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.

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.

 

The best grilled sardines in Lisbon

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The best place to eat grilled sardines in Lisbon is Casa do Peixe, a modest restaurant on the second floor of the Saldanha food market. This eatery dates back to the first part of the 20th century, when a cook from Galicia came to Lisbon and set up a few tables in the market to serve poached fish. The restaurant quickly became a destination for food lovers.

The current owner, Aníbal Sousa, bought the restaurant 30 years ago. When the Saldanha market moved from its graceful old building to its current unremarkable location, he added a charcoal grill and started to grill sardines and other fish.

The restaurant is noisy and there is no ambience. But it is always full of locals who love to eat fresh fish, everyone from clerks and shopkeepers to government officials and business executives.

Three cooks work nonstop to produce a constant flow of perfectly cooked treasures from the sea. All the fish is great but the sardines are extraordinary; moist and flavorful, grilled to perfection. We asked Aníbal Sousa what makes his sardines so exceptional. He smiled and said: we have been grilling them for many years and we only serve sardines when they are at the peak of their quality.

If you’re a foodie in search of the perfect grilled sardine, Casa do Peixe is the place for you.

Casa do Peixe is located on Mercado 31 de Janeiro, Rua Engenheiro Vieira da Silva, 135, Saldanha, Lisboa, tel. 213544233.

Deluxe eels in Aveiro

 

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Eels were highly-prized culinary delicacies in ancient Greece. The eels from Lake Copais, a lake near Athens that is now extinct, were famous in the ancient world and sold for exorbitant prices. In the plays of Aristophanes these eels are the symbol of a luxurious life.

In Portugal, the most famous eels come from Murtosa, a town near Aveiro. They taste great fried, accompanied by escabeche sauce (a combination of olive oil, garlic, laurel, and vinegar).

A great place to try this delicacy is a neighborhood restaurant in Aveiro called Marinhas. The eels come perfectly fried accompanied by a delicious seafood rice and the indispensable escabeche sauce.

At Marinhas you can, for a modest price, enjoy a meal that would have cost a fortune in ancient Greece!

The Marinhas restaurant is located on Rua Cavalaria Cinco, 4, Aveiro, tel. 234197679..

Perfection in Matosinhos

DCIM103GOPROWhen Oporto residents want to eat fresh fish, they drive to the nearby Matosinhos beach. The town’s main street (Rua Herois de França) and its side alleys are lined up with restaurants.

We usually go to S. Valentim and order rodovalho (turbot). We avoid appetizers so that, when the perfectly-grilled fish arrives at the table, we can give it our undivided apetite.

Each restaurant has a large charcoal grill outside maned by a master griller. This is a person with unbreakable concentration who doesn’t take the eyes off the grill until the fish is perfectly cooked.

Grilling fish is easy, unless you want to do it perfectly, in which case it takes years of experience. It is this perfection that keeps fish lovers coming back to Matosinhos.

S. Valentim is located on Rua Herois de França, 335, Matosinhos, tel. 229379204.

 

A taste of the future

Composit Apicius

It’s great to eat in three-star Michelin restaurants. But the heavy bill and all the fuss unrelated to the meal takes away some of the enjoyment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to dine in the restaurants where the now-famous chefs cooked before they reached stardom? We would eat great food at a reasonable price and witness the excitement of creation without having to deal with overbearing waiters.

This week we had dinner in just such a place. The restaurant, named after the Roman writer who authored the first cookbook, is called Apicius. It is run by two chefs who are partners in business and in life: Francisco Magalhães and Joana Xardoné.

The delicious coriander butter that arrived with the bread got the meal off to a good start. But it didn’t prepare us for the festival of tastes, textures, and aromas that followed: venison tartare, cauliflower salad, copita with eggs, duck with carrot puree, potatoes, edible soil and Alentejo black pork, turbot in a roasted vegetable broth, and apple sorbet

Every bite was interesting. Every item perfectly cooked and artfully presented. We liked our dinner at Apicius so much that we returned the following day for lunch.

There are many places in Lisbon where we can enjoy the great recipes of the past. At Apicius, we tasted Lisbon’s culinary future. It is deliciously bright!

Apicius is on Rua da Cruz dos Poiais, tel. 21-390-0652. Click here to make reservations on the web.

The Seteais palace

The Seteais Palace, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2014.

Seteais means seven sighs, a name inspired, according to legend, by the romance between a Portuguese noble and a Moorish princess.

The Seteais palace was built in Sintra in 1787 by the Dutch consul and later sold to the wealthy Marquis of Marialva.

In 1954, the palace was converted into a luxury hotel. Booking a room at Seteais guarantees you’ll have a memorable experience. If you don’t stay at the hotel, you can still experience its unique atmosphere by visiting the elegant bar for a glass of white port before dinner.

In 1802, the Marquis of Marialva invited the Prince Regent, John IV and his wife for a visit. To celebrate the occasion, the Marquis built an archway decorated with busts of the royals. A Latin inscription praises the prince for his wisdom and prudence. No one could guess that five years later the Portuguese royal family would flee to Brazil to escape Napoleon’s troops.

The echoes of these twists and turns of Portuguese history have long faded. What remains, is one of the most romantic places in the world.

 Click here to see the Seteais Palace website.

The octopus capital

St. Luzia (Polvo) Composit

The best octopus in Portugal comes from Santa Luzia, a small village near Tavira in the Algarve. The locals proudly call it octopus capital.

The shores of Santa Luzia are full of small shrimp that attract the octopi. Old-time fishermen lay clay pots called “alcatruz” in the water. The octopi cuddle in these pots to sleep and get caught when the pots are removed from the water.

Younger fishermen don’t like to wait for the mollusks to fall asleep, so they prefer to use a “covo,” a plastic trap with a sardine inside.

Old timers swear that the octopus caught with the alcatruz tastes much better than the one caught with the covo. But young and old agree that Casa do Polvo is a great place to eat octopus. There are many preparations to choose from, including carpaccio, stewed, fried, and roasted. Our favorite is “polvo panado,” octopus combined with egg and bread crumbs and then fried. No matter which preparation you choose, the octopus is tender and delicious.

If you’re traveling in the Algarve, it is a great idea to include Santa Luzia on your itinerary. You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful meal and earn the right to brag that you’ve visited the octopus capital.

Casa do Polvo is on Avenida Eng. Duarte Pacheco, N. 8, Santa Luzia, Tavira. Tel. 281-328-527. In the Summer reservations are a must.