"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Aldea - January 8, 2011

Hailed by the overinclusive Michelin with an often questionable taste (outside its own territory – namely, France) and revered by the dining community of New York suffering from a queer mass psychology, Aldea would not have merited my weekly allotments of restaurant dining for, after all, I have only one stomach. However, I like to be surprised, challenged and, if possible, blown away once in a while, so that my life will not simply be about me and me and me – I utterly bore myself sometimes. Therefore, I followed someone else’ advice, instead of my own, and ended up in the private room on the second floor dining room of Aldea, which resembled uncannily like a doctor’s sitting room on the Upper East Side.

CURED FOIE GRAS – Bosc pear, maple syrup, white port

Plated like a zen garden with a series of concentric circles, the cube of foie gras was distressingly small at first sight. However, the first mouthful revealed the rich depth of foie gras. The flavor was so concentrated that a small cube in moderation was indeed more than sufficient. The texture was like ganache with the same velvety and dense consistency, which melted upon contact with your mouth from the body heat and released its potent wealth of flavor. This cured foie gras may have just surpassed the one at Petanque* in Buenos Aires. On the contrary, the mashed Bosc pear was a texturally inadequate companion.
*Not the game.

SEA URCHIN TOAST – cauliflower purée, mustard seed, sea lettuce

My dining companion exclaimed upon the arrival of the sea urchin toast: “This is Portuguese sushi.” Aptly put, the sea urchin rested on thin crispy bread – the type of fancy “artisan” crackers you can buy in any stores. The sea urchin was sweet and not overly briny, but it was already starting to be “runny” when I put the fragile piece into my mouth. The sea urchin must have been out of water or its own prickly shell for too long. In addition, the fact that some of the small sacks of flesh were destroyed during its removal showed lack of skill in handling this delicacy.

SPANISH OCTOPUS “A LA PLANCHA” – squid ink-citrus purée, chick pea stew, leek ash

No, the octopus was not gummy or ill-tasting; but “not bad” did not equal “good.” The chick pea stew, on the other hand, was rather pleasantly bold and smoky.

SLOW-POACHED EGG – hen consommé, Benton’s bacon, root vegetables, Perigord black truffles                 

I think the good citizens of Perigord will not be happy to be associated with the truffles served at Aldea – they had absolutely no aroma. The egg was beautifully cooked, but the consommé was flat; combined with bacon and vegetables, it more resembled something served in a paper carton in one of the ubiquitous soup shops around the city.

ARROZ DE PATO – duck confit, chorizo, olive, clementine

The duck “confit” was not the confit at all, at least, not in the sense of common usage. The duck, roasted pink and sliced, was one of the most tender duck meats that had ever entered my mouth; it was also one of the least flavorful duck meat that my tongue had ever tasted. The “confit” did not have the concentrated gamey, wild and dark duckness that I adore in a confit. As for the rice, cooked al dente, neither the spice nor the chorizo produced bursts of flavors – or even a small sparkle.

BEV’S PORK BELLY – caramelized turnip, acacia honey, parsnip purée, trumpet royale

We played our usual “manual” Lazy Susan, clockwise, so that by the
time my turn came to try this dish, the only meat left on the plate was the lean part – whether pork belly was meant to have any lean part at all would be a separate question. My pale slice of pork had no taste – no salt, no pepper, and no to whatever else you may think of; therefore, the slice only could seek consolation in the honey. Sweet and sour pork, I am a fan of; but purely honeyed pork, I respectfully decline. For the record, my dining companions did relate the wonderful texture of the pork belly to me in so many eyebrow movements. Nonetheless, regardless of the condition of the fatty part, anything and everything served and sold to the patron must be good in some way, and good this last slice was not.

SEA SALTED CHATHAM COD – forbidden black rice,** Benton’s smoked sausage, coriander-saffron broth

The arroz de pato was mediocre, pork belly was flavorless, and now, we had to come to this cod: This dish was grotesquely inedible. The cod owed its inedibility to the forbidden black rice, which should have remained safely forbidden to people with functioning olfactory and gustatory cells. Why was it inedible? Well, do you eat your candles – yes, those scented, votive, cylindrical waxes with a wick? I hope not, disregarding for the moment, consumption induced by childish curiosity and oral fascination (remember how we used to eat our own feet?). The mouthful of rice transported me instantly inside Yankee Candle – the one in Woodbury Commons, to be exact. On the other hand, the foam reminded me of the detergent-washed rice in Beijing, whose taste, the waitress feared that, being unaccustomed to the ritual of rice washing, I might be adversely susceptible to. Yankee Candle or detergent, the food additives totally destroyed the delicate fragrance of black rice – good luck serving this to an emperor.

**In the old days where beheading was common, only the emperors in China could eat this rice.

MONKFISH – Iberian butter beans, red peas, foie gras emulsion

What a delightful change after the nightmarish black rice, the monkfish was a refreshingly edible dish. The delicately cooked – the center still raw –and flaky fish, again, significantly lacked any type of seasoning, which might have been purposeful, because the beans, peas and the rest of the company provided enough sodium to alarm the doctors.


CHOCOLATE CHESTNUT PARFAIT - chocolate meringue, red beet, chocolate sorbet

APPLE CONFIT – brown butter cake, caramelized almonds, nougat ice cream

CARAMELIZED BRIOCHE - blood orange gel, crème fraiche-pink peppercorn ice cream

BUTTERNUT SQUASH PARFAIT - maple sponge, caramelized pumpkin seeds, olive oil ice cream

I think desserts can be summarized as follows: Four diners shared all four desserts – each armed with a spoon – and dug in. The chocolate gave itself away, but the rest of the three were equally anonymous and ambivalent so that we had to pause, think and occasionally cheat before we could remember what each was meant to be. Apple, butternut squash and caramelized brioche – how hard can this game of concentration be? Yes, they can be quite demanding when they share one big chunk of flavor in common – the very lack of it. The only virtue of the remaining chocolate parfait was its rather delicious marron glacé.

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1 comment:

  1. "The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised."

    George F. Will (1941 - )