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Review Recap: Aldea

Today, Frank Bruni awards the expected two stars to Aldea:

The cooking is precious, lusty, ultramodern, rustic and a host of other adjectives that don’t normally squeeze together but find themselves in a tight, mostly happy clutch here. Although Aldea has a clean, sleek and relatively spare look, it has a much more complex taste.

One minute you’re nibbling on crisp pig’s ears. The next you’re carefully maneuvering your spoon under a translucent, quivering orb of concentrated mushroom broth — one of those liquid ravioli that the Spanish alchemist Ferran Adrià made famous — in an avant-garde consommé.

The entree in front of you is a go-for-broke hillock of rice with duck cracklings and black olives. The entree in front of your companion is a refined, butter-soft fillet of wild bass that has been poached in a technique similar to sous vide and tucked under a billowing nimbus made from Arbois and air.

For dessert there are doughnuts (though they’re labeled “little dreams”). But there is also “chocolate in textures,” a dark tableau that seems as ready for exhibition as for ingestion.

I more-or-less agree with all of this, although I could have done without the pejorative “precious.” One could easily imagine Aldea earning the third star eventually, an outcome Bruni himself anticpates: “…there’s plenty to eat, whether you’re hungry for something delicate or blunt. It establishes Aldea as a restaurant worth trying, and Mr. Mendes as a chef worth keeping an eye on.”


In Critic’s Notebook, Bruni has a look at the latest trends in pizza:

I believe by and large that Neapolitan pies — if they can avoid soupiness, as they did at Motorino — are the most appealing. Yet the pan pizzas at Veloce Pizzeria, which opened in the East Village a month and a half ago, pleased me every bit as much. Sara Jenkins, the chef who supervises their production, said she isn’t sure whether to call them Sicilian or grandma style. Whatever their proper tag, these denser, richer, square pies were superb. The nicely charred crust — with a dough of potato, durum and fine zero-zero flour — was firm enough to support a generous measure of toppings. Its extra-crisp edges had the salty, zingy flavor and texture of a frico. And the toppings were first-rate, the mushroom pizza showcasing a bevy of hen-of-the-woods.

I believe that firmer, less runny cheese works better most of the time, and yet the Pugliese pie at Motorino, which uses wet-centered burrata, was a masterpiece, the burrata lending the pie an opulence and creaminess.

Crisp crusts, it turns out, aren’t so difficult: most places I visited had mastered that much. But crusts that are crisp without being dry — that have some give and suppleness — are an altogether trickier matter. That’s where Lucali, for example, fell down, though the ratio of mozzarella to tomatoes on its plain pie was faultless, and the tomatoes had a beautiful, round flavor.

This is Bruni at his best. Had he been doing this, instead of reviewing high-end restaurants, the last five years would have been much happier for Times readers—and, we get the sense, for Bruni as well.

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