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.

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