Eating with the best people in Vila Real

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“I’m sorry, but we cannot accommodate you. We won’t have a free table any time soon,” said Eleutério Lameirão in a serious tone that agrees with his solemn name. His small restaurant, located in a residential area of Vila Real, was full of regular customers.

Before we left, we took a glance at the menu and found a quote by Julia Child: “People who love to eat are always the best people.” Inspired by this quote, we decided to wait. Eleutério gave us a puzzled look, but fifteen minutes later he had a table for us.

We ordered rissois, fried breaded dough shaped like a half moon with a shrimp or meat filling. Eleutério brought them to the table and waited around to see our reaction. They were crispy on the outside and full of flavor on the inside.  When we said “wow, these are amazing!” Eleutétio abandoned his shy demeanor and smiled, pleased by our reaction. He went back into the kitchen and brought us a plate of codfish cakes. These were also extraordinary: light, airy and slightly crunchy, a four-part harmony of cod, parsley, egg, and potato.

Finally, we had small sardines called “petingas,” incredibly fresh, fried and seasoned to perfection. They came with an hearty bean rice that melted in the mouth and blended with the salty sardines.

The restaurant was still very busy but Eleutério came to chat with us. He told us that the menu is always small, three or four items made with the best fresh ingredients and modestly priced. The recipes have been refined over many years and require great attention to detail. “It is hard work because there’s no room for distractions. Everything has to be right, the timing, the temperature, the seasoning. But it is worth it because when everything is right the taste is amazing,” he said. If you ever have the privilege of eating at O Lameirão, we think you’ll agree.

The restaurant O Lameirão is located on Rua da Cruz, Vila Real, tel. 259 346 881.

Perfection at Adraga

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When we were very young, our parents used to take us to an idyllic beach with crystal blue waters and natural rock archways sculpted by the sea. In the end of the afternoon, we often had dinner in a small restaurant right on the beach.  It was simple fare: “percebes” (gooseneck barnacles), grilled fish, and salad. But the flavor and aromas were amazing and so was the spectacle of the sun setting on the ocean. We forgot the name of the beach and that is just as well, for places change and fail to live up to our memories of them.

During a visit to Sintra this summer, we decided to have lunch in the nearby Adraga beach. As soon as we arrived, we realized that this was the beach from our childhood!  There were little kids playing in the same rock archways we once loved and bathing in the same blue waters we so much enjoyed.

We sat at the beachside restaurant and ordered “percebes,” grilled fish, and salad. We kept our expectations low. Surely, the food has changed. Then the seafood and fish arrived, fresh, full of flavor, meticulously prepared. It was as if we were going back in time, to a simplicity and authenticity that are so rare today.

We complimented Jorge Pimenta and his mother Suzette, the restaurant owners, on the quality of their food. They responded with modesty: “Everything we do is simple but we try to do it well.  The percebes were caught this morning right on the beach. The fish is very fresh. All we do is respect the ingredients that the sea brings to us.”

The reasonably-priced wine list has many great choices. But in a restaurant where everything is local, it makes sense to drink the magical wine produced nearby in Casal de Santa Maria by a Russian Baron who is 103 years old.

The same family has owned the Restaurante da Adraga for four generations. In the beginning of the 20th century, queen Dona Amélia used to come here to eat fish while the king hunted in the Sintra mountain. One century later, the Adraga restaurant continues to delight anyone who loves great food, whether or not they have royal blood.

Restaurante da Adraga is located at Praia da Adraga, 143, Sintra, tel. 219280028. Reservations are a must. Ask for a table near the windows facing the beach for a spectacular view.

A food tour of Lisbon

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Pedro Rebelo has collaborated with our blog from the beginning, suggesting restaurants to try and ideas for posts. He is a fabulous cook. We’re lucky to have been invited to many of his culinary feasts and we love the recipes he shares on his blog, Pasto. Pedro’s food is not just delicious—it surprises and delights.

