Arroz de Lingueirão – Razor clam rice – Casa Velha, Cacela Velha, Portugal

arrozdelangueiraoOk, so once again I am confronted with a sea creature that I have feared most of my life: the razor clam! I first came across one when I was about nine years old,one breezy summer afternoon,  while searching for small clams on the island of Tavira. The sight of a long and narrow shell from which peeked a slimy long mollusc was almost traumatizing! So, later in life, whenever someone mentioned  the ever so popular  razor clam, I’d cringe with disgust.

But now, I am all grown up and willing to face it in its most delicious state: arroz de lingueirão, razor clam rice. A brothy stew made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, white wine, clove and lots of fresh coriander. I am humbled to admit that it’s one of the most delicious meals I’ve every had. Of course, these sweet and tender razor clams were  diced and not served whole so, that visibly, I believe,  makes a great difference.lingueiraocloseup

I was recommended Casa Velha and became weary at first because, right outside, I saw a menu in English. For a moment, I’d forgotten that this is the Algarve and there is a huge foreign population that come here all year round so, I mustn’t  judge.

It turned out to be a genuinely good place to eat and if everything else  is cooked as well as this rice dish, this place is phenomenal. I’ve heard they serve great fish and many other seafood stews as well.  Perhaps that’s why it’s always packed and tables are really hard to come by and although at lunch time you most likely won’t have a problem finding one, it’s highly recommended that you make  reservations for dinner. This is definitely no tourist trap!

 

casavelhafrontCasa Velha

Rua de Cacela Velha

Vila Nova de  Cacela

Algarve

Tel: 281 952 297

Açorda de Marisco – Companhia das Culturas – Castro Marim, Algarve, Portugal

acordademariscoxShould you want to take a break from all the busy nightlife of the eastern Algarve coast,  than take a walk through the iron gate  at Companhia das Culturas, a secluded guest house with a charming outdoor restaurant surrounded by lush fig trees and an alluring country quiet.

Dinner here is made from scratch with fresh in season ingredients, every evening, by a rather creative young chef whose passion for food is evident in every bite. Jossara Martins, works diligently in her country kitchen surrounded by jars of homemade jams, vinegars and liquours she concocts with  fruit grown all over  the property. Tonight, as a pre-dinner cocktail, we’re having an apricot liquor she’s made without adding any extra alcohol so you can taste the intense flavor of the fruit in its wholesome state,   a light spirit with an almost smoothie consistency. Delightful!carapaufigx

As a starter, we had the carapau alimado sobre figo confitado com vinagre de albaricoque,  brined and boiled horse mackerel over fig confit drizzled with apricot vinegar is a  clever combination of sweet and sour that pairs fruit and fish ever so tastefully: the tender texture of the mackerel over the sweet and juicy  fig made for a genuinely light summer appetizer.  Next came the ceviche de cavala com algas e pimento de Padrón, mackerel ceviche and seaweed drizzled with apricot vinegar and sprinkled with sesame seeds, all garnished with a small green Padrón pepper,  known for being randomly hot. Fortunately for me, this one wasn’t.

cevichedecaballax

For the main course, we had the açorda de marisco:  seafood stew made with country bread. Originally, a poor man’s meal to which was added whatever one could find. In this case, being close to the ocean, seafood is the usual choice. Bread is mixed into a seafood broth and served with clams, shrimp and fresh coriander. This hearty dish paired with a chilled vinho verde is Portuguese comfort food at its best!

Dessert was an interesting surprise: quindim de alfarroba com sorbete de albaricoque e mel de membrilho., a  rather dense carob pudding that was  nicely complemented with a light homemade apricot ice-cream churned with evaporated milk, instead of cream,  and drizzled with quince syrup. A refreshing ending to a peaceful summer evening in the quiet Algarve countryside!

algarrobax

Companhia das Culturas

Rua do Monte Rosa

8950-270 Castro Marim

Tel: 281 957 062

Algarve

companhiadasculturas.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chargrilled chicken – Bica – Tavira, Algarve, Portugal

chickBica is located right on rua Almirante Candido Reis and although it doesn’t look like much from the outside, take a seat at one of its alley’s tables and you will be pleasantly surprised with the great service and wonderful local food, not to mention the ever so reasonable prices. This place is a true Tavira landmark that has been in business for over forty years and tables  fill up rather quickly . A menu consisting of mostly seafood, fish, chicken and meat is served fresh daily for 8 to 12 euros.

