Casa de Pasto

Casa de Pasto

Casa de Pasto was the designation given to humble restaurants that served comfort food to country folks, making them feel at home when they visited the city. So, it was with low expectations that we walked up the stairs of a Lisbon restaurant called Casa de Pasto. We were greeted by an exuberant decoration that combines ceramics and artifacts sold in country fairs with a deft sense of design.

The food was a revelation. First, a gazpacho so intense that it could make a Spaniard blush with pride. Then, the freshest sea bass, perfectly grilled, the kind of delight that you can only enjoy in Portugal. Next, we shared a grilled veal T-bone steak, so large and succulent that it would bring tears to the eyes of a Florentine. The meal’s ending was a chocolate mousse so perfect it could convince a Belgian to move to Lisbon.

Casa de Pasto is a restaurant with wonderful food that makes everyone feel at home.

Casa de Pasto us located at Rua de S. Paulo 20, Lisboa, tel 963 739 979. Click here for their website.

The third island

Açores 47 - cropedThis year we visited Terceira, an island in Azores. After Madeira and the Canary islands, Azores was the third group of islands discovered by Portuguese navigators. Initially, the Portuguese called the whole archipelago Terceiras (the Portuguese word for thirds), but later they renamed it Azores and reserved the name Terceira for the largest island.

Terceira is a perfect destination for a relaxing vacation. There are many beaches to enjoy and hiking trails to explore. Restaurants serve great food for modest prices. And the traditional architecture makes us feel as if we are in a time gone by, when life was simpler and time was not a luxury.

Vitorino Nemésio, a great poet from Terceira, wrote that here you are “at the very bosom and infinitude of the sea, like the medusas and the fish.”

The green valleys of Terceira compete with the beauty of the sea. For Nemésio, this competition is futile because “The islands are ephemeral and dispensable. Only the sea is eternal and essential.”

Our favorite tasca in Lisbon

Das FloresTascas are modest, inexpensive restaurants that offer a small, seasonal menu. They are often family affairs; the parents cook and the kids wait the tables. The quality of tascas is highly variable, some are good, a few are great, many are just passable.

When tascas become popular, they often have trouble coping with success, and their quality suffers. That is why people who find a great tasca usually like to keep it secret.

We’ll break with these social norms and tell you the name of our favorite tasca in Lisbon: Das Flores in Rua das Flores. This establishment is not to be confused with the more posh (and also very good) Taverna da Rua das Flores located on the same street.

You could write a dissertation about the eating habits of Lisbon residents by studying Das Flores’ menu. It includes items like poached grouper, grilled sole, codfish cakes with tomato rice, pork and clams Alentejo, and grilled lamb chops. All perfectly prepared with pristine ingredients. Many items on the menu cost less than 10 euros, which is why the small dining room is always crowded. The restaurant caters to its regular customers, so it can be difficult to get a table.

Das Flores is not a place for a romantic date. But it is a great choice if you want to experience traditional Portuguese food on a budget. Just don’t tell anyone else, ok?

Das Flores is located on Rua das Flores 76, Lisbon, tel. 21 342 8828. If you do go to Das Flores on a date, skip dessert and go to Landeau on the same street for chocolate cake. It will make the whole experience more glamorous.

Oh Porto!

O Porto, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2015.

Portugal’s second largest city and the unofficial capital of the North is called Oporto. The city has an older feel than Lisbon. While much of Lisbon was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, Oporto preserved its meandering medieval streets and ancient buildings.

Oporto is a place full of surprises. The city looks austere, but its granite architecture is just a ruse to make the gorgeous Douro river look even more seductive. Life in Oporto is hectic, but residents always take the time to give visitors a warm reception. There are plenty of restaurants that look ordinary but serve great food. And there are many hidden treasures in the port-wine caves that store, sometimes for centuries, the precious nectars from the Douro valley.

The Portuguese call the city Porto, while the English call it Oporto. There are two theories about this discrepancy. The most plausible is that the English, hearing the Portuguese say “o Porto” (which means “the city of Porto”), combined the article and the noun into Oporto. The most romantic is that the name came from visitors falling in love with the city and sighing “Oh Porto!” We side with the romantic theory.

Click here for a guide of where to stay and what to do in Oporto.

Adventures on the peach tree island

Composit do Pessegueiro-3One of the most captivating beaches in Portugal is the Pessegueiro (peach tree) beach near Porto Covo in Alentejo. It is wonderful to seat on the sand feeling the sea breeze and enjoying the view of the Pessegueiro island. The island looks so mysterious that it is impossible to resist the temptation to plunge in the emerald waters and swim a shore. It is great fun to explore the 15th century fort and the ruins that date from Roman times.

In the afternoon, it is fantastic to go horseback ridding along the coast. Claudia Castanheira and Paulo Rosa of Herdade do Pessegueiro provide all you need: well-trained, intelligent horses, horse-riding instruction, and a picnic. Riding a horse through trails and sand dunes, feeling one with nature is an unforgettable adventure.

Click here for the Herdade do Pessegueiro web site.

The past and future of Portuguese wine


The Flor da Rosa Pousada in Crato has a beautiful collection of “talhas” (clay amphoras) made by potters in Alentejo.  The small amphoras were used to store olives or olive oil. The large ones were used to produce wine, a tradition that goes back to Roman times.

Several Portuguese wine makers are rediscovering the lost art of producing wine in amphoras. One of them is Dirk Niepoort, a great producer from the Douro region. We can’t wait to try these wines which bring the past into the future!

Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Flor da Rosa.

Chocolate tastes new again


Isabel Landeau is a designer who, as a hobby, baked chocolate cakes to share with her friends. She loved so much the oohs and aahs that her cakes inspired, that she became obsessed with perfecting her recipe. For nine months, she experimented with different chocolates and cocoas. The result is a master piece, a cake that is deliciously light but layered with exquisite chocolate flavors.

When Landeau opened a store to share her creation with the world, she was surprised at the praise lavished by the international press (the New York Times called her cake “devilishly good”). Her store has become an obligatory place of pilgrimage for chocolate lovers.

Landeau makes chocolate taste as exciting as when it was brought to Europe in the 16th century, as exotic as when it was used by Aztecs in religious cerimonies. Try a slice of Landeau cake and you’ll see.

Landeau is located on Rua das Flores, N. 70, 911-810-801. Click here for their website.