After researching food tours in Italy and France, Pedro teamed up with Franziska Shroeder to organize their own food tour of Lisbon, Portugal on a Plate. They invited us to go on their tour and we gladly accepted.

We met in an elegant esplanade in Praça São Paulo. Sipping an espresso accompanied by a crunchy pastel de nata, we asked Pedro and Franziska what was the plan. “We cannot spoil the element of surprise,” Pedro answered smiling. “All we’ll say is that the heart of the tour is Madragoa, a neighborhood full of character seldom visited by tourists.”

We don’t want to give away their secrets, but we can tell you that the tour is a feast for all senses. We learned about Portuguese food, history and culture surrounded by the sounds of Lisbon: the river Tagus splashing its waves on the shore, the old trams gliding on their tracks, the church bells marking the passage of time.

There was so much to see: pristine fish and colorful produce in the farmers market, salted cod and other delicacies in traditional grocery stores, ancient buildings and quaint streets.

We experienced the scents of the herbs and spices used in local cooking and the aroma of coffee beans roasted by the last artisanal producer in Portugal.

Every few minutes there was a new culinary sensation, from the classics of the Portuguese repertoire to the cuisine of places like Goa, which were once part of the Portuguese empire. There were finger foods like “tremoços” and interesting wines made with passion by small producers.

The tour includes an initiation into the art of drinking tea. It was great fun to try the different teas brought from China by Portuguese navigators and introduced to the British court by a Portuguese princess, Catarina de Bragança.

You can sample the cuisine of Lisbon on your own. But it is a much richer experience to have insiders guide you to the flavors and aromas of a great culinary tradition waiting to be discovered.

Click here for more information about the Portugal on a Plate food tours.

 

Sweet temptations in Sintra

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Sintra queijadas from Pastelaria Gregório

The road to Sintra is paved with sweet temptations. We stopped for a coffee at Pastelaria Gregório and couldn’t resist eating one of their travesseiros (pillows). They were still warm, the layers of dough fusing with the rich almond cream. Our palates were so delighted that we asked for a queijada, another classic Sintra pastry. A plate with several miniature queijadas arrived and, although we tried, it was impossible to eat only one.

Gregório Ribeiro started producing and selling these wonderful queijadas in 1890. The business has since then been a family affair. Gregório’s great-grandchildren work at the pastry store, making sure that the quality is exceptional, baking the pastries in small batches so that everything is fresh out of the oven.

There was a constant flow of regular customers who came in for their favorite sweet treats: almond tarts, bolos de amor (love cakes), broas de mel (honey cakes), and much more. We asked Teresa Matos, the owner of Pastelaria Gregório, whether they’re always this busy.

“Christmas is our toughest season,” she answered. “Customers love our traditional Bolo Rei (king’s cake) so there’s always a long line outside the store. We know it’s frustrating to wait for so long to buy our cake. But we don’t want to bake the cakes in advance because they lose their freshness.”

“Is the cake really worth the wait?” we asked. “You need to decide for yourself,” said Teresa with a mischievous smile. In December we’ll be waiting in line to find out.

Pastelaria Gregório is located at Av. D. Francisco de Almeida 33/35 in Sintra, tel. 219-232-733.

 

Wine heritage at Sanguinhal

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The Quinta das Cerejeiras Reserva is a smooth, beguiling red wine that has enlivened many of our dinner parties. So, it was with great anticipation that we drove to Bombarral, 70 km north of Lisbon, to meet the producer of this precious nectar.

We were received by Ana Reis. She is the great-granddaughter of a wine legend: Abel Pereira da Fonseca who, early in the 20th century, owned more than 100 taverns in Lisbon. In 1926, Pereira da Fonseca bought three estates in Bombarral (Sanguinhal, Cerejeiras and São Francisco) to venture into wine production. Almost a century later, these “quintas” remain in his family, producing wines that every year earn more accolades and awards.

