Chef George Mendes’ Michelin one-star Aldea restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood is inspired by the cuisine of the Iberian Peninsula, but there is little resemblance to the village in his sleek interpretation.

Aldea means “village” in Spanish (aldeia in Portuguese). In Spain and Portugal, the connection to the village remains strong, even for those who live far away in the big cities or beyond, maybe more so. And why? Because the village represents the heart of the countryside, a return to roots, an authentic, warm and welcoming place where tradition reigns. And the food? The food is rustic and soulful with the scent of woodsmoke and the taste of wines, cheeses, and pastries that all come from kilometers, if not steps, away. The portions are filling, the presentation is natural and meals last for hours.


I visited Aldea restaurant on a mild December day on a visit home to the States from Lisbon. The city was decked out for Christmas while the Union Square Farmers Market, just around the corner, shone with the jewel tones of the season – piles of apples, squash, and kale. The noise, the colors, and the chaos outside fall away upon entering the serene environment inside the restaurant. The two-story space soars and shimmers in shades of icy blue, wood the color of sand, and white leather banquets.


Aldea restaurant is long and narrow, with a bar in the front of the space and a view of the open kitchen towards the back. We sat at the bar and chatted with the friendly bartender while enjoying the complimentary cumin-spiced popcorn served in oversized glass canisters. A glass of Sidonia de Sousa Brut Nature’, 2012 sparkling wine from Beiras, Bairrada, Portugal set a festive tone. Portuguese table wines have been getting long looks here in the States recently due in large part to the 2014 Wine Spectator list of the 100 best wines in which three of the top ten were from Portugal.


However, the sparkling wines of Portugal have yet to make an appearance, and this is a loss for Americans. The best come from the cool interior regions of the country, as this one did, and offer great acidity with rich fruit flavors as well as great value. Aldea restaurant offers a separate bar menu with à la carte options and an interesting cocktail menu featuring drinks made with Ginja Cherry Liqueur, Tawny Port, Doirinha Almond Liqueur and Beirão Liqueur – all native to Portugal, and particularly to the villages, where they are cornerstones of the “old Portuguese” generation.


Our table for dinner afforded us a birds-eye view of the open kitchen. Because we were there on the early side, the kitchen was still in pre-service mode. It was a pleasure to observe. Chefs moved quietly through the bright, well-organized kitchen stirring this sauce and tasting that one, a mix of Portuguese and English floating lightly through the dining room. Wait staff clad in handsome gingham shirts, polished wine glasses, chatting and laughing quietly.

Maureen_Ferguson_Aldea_Restaurant_KITCHEN_2The menu at Aldea restaurant offers two options – a Chef’s Tasting Menu that consists of 8 small courses – or a four course Prix Fixe. The chef requests that all guests at any given table order the same menu. There were three of us at dinner and we decided on the Prix Fixe in order to maximize the number of dishes we could try. A friend who joined us for dinner is not a vegetarian, but has committed to Meatless Monday – an American movement to go, yes, meatless on Mondays.  (Aimed equally at improving health and the environment, it originated in the States but has since spread to 36 countries, including Portugal, called 2as Sem Carne. While it is very popular in the States, it has seen very little traction in the land of porco preto.) Our friend was willing to veer off-course, if necessary, to sample the delights of Portugal, but was delighted to find vegetarian options in each course of the Prix Fixe.


My experience at Aldea Restaurant

Primeiro Curso

Bacalhau À Brás, Alderfer Farms egg and salt cod custard, crispy potato, and black olive with an option (we declined) of adding First of the Season White Truffles for an additional $45


Grilled Catskill Mountain Pears, sheep’s milk yogurt, marcona almond milk, and presunto.

Roasted and Raw Forest Mushroom, coal roasted onion, black beet puree, and basil oil


Segundo Curso

Cured Foie Gras, roasted squash, concord grapes, and spiced brioche. I love foie gras – for me, along with oysters it’s on my “one last meal” menu – so my expectations were high. The foie gras, the squash, the grapes – they were all fine – but lacking the depth of flavor that each is capable of. Where they heartily co-exist on the fall table – the colors, flavors and textures — instead felt like distant relatives.


Confit Pork Terrine, anchovy, endive, hazelnuts, and green apple. Full of the savory flavors that can only be found in pork from Portugal – deep, dark and unctuous – but overpowering to the other more subtle components of the dish.


Roasted Eggplant and Smoked Carrot, herbal emulsion, walnuts, ras el hanout


Terceiro Curso

Ibérico Pork Collar, yu choy greens, pine nuts, glazed turnip, and black garlic purée

Shrimp “A La Plancha”, sweet potato, white bean purée and roasted shrimp jus. The shrimp is presented at the table in pretty, rustic pottery while the server pours the sweet potato and white bean purée from a pitcher. Maybe I’ve become spoiled in Portugal with shrimp that is head-on and fat with sea flavor. This shrimp was a pale imitation.  On the night we dined at Aldea, we had friends who were coincidentally attending a private event with the Ambassador of Portugal on the second floor. As I watched steaming bowls of food leave the kitchen for the upstairs dining room – (I imagined pork and clams though that is totally unconfirmed), I dreamed of having that food, food that would feed my soul like the warm hug of the village.


Whole-Roasted Kohlrabi and Cauliflower, crisped maitake mushroom, sunflower seeds, and cilantro

And, dessert

Sonhos, salted caramel


São Jorge, figs, cherries, juniper

Sheep’s Milk Parfait, blackberries, verjus, ginger snap crumble

The wine list has a small but nice selection of Spanish and Portuguese wines as well as some from France and California, the majority of which are available by the glass.

My honest opinion about Aldea Restaurant

While the food is inspired by Iberia, it was easy to see the influence of Chef Mendes’ French experience on the menu as well as an American ease at mixing cultures and tastes. The son of Portuguese parents, Mendes grew up in Connecticut and shares stories in his gorgeous cookbook, “My Portugal”, of his strong connection to Portugal and a childhood filled with his close, opinionated, and food-loving Portuguese family. He graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and spent time in some of the best kitchens in France, Spain, and the United States. While in Spain, he staged at three-star Michelin restaurant Martin Beresategui. He credits this experience with teaching him to “add personal flair to traditional recipes while remaining true to the ingredients’ flavors.” He opened Aldea restaurant in May 2009 and more recently opened a second restaurant, the casual Lupulo, on 29th Street, that is inspired by the beloved cervejarias of Portugal.


Before dinner, I wondered how Chef Mendes would balance the rustic soul of Portuguese (and Spanish) cooking in a Michelin-star restaurant. Michelin is notably biased towards classic French technique and Continental cuisine in a fine-dining environment. I left with my question unanswered — wishing that what makes Portugal and Spain so great – the passion, the joy, and most of all the warmth — shone through – like a long lunch in the village with the refinements of a Michelin-starred restaurant.


I visited Aldea Restaurant in early December 2015, as a part of my personal holiday travels. The dinner which served as an experience to write this post was paid from my own money. All opinions are my own. 

Aldea Restaurant contacts:

31 W 17th st,
New York, New York, 10011
(between 5th and 6th ave.)

Tel: (212) 675-7223
Fax: (212) 675-7277