Cantinho do Avillez – Lisbon, Portugal

cantinho sign

Step into a Portuguese dining room and venture into some old school specialties made with a modern twist. Nothing here is compromised, neither atmosphere nor flavor for every dish you’ll savor is an ingenious homage to the best in Portuguese cuisine.

Busy with businessmen and locals, this cheerful and quaint eatery fills with lively chatter as young waiters come and go wearing plaid shirts and jeans covered by long aprons ,echoes of the warm and casual ambience of “cantinho” which in Portuguese means “little corner”.

cantinho This “little corner’’ of Lisbon belongs to Jose Avillez, a young chef who has become one of the most renowned in the country, a celebrity of sorts with his own television show and several published cookbooks, one of which shares some of Cantinho’s  best recipes  printed in  both Portuguese and English.

His creative approach combined with his passionate culinary spirit, come alive at Cantinho making it feel like a true farmhouse kitchen where anything you taste is bound to be fresh, delicious and certainly innovative.

 nisaBeginning with the queijo Nisa no forno com presunto com mele de rosmarinho. A delectable serving of a rather firm raw sheep’s milk cheese curdled with thisle flower. It’s served with baked presunto (Portuguese cured ham) and a drizzle of rosemary honey. Although somewhat robust, the mellow sweetness of the honey creates a perfect balance that turns it into a light and pleasing starter. Another appetizer that stood out was the vieras marinadas com abacate, a delicate sea scallop ceviche served with a sprinkle of fried breadcrumbs over a portion of fresh guacamole.

Chef Jose Avillez owns several restaurants in Lisbon, all offering a different sampling of Portuguese cuisine influenced by his many travels. Some include what he’s mastered through his training at El Bulli with famous chef Ferran Adrià, known for his molecular gastronomy, a trend Avillez often showcases with great grace.

 bacalhauA good  example is the lascas de bacalhau, migas soltas, ovo bt e azeitonas explosivas. Tender flakes of cod mixed with homemade toasted breadcrumbs lie under a low temperature soft boiled egg and “explosive” olives, a name given to the bursting of flavor they deliver as you bite into them. They’re submitted to a process know as “spherification” which enhances their flavor adding a  juicier yet subtle punch to the dish. I have tasted a lot of cod dishes in my life but nothing beats this one.

 BurgerXYxOther entrées that take in some of Avillez’s travels are the torricado de leitão de Negrais com sabores asiáticos, a serving of Asian inspired bruschetta of suckling pig from nearby Negrais in Sintra and the tagine de cordeiro, couscous de legumes e molho de iogurte, tender lamb tagine with vegetable couscous and tangy yogurt sauce. Also offered is a the “Barrosã DOP” hamburger with caramelized onion and foie gras, a juicy burger made with grass fed beef from the Barrosä breed of cattle known for the tender and flavorful quality of its meat.

 Leite-creme de laranja e baunilha, a light crème brûlée made with orange and vanilla is a nice, not too sweet, touch to the end of a meal. For those who wish to finish with a taste of liquor, a homemade lemon sorbet made with fresh basil and a touch of vodka as in the sorvete de limão com manjericão e vodka makes for the perfect refreshing dessert with a kick. 
 Price Range:
Lunch: between 6 euros and 20 euros 
Dish of the day 10.50 euros
Cantinho do Avillez
+ 351 21 199 23 69
Rua dos Duques de Bragança, 7 1200-162 Lisboa
Opening hours:
Lunch: 12.30 – 15.00 (Monday – Saturday)
Dinner: 19.30 – 00.00 (Monday – Saturday) Closed on Sunday


Madrid’s Marcano – Madrid, Spain

Chef and owner David Marcano
Chef and owner David Marcano

Madrid is a mecca for great food. With a tapas’ bar on almost every corner, it’s not hard to find a good place to eat. In recent years, new restaurants have been turning up, straying from traditional Spanish cuisine and betting on lighter and more avantguard ways of preparing and presenting it, without losing an ounce of its true essence. I was very fortunate to stumble upon one of these great food sanctuaries: Marcano, specializing in Basque cuisine, located in the centric neighborhood of El Retiro, away from crowds and tour

Right behind the bar stands  an open kitchen where young chef David Marcano toils, day and night, working on his craft like  Merlin on his magic. So I decided to let myself fall under his “culinary” spell. Smart move!judiasconsardinaX

This seemingly modern and spartan eatery was a sharp contrast to  its deliciously intricate menu and warm and friendly service.  A  nicely priced wine list made for a rather welcoming move:  a great selection of  reds from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and great whites like Albarinho, Rias Baixas and Ruedas were listed for 2 and 3 euros a glass or an average of 17 euros per bottle.

As soon as you’re  served a glass, a lovely tapa comes your way. Not just any tapa but something Marcano, who’s worked with renowned chef Arzak, concocts that very same day.  I chose a glass of red wine: Tamaral Roble form Ribera del Duero  and along came some gazpacho topped with a shrimp. Confused, I asked myself  “Did I  order this?” It didn’t matter, it looked so delicious that I couldn’t turn it down, a bowl of silky goodness that came totally unexpected. Soon after, the waitress brought me a small serving of  aceitunas marinadas (olives seasoned with paprika) followed by some hearty white beans topped with a sardine. I was in tapas heaven!merluzaX

I could’ve easily been satisfied with this experience and called it a day. But the lovely atmosphere and the choices of appetizers and entrées were highly tempting.   I opted for the tuna tartare, freshly diced tuna marinated in a light soy sauce complemented with creamy avocado and dainty dollops of caviar.  I also had to try the croquetas, small croquettes made with rich bechamel and nutty boletus mushrooms. As an entrée I had one of the main staples of high Basque cuisine: Merluza braseada con guiso de cocochas, braised melt in your mouth hake fillet served in a light broth with cocochas: small morsels of the most tender part of this fish: its cheeks.  Absolutely exquisite!  

Marcano treats his food with the same grace and respect as he treats his clients. Impeccably presented orders are served diligently and carefully, cutlery is replaced with every dish and as far as table linens go, no detail is spared.

photo-65Right before I finished my entrée, I looked up and noticed how he tirelessly works behind the counter immersed in his own world , raising his head only to make sure everyone is content. He  sees we are and gives us a big smile in return.  It’s like eating at home, only with a much more exciting menu than that of your mother’s.

photo-64After this delectable feast, I dared to go for something sweet: the Milhojas de naranja y frambuesas which turned out to be as light as it promised. Thin layers of homemade phyllo dough covered with an orange crème anglaise and fresh raspberries.  That was all I needed but someone recommended  I take a bite of the Flan de Queso which was no less delightful. A velvety custard made with fresh cream cheese in a light syrup. To top it off, I accepted a small glass of Patxarán, a rather sweet Basque digestif made with sloe berries which proved to be the perfect ending to an exceptionally perfect meal.

Prices range between 16 and 50 euros

Daily executive menu: 16 euros

Taberna Marcano

Dr. Casteló 31

Madrid, Spain

Telephone: 34 914 09 36 42

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Penne Primavera

1 lb Penne Rigatepenneprim

2 cup of diced cremini mushrooms

2 cup baby spinach

2 tsp chopped garlic

3 cups of cherry tomatoes

3 tbsp olive oi

l 2 cup diced fresh mozzarella

Fresh parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut cherry tomatoes in half and sauté in olive oil for 5 minutes at medium heat. Add garlic and after a minute, add mushrooms. Cook for additional five minutes and toss in the baby spinach. Turn off heat and let spinach wilt. Once ready, add bits of mozzarella to the strained pasta and mix with the vegetables. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.