Last week, I visited Aldea over a long five-hour jaunt, at the request of Chef George Mendes and his lovely team. A few weeks prior, my friend and I randomly stumbled in for a night cap. Aldea was closed, but they allowed us in for a quick glass of bubbles and some tasty treats. After a few moments of table talk, George and I realized that we had been acquainted some years prior, and we quickly rehashed our lost time together. We were invited back to visit for a very special tasting menu that was hosted and prepared by Chef Mendes himself, and naturally, we took advantage of every opportunity to enjoy such a curated experience.
There is something rather special and exhilarating about taking part in a time-honored activity, even if you are just stepping into it like I was. In this case, Chef Mendes' heritage plays a significant role in the many creations that he offers to the world, and being able to experience his version of Portuguese-cuisine packed from years of rich heritage, is nothing short of spectacular. To me, chefs seem to really understand how to celebrate life; it's a journey through another life, that is then formulated in this life, which then transforms you to the next life- all through your many senses that allow you to experience any life you choose to feel. And my, my what a food induced life I currently live. So much so, that I've officially named this dinner, My Aldea.
The name was populated, since many of the creations you see in the photographs above we're made specifically for us, and most of which, are also never going to be experienced again by anyone else on this planet. Chef Mendes reminds me of some of the Old Master Painters, specifically Caravaggio, during the Baroque period. Simply referencing the fact that his creations mimic those that are dramatic, detailed and elaborate from that beautiful period of time; although in hindsight, his style is very modern and rather clean. Aldea has a Michelin star, but along with their ratings and Chef's many nominations, simply lies a sense of craft and detail that he adhere's to in his work that warrants the reference.
Caravaggio was known for mixing the physical and the emotional and led the innovation of radical naturalism. On photo 6, you see scallops. However, what you don't know is those scallops were lightly cooked over Japanese charcoal, then thinly sliced and layered with smoked trout caviar over a puree of parsnip. Fresh lime zest and citrus powder were added and then the hickory smoke was encapsulated with a lid. Chef Mendes brought them over to our table, the way one would present a form of art, and unveiled them. He lifted the lids and they were cloudy with a smoke that resembled smoke you'd see in a forest fire. The hickory smoke lasted for only a few moments, and as it subdued, they blossomed into being just these simple scallops with such a complex history. The history that our scallops had, as well as the many other bites we experienced, resembled things you would see in a Caravaggio painting- drama, details and an elaborate presentation, all the while being topped off with a thin layer of radical naturalism.
There are moments that you spend with friends that make you stop and realize how blessed you are to have them in your life. Across from me was a very dear friend of mine, Melissa; she is someone that I highly admire and constantly learn from the more time we spend together. She shows such strength, portrays such beauty and gives so much love to the world, that I just couldn't imagine a world that doesn't have her in it. Then you have this wonderful team of culinary brilliance in the kitchen designing creation after creation. I didn't have many words to say, but the commanding silence has said it all. This evening was something I will remember for decades to come and I'm truly grateful to have been able to share these moments with them and with you.
*PS- that is an invented Portuguese Ramen made with potatoes instead of noodles, since I was complaining about my lack of incredible Ramen the past few weeks. It was one of the most amazing thing's I have ever tasted.
*PS x2- Chef Mendes is opening a new restaurant at 29th and 6th called Lupulo in a few weeks, which was my old hood for half a decade of my life.