullman toasts, giving a lot of texture to every bite.  The savory foie gras was beautiful with the sweet passion fruit reduction.  Charmed by the smoked corn bread, and the mix of sweet and spicy, I chose the Sauteed Foie Gras with Maine Blueberries, Smoked Corn Bread, Pickled Jalapenos and Macadamia nuts.  The corn bread was a bit overpowering, but the foie gras practically disintegrated on the tongue!

3701718080_73045066a4It’s hard to prepare veal and sweetbreads without having them feel unseasonably heavy, but my Veal Tenderloin with Sweetbreads, Haricot Verts (an unannounced substitute for wild asparagus), Charred Onion, Georgia Peaches, Pickled Ramps, and Lovage Veal Jus arrived and felt like a gift of summer.  The dish had underlying Asian and Southern notes, and David noted that the veal was so tender, you could slice it with a credit card!

His entrée, Canadian Lobster Tail Vs. Berkshire Pork Belly with Squash, Porcini Mushrooms, Cape Goosberries, Jura Wine and Almond Emulsion was lovely!  However, placed on two opposite sides of the rectangular plate, the win was apparent: putting this poor pork belly against the most masterfully cooked piece of lobster I’ve ever tasted was like throwing a little league team into Yankee stadium.  The pork was the only forgettable dish of the night.

3700852399_e5184650e7After dinner, a rhubarb sorbet, with Tapioca pudding, was intended to serve as a palate cleanser, but was so oppressively sweet, I had one bite and pushed it aside so I might still have some feeling in my tongue.  Good thing; the desserts were extraordinary!  Sweet Corn Souffle with Blueberry Chutney, and Brown Butter was served with a tart frozen yogurt.  David didn’t care for the Chilled Strawberry Soup with Queso Fresco, Cilantro, and Ancho Meringue but that’s due to his dislike of cilantro in general.  I thought it was a revelation!  To have a dessert with this much bite provided a much-needed detour from the severe sweet that had preceded it.  A cone of petite, Chinese style donuts were brought out, along with a sampling of treats from the house chocolatier.

3700858397_0742313659All in all, it was some of most artfully prepared food I’ve tasted… Mr. Palmer has earned his own personal halo for this!  And, with 15% off all checks until September 15th, you will never get such bang for your buck.  GO!  (everyone’s doing it…  well, ok, not everyone… but we did see Gael Greene licking her fork in the a la carte dining room!)

Aureole.  One Bryant Park/135 West 42nd Street.  ph: 212.319.1660

Follow up, July 22nd: I have taken to reading Gael Greene’s blog, Insatiable Critic, and after our spotting at Aureole, I checked to see if she wrote of her experience in the Bar Lounge that night.  She toted her “Road Food Warrior,” Steve Richter along, and he documented the evening with photos.  Lo and behold!  Who do I spy in the seventh photo down?  My boyfriend David, fork in hand!  I’m eclipsed by another diner, but you can see my white burgandy.  I’m so tickled by this… apparently more tickled than she was by any of her dishes, with the exception of the papas fritas.  Head to the dining room, Gael!!