I ordered the chargrilled chicken for 8.50 euros and although it did take a while to make, I was served some delicious green olives as well as some  bread and butter to keep  the wait less painful.  In many restaurants in Portugal, it can be a while before you get your food  because it’s usually made to order from scratch, a habit that makes the whole experience a more gratifying one. Be patient, the Portuguese are!

A generous serving of  half  a chicken seasoned with lemon, garlic and little else, served with homemade french fries and a salad made with lettuce, tomato, onion, carrots and red cabbage. Even though the chicken was tender, moist and deliciously seasoned, I have to mention that what really got me was the wonderful service: diligent and easy going. When it came time to pay my bill, I was a  euro short  but told not to worry, no big deal!  Of course, I’ll be back!

 bica2Bica

Rua Almirante Candido Reis 22

8800-318 Tavira

Tel: 281 323 843

 

Alheiras – Adega Grande Ponto-Pinhão, Douro Valley, Portugal

alheiraBack in the XVI century, the Portuguese Jewish community, following tradition, did not eat sausage because it  was made with pork. During the inquisition, in the Trás os Montes region, one way of finding  the “conversos”, those who had converted to christianism but still practiced judaism,  was by noticing that they had no sausages hanging from their smoke houses.  So, in order to go unnoticed, they came up with their own sausage made with chicken , veal, duck, rabbit and pheasant – the Alheira.

The name derives from “alho” , garlic, which is one of the main  ingredients along with sweet paprika, breadcrumbs olive oil and salt. Milder in flavor and less pungent than chouriço or linguiça, the alheira has become a highly popular dish in Portuguese cuisine. Many varieties have derived from it so you will now  even find some made with pork.

Served half open on a bed of salad, garnished with orange wedges and mint is all you want to accompany a nice glass of red or white Douro wine. A homage to  Jewish culture, known for its innovative qualities, the alheira is the result of how a group of people made the best out a bad “sausage” situation creating thus one of  the greatest delicacies of northern Portugal.

Douro ValleyAdega Grande Ponto

Ra Antonio Manuel Saraiva 21

Pinhão, Portugal

Tel: 254 732 43

Tripe – Tasca Rei dos Galos de Amarante Porto, Portugal

tripasYes, I know “tripe” sounds iffy. At least it did to me for many years. My mother was a big fan and every time we went out for tapas in Madrid, she’d order “callos a la madrileńa” which I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Why now you may ask? Well, I happen to be in Porto a  city known for this dish. It’s even become part of its people’s identity as locals are called “tripeiros” because in the old days, they generously shipped their meat out to Portuguese sailors who were sent to fight in Africa in the XV century under the command of Henry the Navigator.  Locals were left only with by products and  tripe but ingeniously came up with this great stew that I had to try. It was the moment to overcome all that dread that my mother made so much fun of .  I had to do it, there was no way that I could come to Porto and not  give tripe a chance.

I was lucky enough to be guided by Raquel and her friend Rui who kindly led me to a great “tasca”  on rua das Taipas in the Cordoeiro neighborhood, close to the Jewish quarter. Tasca do Rei dos  Galos de Amarante, a family run  joint that has been in business for over 47 years.  Husband Dom Rodrigo and wife Dona Maria Rosa have been serving locals the best in homemade Porto cuisine for almost five decades, becoming a gathering point for  university professors and  students who swamped the place in the early 80’s.

Bits of  honeycomb tripe, a cow’s stomach lining – yes, that’s what it is – mixed with linguiça ( smoked sausage) and blood pudding in a white bean stew. Added to this is the delicious “salpicão” a  sausage that is a  mix of  beef and pork loin made with wine, garlic and paprika which  adds a whole lot of flavor to this dish. Usually served with a side of white rice, “tripas á moda do Porto” is hearty and meant to keep you satisfied for a long time.   I have to admit, it took me a few minutes to try it but once I got through the chewy part, I actually enjoyed it. With the help of a nice glass of vinho verde, I mustered the courage to finish it up and I have to say it was delicious. Overcome your fears like I did, give tripe a try! At least in Porto.

