For an up-close-and-personal meal with a chef: Aldea, Flatiron
While everyone eagerly waits for Lupolo to open, we'll be at George Mendes's gem, thank you very much.
"I'd rather do this than talk about music any day of the week," says Daniel Kessler, the guitarist for Interpol. We're sitting at the chef's counter ofAldea, George Mendes's 17th Street restaurant, and Kessler is taking a break from promoting the band's new album, El Pintor. For a dude who's in a band that's known for brooding, Kessler's enthusiasm for restaurants is almost surprising. While trying to schedule the dinner, he quickly offered a full index of restaurants he wanted check out: Bâtard, Contra,Sushi Yasuda, Racines, and élan among them. “I’m a little OCD about stuff," Kessler says. "So once something’s on my brain I’m like, I must go and do. It’s very Rain Man-esque."
“Right now we’re off to the races,” says George Mendes, with the sound of clanging in the background. He’s standing at the Chelsea — or maybe we'll call it NoMad — construction site that will house his new, un-named restaurant scheduled to open later in the fall. It’s long been anticipated that Mendes, a Portuguese-American chef who just celebrated five years at his well-regarded Flatiron restaurant Aldea, would expand into a more casual style. Earlier this year, he popped up at Madison Square Eats with the highly enjoyable 100 Sardines, a lunchtime tent that served sardine toasts and salted cod croquettes, two classic dishes from his native Portugal that New Yorkers and visitors could not get enough of.
Aldea, is a spanish name for a small village and in many ways Michelin Chef George Mendes has created a small slice of Portugal in his exciting portuguese restaurant on 17th Street in NYC.
Chef Mendes, while doing research for his cookbook, returned to Portugal, his homeland and his culinary roots. In a recent Wall Street Journal Article, He stated: :"it’s a powerful thing to be a chef for so long, then discover this rustic, gutsy cooking style—and realize that it’s actually where you started out. That trip, I think, made me a better, braver cook. It taught me not to be preoccupied with appealing to a modern New York palate, not to be afraid to bring forth more regional and classical cooking, to dig deeper into my upbringing. To use my roots"
Aldea, Chef Mendes restaurant, is narrow, long, minimalist in its furnishings and table settings. The idea is for patrons to feel comfortable & casual while dining on exquisite Iberian "food as art" creations from the open air kitchen. Chef Mendes is a handsome, dynamic, ubiquitous presence in his kitchen. His staff acts in unison with him and watching them all in action is to witness a highly stylized ballet of arms, legs, pots, pans and ovens all functioning at the highest level.
We were invited by Chris Lauber, the youthful General Manager, to sample some of the most exciting cuisine in the city. We entered the restaurant and past a small, but very active bar and some individual tables. We were seated us in a section of the dining room adjacent to the open air kitchen and a long stairway leading to a second floor dining area.
After reviewing the menu , we chose an 8 course chef's tasting menu:
We began our Iberian dining experience with: "Petiscos" the portuguese equivalent of spanish tapas.
- A large bowl of Gazpacho "Alentejana- made with pickled rock shrimp, gooseberry, and wild herbs. Aldea serves this dish by first filling the bowl with the delicious herbs, gooseberry and and rock shrimp and then pouring the liquid from a beautiful decanter. The Gazpacho was visually exciting and a taste delight
-Octopus and potato- made in an octopus broth, tomato, soffrito and coriander. Dining on this dish changed my perception of Octopus as a delicacy which was both filling and enjoyable.
-Next on our seafood journey was a Portuguese baby squid stew made with chorizo, cod roe and ginger. Interesting and beautifully plated.
Dayboat Scallop- Our favorite dish on the tasting menu...made with baby beet, oyster mushroom, and husk tomatoes.- The Scallop was large pearlessent, with just a hint of it being grilled.
Bacalhau Gommes DeSa- A ample portion of salt cod casserole made with potato, onion and black olive.
Duck Breast- Our second most favorite dish made with delicately sliced blood red rare duck meat made with hen of the wood mushrooms, sunchoke, and red wine jus. Extraordinary in appearance and taste!
Chef Mendes then served a fabulous housemade honey sponge cake- with zimbro cheese, yogurt, crispy milk, and yuzu ice cream. The perfect sweet to end a fabulous culinary journey.
Aldea is a trailblazer with its innovative interpretation of portuguese dishes. Chef Mendes is a Michelin award winner and critically acclaimed for his "avante garde" cooking and style. The combination of Chef Mendes, a welcoming staff and a fantastic menu makes Aldea one of New York's top dining venues.
Aldea 31 West 17th Street (bet. 5th & 6th) tel: 212-675-7223
If you eat at Gato, you’ll notice that practically every table has kale-and-wild-mushroom paella on it. Bobby Flay is smart to offer an updated version of an old favorite: Who doesn’t love caramelized, crusty Bomba rice? Paella has always been popular, and Flay’s hot dish reminds Grub that there are plenty of other good, unconventional ones around town: Alex Raij makes a Valencian toasted-noodle paella, and at Cata, there’s a version with foie gras and duck confit. But here’s the snag: Since paella is most often served family-style, it can get pricey (especially when you add foie gras to it). Many New York restaurants offer several paellas, with varying prices, so we’ve ranked them by price, starting with the lowest possible option.
George Mendes once won Best Paella for his Arroz de Pato, even though it isn’t technically paella at all. He makes his paella-like Arroz de Pato with duck confit, chorizo, black olive, citrus puree, and duck cracklings.