If you found this blog by Googling my name or by following sundry noxious links (you know where), please note that all claims that I was fired from my job are 100% false, as are most of the other things written about me. I don't know the people who are libeling me, but it's clear they have some imaginary axe to grind and way too much time.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Catching Up With Amanda@Aldea

Amanda is not actually a stranger, but a friendly acquaintance from college. We recently reconnected over two revelations: we both live in NYC, and we both are obsessed with food.

After lengthy deliberation, we chose Aldea in the thick of its flurry of good reviews, and I'm glad we got in while we still could, before Bruni's two-star stamp last week. Amanda shares my love for dining at bars, which made it easier to get in with no reservation. We posted up and proceeded to run amok over Aldea's slimly edited menu for the next three hours.

Gluttons for the unknown, we went for three of the petiscos rather than charcuterie:

Knollcrest farm egg with bacalao, black olive, and potato

Amanda delivered a big "meh" on this dish, but I thought it was lovely. Not knock-me-off-my-bar-stool amazing, but a deliciously salty, creamy, eggy way to start a meal. A green bean casserole could also tell you how easily won over I am by crispy fried curlicues of things that were once vegetable.

Pickled ramp bulbs and tah soi with crispy pig ears, apple, cumin yogurt

We were again divided by this dish. I think frying - or pan-frying - might be the gateway technique to eating offal, because people have a favorable Pavlovian response to the word "fried." Sure, if you fry a pig's ear, it becomes pleasingly crunchy like a chicharron, but you end up losing the contrast between gelatin and cartilage that I love about pig's ear. The hard, fried texture also jarred with the ramp bulbs. Why not just serve the pig's ear in long slivers like the ramps, like an updated pig's ear salad, and showcase the textural uniqueness of this piggy appendage?

Moving on, before I presume to make any more fixes to the menu.

A shitty picture of our favorite petisco: sea urchin toast with cauliflower cream, sea lettuce, and lime.

There was so much tension in this dish. Sea urchin is great because it stands just to the right of a line separating repulsive and sublime. The cauliflower cream sweetened its sublimity, the sea lettuce accentuated its heritage, and there was a hidden dash of wasabi kicking it for being too soft.

When we weren't busy talking about Pomona or gossiping about our ex-classmates, I was grilling Amanda for the lowdown on Marea, where she works.

"Have any celebrities come in yet?"
"Oh, tons. Thomas Keller, Gael Greene, Adam Platt's been by a few times - I think he'll review us soon. Josh Ozersky and Eric Ripert together."
"Ha, I love how by celebrities you mean NYC food celebrities. Anthony Bourdain show up yet?"
"No, but Thomas Keller really has that sexy older man thing going for him."

Huh. I guess I can kind of see it.

"Is he hot just because he's Thomas Keller?"
"Maybe. Speaking of hot chefs though, I hear the chef here [at Aldea] is hot." (We did not get a glimpse of George Mendes to confirm this hearsay. Unfortunate, because yes, it turns out he is.)
"I feel like chefs are probably the perfect guys for me. Most seem to be youngish, cocky, over-energetic alpha types."
And that's when Amanda recommended that I date someone at Marea whose name and position shall remain unpublished.

Appetizers came next.

Baby cuttlefish in coconut curry soup, herb puree, and squid ink

Amanda thinks this dish was a dud, but I remember I had a favorable impression of it...but that's all I remember. The beautiful colors in this dish were not matched by the too-subtle taste; I think this may be generally true of dishes featuring squid ink.

Shrimp alhinho with garlic, coriander, pimenton, and pressed jus

The bartender convinced us to get this dish, and it was a great call. The "pressed jus" in this dish is basically the dribbly bright orange matter inhabiting shrimp heads. Once, I had this idea of making a terrine from lobster tomalley, and then I found out you're not really supposed to eat it because it's the lobster's toxin-laden liver. Shrimp-head jus is like a well-executed, less crackpotty, more appetizingly-colored version of that idea, and that's why George Mendes has two stars and I have a blog. Asian people and cats know that shrimp heads are the shrimpiest part of a shrimp, and now anyone who eats at Aldea can enjoy that flavorful wonder without actually sucking on a shrimp head.

"So have there been any Bruni sightings yet?" I ask Amanda. It's funny, eating at Aldea at talking about Marea. Judging by the timing of our visit, Bruni could well have eaten at the former on the same night as us, and he would visit the latter shortly thereafter.
"Nope. We are on alert though."
"Gael Greene's recent review wasn't great."
"Yeah, they're not happy with her review. Some parts of it were kind of BS though. She complained that no one came to her table to take her order, but she neglected to mention that she left the restaurant for half an hour to go watch the sunset in Central Park, or something."

I'm going with Amanda on this one, just because it's totally hilarious - and totally easy - to picture Gael Greene doing that.

"So what have you tried at Marea?"
"Was tasting at least one dish not part of your training?!" How tragic!
"I don't know, we may have been too busy with the opening. I don't think anybody really had time to make sure the hostesses had tried any dishes. I just about die every time another gorgeous pasta dish goes by."
"We should eat there next, then."
"I want to, but I feel a little weird about eating where I work."
"Agreed. How about the staff meals? Are they amazing?"
"Actually, I don't think we've ever had fish at a staff meal. They're good, but they are NOT Marea food. It's very plain, homey stuff. Lots of eggs." Bummer.

Back to Aldea.

Arroz de pato: duck confit, olives, chorizo, duck cracklings

My one complaint about this dish, the best of the evening: why isn't there more of it? I could have pulled a Joey Chestnut on this one. See, Aldea is a food writer's wet dream in that there's so much to describe in every plate of food. Does it make sense that Aldea's food can sometimes seem ruthlessly crafted? While the previous dishes had given us rainbows of ingredients to dissect and ponder, this duck rice made us shut up. It is no less constructed, has no fewer ingredients, than what came before, but for once, the perfect scaffolding is hidden by a very welcome heartyness.

(Was that the most reviewerish sentence I've ever written, or what?)

Too bad we didn't end on that high note. Desserts were a letdown. Amanda had the caramelized brioche with pink peppercorn ice cream.

Even though neither of our palates could pick up on the pink peppercorns, she enjoyed the dish (I am not big on sweet baked goods).

Chilled rhubarb and strawberry soup with passionfruit sorbet

I liked my dessert less. Remember, I don't even like baked goods, yet the soup still tasted like a puddle of coulis in need of pastry. Rhubarb, strawberry, or passionfruit became hard to distinguish as it was all just kind of sweet and sour. Indeed, there was not enough difference - temperature, texture, or taste-wise - between soup and sorbet for the whole sticky pool to be anything but cloying after a few spoonfuls. Enough of my blather; Amanda's succinct summation: liquid Jello.

We stayed a little bit longer, Amanda chatting with the bartender and me with the guy at the next bar stool, whom I've subsequently managed to turn into a date. (The blog is turning out to be a great conversation-starter)

Post-Aldea, Amanda and I have been craving Korean. We have a recommendation from Chef Michael White himself: Won Jo. Maybe that'll be next, while I save up for Marea.


  1. Sounds like you have the eating buddy you were looking for. What happens to the line of guys waiting in the wings?

    Should a renaming of the site be in order?

  2. Nah, I'll still be dining with strangers regularly.

  3. won-jo is probably the best restaurant in ktwon and that fact is very well known, so make sure to reservations (kinda remember you need 4 to make on though?)