Tasca do Rei dos Galos de Amarante

Rua das Taipas 121

galosPorto,  Portugal

Tel: 222 057 297

Tasquinha do Oliveira – Évora, Portugal

coentrosX

The Alentejo region is known for its beautiful scenery but more importantly for its wonderful food.  It’s no coincidence that many of its famous dishes have become mainstream across the country.  Robust flavors of land and sea combined in marvelous choices like the carne de porco a alentejana, an aromatic  braised pork dish served  with fresh clams,  and hearty soups like the   açorda alentejana made with bread, garlic and cilantro to name a few.

So when in Alentejo, one must eat like the Alentejans and that’s exactly what I did.  I searched for one of  the most authentic  restaurants I could find  and was lucky enough to get a table at  the Tasquinha do Oliveira, a highly regarded landmark in the town of Evora.

This tiny space on rua Candido Reis, not far from the castle walls, is run by husband and wife Manuel andwineX Carolina.  A family business holding only five  tables and an infinite number  of handcrafted ceramic plates that hang from its walls, turns this dimly lit “tasquinha” into a  quaint and cozy place to eat. Manuel, who was very friendly but also very to the point, suggested I try  the cação com molho de coentros, tender dogfish cooked in a delicious garlic and coriander sauce that compelled me to soak it all up with endless pieces of crusty Alentejan bread. Not a drop  was left!

arrozpatoxI also had to try some of the famous duck rice dish known as arroz de pato that, although  claimed to have originated elsewhere in Portugal,  is rumored to be outstanding in the Alentejo.  This one was an absolutely delicious baked version  with a crusty top garnished with slices of  Portuguese sausage known as chouriço. Crunchy on top, fluffy and meaty in the middle and incredibly flavorful all over!  To drink,  I had to try some local wine so I chose the Joaquim Madeira , a full bodied yet smooth red  with a hint of blackberries that paired nicely with my amazing Alentejan feast.

 IMG_1091Tasquinha do Oliveira

Rua Cándido dos Reis 45-A,

Évora, 7000-582

Alentejo

Phone: 266/744841

Toscana – Lisbon, Portugal

toscana codThe ultimate Portuguese Grill

Right outside the city center, in the district of Alcantara hides a small eatery with some of the most traditional fare in town. Toscana, a quaint and small space, crowded with tables in every nook possible, serves an assortment of eighteen types of fresh fish and  various cuts of meat. You can pick the fish you want to eat and they’ll grill it right in front of you.

A big hit among those who worship anything char-grilled, Toscana has been whetting local’s appetites for over thirty years. It was originally owned by brothers Emídio and Carlos Pereira who ran the restaurant for over thirty years until  they sold it  to present owner Vitor Franco, who  also  has ensured that both tradition and standards remain, making it a favorite among many famous musicians, actors and  politicians.

No matter who’s been in charge, it has continuously been a labor of dedication that is clearly reflected in its wonderful food, impeccable service and inviting ambience. As you walk in, a warm welcome from the friendly and attentive staff will make you feel at ease. The menu is rather simple and most dishes are served with  the usual side of salad, rice or french fries. But make no mistake, for the main offerings are anything but ordinary.

I picked the bacalhau á Toscana which was in order for cod is the most popular fish choice in Portugal and my absolute favorite. A nice portion of chargrilled cod and small potatoes drizzled with garlic and warm olive oil, a unique experience for those who can appreciate the mild flavor of this fish and its divine simplicity. Other great choices  were sole, swordfish and bass. As for the meats, there were various  sausages and several cuts of beef and pork like the  secreto de porco preto,  made with acorn-fed Iberian pig,  famous for its tenderness and rich flavor. Another great hit were the lulas á mordomo, tender squid grilled to perfection served with potatoes.  Again, another simple but delicious dish.

lulastoscanoAs far as wines go, Toscana’s house one is served in jugs, both red and white, from two barrels placed on the wall. Portugal, a country of great vines, never fails to please no matter how simple the restaurant and  this one couldn’t be any different. House wine, whenever ordered is usually pretty good and  Toscana’s was outstanding!

toscanoToscana

Rua do Sacramento a Alcantara
1350-280, Lisboa
Telefone: 213 968 633
Reservations are not accepted
E-mail: geral@toscanacasadepasto.com
http://www.facebook.com/toscana.casadepasto

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