Bombarral is the Napa valley of Portugal, a region near the ocean with exceptional conditions for wine production. The soils have a high clay content and the Montejunto mountain joins forces with the Atlantic breezes to create a microclimate with mild summers and temperate winters.

We started our tour in the shade of an old cork tree to learn about the production of cork in Portugal. Then, we stepped into the wine cellar. The temperature was a few degrees lower and the air was perfumed with voluptuous aromas. The ancient oak barrels are full of precious brandies and fortified wines. Produced decades ago, they wait in the dark for the perfect moment to be brought to light. “This is barrel #6, we’ll later try some of its content,” promised Ana with a twinkle in her eyes.

Next, we visited the distillery, the place where the magical “aguardente” (fire water) was once produced. Grapes were crushed and distilled to make brandy (“aguardente vínica”). The stems and remnants from brandy production were then distilled to make “aguardente bagaceira,” which is what Italians call grappa. Nothing was wasted: the leftovers from this second distilling were used to fertilize the land.

We toured the vineyards near the house which are planted with muscatel grapes. There is a rose bush in every row. Roses are very sensitive to diseases like mildew, so they give advanced warning of any problems that might affect the grapes.

The quinta is full of memories of times gone by: ancient mulberry trees whose leaves were once used to make silk, a romantic 19th-century garden, old vines with varietals like carignan, brought by French peasants during the Napoleonic invasions.

Our final stop was the “adega,” the place where the wines from the three quintas were produced until 1960. It has large stone tanks and wooden presses built in 1871. We sat at a table, sampling Portuguese cheeses and sausages while listening to Ana speak with eloquence and passion about the secrets of wine making.

There was a treasure trove of wines for us to try. The feast started with Sottal, a flirtatious, light aromatic wine made with muscatel grapes. Next, we tried the Cerejeira Seleccionado Rosé, a perfect Summer companion, fruity, full bodied with a gorgeous color. Things got serious with the 1998 Quinta do Sanguinhal DOC, a wine of great depth and charm. We then fell in love with the white Quinta da Cerejeira Reserva. After a 40-year hiatus, this wine, made with chardonnay and aged in oak, was brought back into production two years ago. Its smooth, elegant flavors left our palates in a state of bliss.

After trying several other interesting wines, we tasted the content of barrel #6, a Quinta de São Francisco licoroso. It is a sweet, fortified wine with great complexity, the perfect ending to a perfect wine tasting.

The great poet Fernando Pessoa made a living as a translator. In the middle of the afternoon he would often take a break and tell his workmates he was going to see Abel. He then walked to one of Abel Pereira da Fonseca’s taverns to enjoy a glass of wine.

The wines from Sanguinhal, Cerejeiras and São Francisco inspire conversation, friendship and, if you’re lucky, immortal poetry.

Click here for information on how to book a visit or a wine tasting at Quinta do Sanguinhal. 

 

 

Our walking tour of Lisbon!

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We love showing Lisbon to our friends. It is a joy to stroll through streets where so much history was written, admiring the old architecture, visiting interesting shops, stopping by beautiful cafés for coffee and pastries. So, when VoiceMap invited us to record a voice-guided walking tour of Lisbon, we didn’t hesitate.

VoiceMap is a new company that produces GPS-based walking tours. To go on a tour, all you need is a smart phone. You can download the tour in advance and use the maps offline.

Their app shows you a map with your current location and where you should go next. The audio is synchronized with the map, so you can walk at your own pace while your guide tells you about what you’re seeing. It is a great way to immerse yourself in the place you are visiting.

Our tour is about the relationship of Lisbon with the Tagus river. We start at Chiado, by the iconic Brasileira coffee shop, and stroll down to Baixa, the area of downtown Lisbon that was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake. On the way, we tell you about everything from myths and legends to royal gossip. We show you the architecture and the views of the Tagus river that inspired so many poets. And we end the tour with a celebratory drink in the most beautiful esplanade in Lisbon. Come join us!

Click here to download our VoiceMap tour of Lisbon.

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