Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pretty and Precious at Aldea

I had such high hopes for Aldea. It had received raves from NY mag, TimeOut and the like. There was no reason to think the Portuguese-style resto wouldn't deliver a stellar meal. Well ... as with movie-watching, it would've been best to go in with expectations lowered. Though the flavors were refined and seasoning skillfully controlled, everything was just a bit too pretty and precious. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for pretty, but not at the expense of other (more important?) things like passion, for example. There was something lacking here, something missing—the dishes just didn't excite us.

Add to that the fact that the portion sizes were a tad skimpy, making the price to portion ratio not quite right in our books. Not that we expected massive helpings, but heck, one more shrimp here, another tablespoon of rice there would've probably made us leave thinking less about the dent made in our wallets and more about the ingredients married onto each of the plates parading across our table.

We liked the fresh flavors of the spring ramps, bok choy and orange slivers along with the tartness of the cumin yogurt swabbed along the side of the bowl. But the chewy texture of the pig ears was less than appealing.

The seared shrimp Alhinho bathed in a reduction of shrimp jus spiked with smoky paprika, coriander and garlic had some really nice, bright flavors, but at $15 for 4 pieces, it made you wonder whether you were really getting your money's worth. I mean, there wasn't really anything new we were tasting here ...

When sea urchin is fresh, it's really good—creamy and luscious, with the barest hint of the sea. This version, snaking across a bit of flatbread thinly plastered with cauliflower cream, garnished with sea lettuce and drizzled with a little lime, was quite pleasant. I can think of other times when I've enjoyed sea urchin more though.

OK, hands down, Aldea's arroz de pato was the best savory dish that came to our table. Sadly, for an entree, the portion size was really quite small. I mean, come on! I could've done with a few more scoops of this wonderfully flavored saffron rice (aka paella) crowned with the tenderest of duck breast, more duck confit tucked inside along with chorizo, crispy duck cracklings, olive slivers and dried fruit, served with a squirt of apricot puree on the side.

DY thought the desserts were what Aldea did best. The sonhos (donut holes) were light and airy; they came with 3 intensely flavored sauces: spiced chocolate, rhubarb compote and apple cider caramel. The moist and fluffy caramelized brioche was perfectly punctuated with a sweet-tart blood orange gel and crème fraiche-pink peppercorn ice cream. And the creamy caramel parfait with apple-cinnamon compote, cranberry, graham cracker ice cream was not only pleasing to the eye but to the palate as well.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Boozy Brunch at Breslin Bar & Dining Room

My first Sunday in NY, I met my (then and now) cook friends at the newish Breslin Bar & Dining Room in the uber hip and hipstery Ace Hotel (Stumptown is in the building, folks) for a long and lazy, boozy brunch. Though I can't say this is the best brunch I've had by a long shot—there were some misses along with the hits—I gotta say, I really appreciated the fact that we were able to sit down right away sans rezzies in this 130-seat, two-storey eatery adorned in all manner of pig-, caribou- and deer-themed accoutrement.

And I really liked that we were able to wile away the hours—3-plus hours to be sure—without feeling any kind of pressure from our server to get the hell out. With that said, I did manage to snap a few of those hits and misses while catching up with the ladies ...
YSH's steak 'n egg special with asparagus was a hit, so she said.

Home-made ciabatta doughnuts: 2 said hit, 2 said miss. I fell into the latter category ... the dough was just a bit too chewy and boozy for my taste (the vanilla cognac hadn't been properly cooked off—it overpowered). Thumbs up on the banana ice cream though.

Chargrilled lamb burger with cumin mayo and thrice cooked chips — This was my order. I asked for a side of ketchup only to be told by my server that the burger was best left unadulterated by such pedestrian sauce as ketchup. (OK, she didn't quite say it that way, but that was the gist of her tone ...). So, of course, I tried it the way the chef meant for it to be eaten. It was nice, though nothing terribly special; I honestly didn't detect anything worked into the meat (spices, sauces, herbs of any kind) to make it stand out ... the cumin mayo made it a little more interesting as did the feta cheese and raw red onions ... hmm, but not by much. So, I slapped on the ketchup, and it was 10 times better.

The Eton mess — tasted better than it looked ... presentation was a bit, well, ugly ... I have to admit I'm not the biggest fan of meringue, though the pineapples were delightful especially paired with the mint.

