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.
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.
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.
While walking in Mouraria, the neighborhood near St. Jorge’s castle, a biologist and a chef saw an empty bakery. They started dreaming about turning this place into a small restaurant where they would serve great food to a few lucky guests. Their dream is now a restaurant called Leopold. It serves wonderfully refined fare that is creative but grounded on the ingredients and traditions of Portuguese cuisine.
Our meal started with a carrot that was so delicious that it made all other carrots feel inadequate. At first sight, it looked like there was soil on the plate. The soil turned out to be grounded carob, one of the many ingredients that complemented and accentuated the taste of the carrot.
Many other preparations followed: eggs and mushrooms, tuna, codfish with cornbread, beef from Azores, banana cream with cheese from the island of St. Jorge, meringue with a cream made from beans. All the plates looked beautiful; all the dishes had many nuances to be savored.
Leopold is the perfect place to start a love affair, rekindle an old flame, or simply have a great meal.
Leopold is located in Rua de São Cristovão, 27, tel. 21-886-1697.
In France they call it “pot au feu, “ in Italy “bollito misto,” in Spain “cocido Madrileño.” In Portugal we call it “cozido.” The concept is the same, but the taste differs remarkably from region to region. Cuts of meats that require long periods of cooking are combined with sausages, potatoes, chickpeas, cabbages, and other vegetables. There are no gimmicks, no complex sauce reductions, no overpowering spices, only great ingredients.
In the island of Azores, they prepare the cozido by burying the pot in volcanic soil, where it cooks slowly in geothermal heat. There are no volcanos in continental Portugal, so we have to use regular stoves to do the cooking.
One of the best cozidos is served every Sunday by Companhia das Lezírias, near Vila Franca de Xira, 50 Kms from Lisbon. It is a posh cozido made with wild game that imparts a unique taste to the preparation.
Trying this delicacy requires planing, since it is indispensable to make reservations in advance. Call the Companhia das Lezírias to book a table for a group of friends and, when the time comes, you’ll enjoy a very satisfying meal in the company of very happy friends.
Click here for the website of the restaurant and here for directions. You can make reservations by calling 263 654 985 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Portuguese are so obsessed with the freshness of their fish that they prefer to consume it on the coast, to make sure the fish does not need to travel. This obsession is the reason why there are so many restaurants on the “marginal,” the seaside road that connects Lisbon to Cascais. Our favorite is Porto de Santa Maria, which has served outstanding fish and seafood since 1947. Everything on the menu is wonderful: grilled fish, oysters, clams, shrimp, stuffed spider crab, and lobster rice.
Porto de Santa Maria is famous for its fish baked in bread, a technique to cook a whole fish that keeps it moist and succulent. Savoring this culinary delight while enjoying the magnificent ocean view is simply unforgettable.
Porto de Santa Maria is located in Guincho, 30 km from Lisbon. You can make reservations by telephone (351 214 879 450 ) or email (email@example.com). Click here for the restaurant’s web site, here for a virtual visit to the restaurant, and here for a live camera view of the beach.