The tavern of the tides

Taberna da Maré - Tavira.JPG

Portimão, a city in the Algarve, is famous for the quality of its sardines. Our favorite place to enjoy the silver of the sea is Taberna da Maré (tavern of the tides), which opened in 1946. The current owner, Zeca Pinhota, restored the restaurant with great sensitivity and care, using the original floor mosaic, vintage furniture, and photos by Julio Bernardo, a photographer born a century ago in nearby Ferragudo.

The food is wonderful. When they are in season, between June and September, the sardines are the main event. But there are many other delicacies. We had a feast composed of razor-clam rice, fried fish with “açorda,” clams Bulhão Pato, and grilled fish eggs.

We told Zeca that his clams are amazing. “That’s because they come from the sea to the restaurant. They do not spend time in tanks, shedding weight and flavor.” Zeca explained. “I call the local fisherman first thing in the morning to ask about the catch of the day. I want to cook the best of what the tide brings.” And that is indeed what you get at the tavern of the tides.

Taberna da Maré is located at Travessa da Barca 9, Portimão, tel. 282 414 614.

A comet called Noélia

Noélia composit

“One good thing about Winter is that it is easier to dine at Noélia” our Algarve friends told us. “In the Summer it is impossible to get in.” Curious, we made reservations a week in advance.

As soon as we sat down in this seaside restaurant in the village of Cabanas, we knew we were in for something special. There was a festive atmosphere and the aromas of the sea filled the air.

The restaurant is noisy but our waiter was a mind reader who guessed what we wanted without the need for much verbal communication. And so a perfectly chilled bottle of sparkling wine arrived, followed by a plate of steamed langoustines. “They were caught this morning” the waiter told us. “I know you’ll like them.” We were so impressed by the crustaceans’ exquisite taste that we vowed never to eat frozen seafood again.

Our main dish was rice with lemon, corvina, and conquilhas, small cockles that only exist in the Algarve. We appreciated in silence the sublime combination of flavors. A Dom Rodrigo, a sweet combination of fios de ovos (egg threads) and almonds, rounded the meal.

Noélia, the chef, seemed to be everywhere: cooking, talking to regulars, giving instructions to the staff, making final adjustments to the plates before they were brought out. She is a culinary comet that brightens everything she touches.

Suddenly, she arrived at our table and asked: “did you like the food?” “We loved it,” we replied. “But we’re sorry we’re too full to try other dishes.” “Next time order oyster risotto and favas with cuttle fish,” she said. “I get up at 6:00 am to make sure I buy the best oysters in Algarve.” And she was gone as quickly as she had arrived.

Outside, the moon was painting the sea with its silver light. But no one in the restaurant paid any attention. The moon cannot compete with a comet called Noélia.

The Restaurante Noélia & Jerónimo is located in the village of Cabanas near Tavira, Algarve at Rua da Fortaleza, Edifício Cabanas-Mar, Loja 6, tel, 281370649. Reservations are a must.

 

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.

António Tá Certo

It is always pleasant to have lunch at a beach side restaurant, with sea and sky as backdrop and the sound of waves as soundtrack. And, when you find a restaurant like António Tá Certo that serves freshly caught fish, just off the boat, the experience can be idyllic.

Tá Certo is located on the beach of Vale do Garrão, close to Faro in the Algarve. It offers an impressive assortment of robalos (sea bass), douradas (sea bream), garoupas (grouper), and pargos (red snapper). If you ask the staff why their fish tastes so great, they smile and answer: our fish slept in the sea.

There is only one problem with enjoying these simple moments on the seashore: you might never want to leave.

Rua Maria Etelvina Teodósio, M21, Praia Vale de Garrão, Almancil, Loulé, 8135-012, tel. (289) 396-456. GPS: N’ 37.03815 / W’ 8.04699.

Boia Bar

At Boia Bar, a restaurant in Salema, near Lagos, Algarve, we always feel we are in a movie set. Everything is too perfect to be real. The restaurant is right on the beach. At dinner time you see the sky drowned in yellow and the sea getting ready for sunset, covering its dark blue color with washes of lighter hues. The warm air and the fresh sea breeze create the perfect temperature. Then, the wine and food arrive. The best item on the menu is the “robalo” (sea bass) grilled Algarve style. Before grilling, the chef makes diagonal incisions on the fish and fills them with thin slices of garlic and some olive oil. It’s that simple. But simple things are often the hardest. You have to have the freshest fish. You have to know the right temperature for the coal, the right amount of salt to use, the right moment to take the fish from the grill to the table. It’s this perfection of simple things that you can enjoy at Boia Bar.

Rua dos Pescadores 101, 8650-199 Salema, tel. 282 695 382, email: boiabar@mail.telepac.pt, click here for website.