I'd say the best parts of the meal were Breslin's cocktails, which are all made with fresh-squeezed juices and house-made syrups. My "Rush of Blood to the Head" (what a great name) comprising Prosecco with blood orange liqueur, hibiscus syrup and lemon zest was thirst-quenchingly delicious on this warm, sunshiney Sunday afternoon. So were YSH's zesty bloody Mary and MK's silky smooth "Liquid Swords" made of rye whiskey, orange curacao, aperol and green chartreuse with orange zest.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sorella Stands Out in the LES

I don't get out to NY as often as I'd like, and I've always got a (long) list of favorite standbys I try my damnedest to get through while there. But on this last visit, I decided to shake things up a bit, and instead squeeze some hot, new restos into the skedge. So many places to try, so little time ...

Anyway, on the new tip, Sorella fit the bill. Opened in early 2009, this Lower East Side Piedmontese wine bar puts out some amazingly delectable small plates in a really sweet space. Pretty much everything we ordered—save for the white bean special which was sadly a bit too salty and mushy to boot—was a homerun.

Following are just a handful of the not-so-small plates we enjoyed that night.

Acciughe al verde — lovely little Ligurian anchovies resting atop a creamy lemon butter and salsa verde, sprinkled with hazelnuts, accompanied by super crispy flatbread.

Delicate little gnocchi dressed in a rich Castelrosso (cow's milk) cream sauce, spiked with a dice of brown butter pears and garnished generously with chives. We liked this dish so much, we got two.

Pork rillettes — a really nice braised pork (braised in fat, that is) emulsified to a super luscious texture, accompanied by a dice of mango and some nice crispy bruschetta.

Paté de fegato — chef Emma Hearst's (yes, of the mega-millionaire Hearsts) signature dish comprising a duck fat English muffin bread with a veritable brick of artery-clogging, creamy chicken liver mousse sitting on top, along with a fried egg and huge wedges of candied bacon.

Tajarin — freshly made egg pasta tagliolini with heaping portions of lamb ragu, black pepper ricotta, Parmesan, pistachios and mint.

Grilled quail with a vincotto glaze (vincotto being a dark, sweet, dense grape), plopped on top of 'fried' riso venere (aka short grain, black rice), watercress and orange salad.

I gotta say, of the half a dozen or so new eateries that I added to cart this year, Sorella tops my NY newcomer list.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ippudo ... Again

I still heart Ippudo.

I waxed poetic—and went three times—during my last trip to NYC, so I think I'll just leave it to my last post on Ippudo. ... Everything I said then still stands now.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tipsy Parson Is Super Tasty

OK, so no matter what anyone says—and I had at least four different folks telling me not so good things—I like Tipsy Parson. A lot. Of course, all of my pals who found the Chelsea resto less than stellar conceded that they'd gone when it had first opened and/or a few months back. I decided to chalk it up to a kitchen that only just recently found its rhythm. And we were the lucky recipients of that newfound rhythm.

Let's see ... what our 6-top enjoyed included:
* the fried oysters—moist and tender, they popped in your mouth when you ate 'em.
* the most heavenly smooth bourbon chicken liver mousse with a perfectly sweet and citrusy green tomato marmalade, grilled potato bread and upland cress.
* baked Grafton cheddar mac and cheese with big ol' bacon bits—creamy on the inside, browned and crisped on the outside.
* a big bowl of creamy, cheese-y grits

My main was a honking 20-ounce pork chop, grilled to perfection—it oozed juicy goodness and tons of piggy flavor. Bitter braised greens and buttery stone-ground grits rounded out the hearty dish.

We finished with strawberry-rhubarb pie for 2 ... pretty tasty though the crust could've been a bit more tender and flaky, and the rhubarb cooked a bit longer ... the only slight ding of the night.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Permanent Brunch & Burger Hits the Spot

This is why Americans are fat. Cousins MP and YJP each ordered a heart attack on a plate as did I at Permanent Brunch & Burger in the East Village. Talk about a proper kick-off to my week-plus eating spree in the City.

We strolled on in and got seated right away in the small eatery, and proceeded to eat everything set in front of us. MP got the fried chicken and waffles served with a cinnamon-spiked apple compote that had her cooing.

YJP ordered the PB&B ham and cheese-stuffed French toast—a fluffy carbo pile of savory and sweet goodness sandwiching Hatfield smoked ham and white cheddar cheese, drizzled with Dijon maple jus. As if that weren't enough, a pile of crispety crunchety fatso onion rings came nestled by its side.

I had the bouncy, springy stack o' buttermilk pancakes with fresh fruit doused in Vermont maple syrup and an oozing mess of whipped cream.

Loved the subway tiles with photos flanking the walls on both sides. According to, the owner Lesly Bernard painstakingly put each one in by hand. A labor of love. And it shows.