5 Stars - Examiner.com - by Barry Kay

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