Lunch for One: Prix Fixe at Aldea

"If it's a good deal and ordinary dishes you're searching for, mosey on over for some very solid cooking."

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[Photographs: Kathy Chan]

You will not find a true sense of Aldea's scope and potential in their newly launched lunch prix fixe, but you will find an awesome deal. Three courses. $20.09. I've done much worse for much less. I stopped in last Friday, just thirty minutes into lunch service. Aldea was empty then, but three other tables were filled by the time I left. I have little doubt they'll fill up over time.

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Lunch starts with pizza bianca or piccola bread, both by Sullivan Street Bakery. And then your choice of soup or a tomato heirloom salad. Even on a rainy day, the chilled cucumber soup was a delight: creamy with chunks of cucumbers and a quenelle of pimenton creme fraiche. Finished with a handful of crispy shallots, it was light and immensely satisfying. I dunked more than my share of pizza bianca into this soup.

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Chicken or fish? Those are your prix fixe options. I longed for the Sea Urchin Sandwich or perhaps the Arroz de Pato, but each of those single entrees cost nearly as much, if not more, than the prix fixe itself. I opted for the Skate "A La Planxa," served on a supple bed of zucchini ribbons with caper brown butter. It's a common preparation, and I can recall similar dishes at many a restaurant. Nonetheless, the skate was well executed, with a notably crisp exterior, and portions were far more generous than anticipated.

Diners started to settle into the restaurant as I made headway with my entree. It's always terrific fun to eavesdrop during lunch, when people break away for an hour of their work day. The restaurant was quiet enough so that I could pick up near every word without much effort. "He was placed on the FBI list..." "How can you eat chicken five times a week?" "...and they got married!" New York: never a boring city.

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I have to confess that it was my sweet tooth which drew me to the prix fixe lunch. My weakness: bread pudding. Dessert offers a choice between Chocolate Bread Pudding and Banana & Passion Fruit Tart. To my dismay, the pudding was a letdown, a room-temperature square cut, dry at the corners and inconsistent, with white patches occasionally found in the tangle of chocolate-soaked bread. The pudding was accompanied by a scoop of Exotic Spice Milk ice cream, smooth and luxurious with strong hints of coffee.

Bottom line? If it's an accurate taste of Mendes' cooking you crave, avoid the prix fixe and go a la carte--but if it's just a good deal and ordinary dishes you're searching for, mosey on over for some very solid cooking.

Aldea

31 West 17th Street, New York NY 10011 (map) 212-675-7223