Dining with Ana Moura in Porto Côvo

We’ve been following chef Ana Moura since her spectacular debut at Cave 23 in Lisbon. So, when we heard she had opened a restaurant in Porto Côvo, a fishermen village on the coast of Alentejo, we went on a pilgrimage to see how her cooking has evolved.

Ana called the restaurant Lamelas, after her mother’s family name. The Lamelas have lived in Porto Côvo for generations and Ana spent her childhood summers there. 

The restaurant has a beautiful terrace overlooking a small harbor.  It was there that our lunch began, with glasses filled with rosé from a local winery called Herdade da Cebolal. Marta, our genial server, brought small plates with appetizing starters: Alentejo bread with an orange butter made with pork fat and red pepper paste; almece, a local cheese, topped with cured fish; a salad made with hake eggs that were so fresh we felt as if the sea had moved closer to our table.

Marta filled our glasses with a delectable white from Herdade do Cebolal to prepare our palates for the next dish: a luscious abrótea (a local fish) with clams, green sauce, and toasted bread. Next, there was a rice made with robalo (seabass), pargo (snapper), and shrimp. We admired the perfection of the confection, all rice grains perfectly cooked, all flavors in harmony. 

Migas, a bread-based preparation, accompanied pork ribs and a purslane salad. It was an explosion of flavor that paired well with the grand reserve red from another local winery, Herdade da Carochinha. 

The meal ended with sweetness from a chocolate mousse lightly seasoned with fleur de sel, a cheese cake, and sopa dourada (golden soup). 

Throughout the meal, we could see Ana cooking in the kitchen. She was in a state of intense concentration, tasting everything and making last minute adjustments.  

We lingered at the table drinking coffee and trying some local brandies made from medronho, waiting for Ana to finish the service. When she came to greet us, we told her that the meal had been unforgettable. She blushed with humility and spoke with passion about her team and the local producers she is working with. 

We asked Ana whether there were any other local restaurants we should try. She praised the cooking of many local chefs and we left with a long list of suggestions. 

We said our goodbyes and started to research Ana’s list. But we had found an epicurean paradise and it made no sense to leave it. We called Lamelas and made lunch and dinner reservations for the following day. It was an inspired decision. We tried many more gastronomical jewels: a stunning açorda made with sole, magnificent mullets, perfect cuttlefish, delicate abrótea livers, and delicious “carabineiro” shrimps. Just when we thought we had sampled the whole menu, Ana sent something new for us to try: pasteis de massa tenra (turnovers) with a boulliabaisse filling. They were fantastic! 

There’s an old Arab tale about someone who travels the world searching for a treasure, only to find it in the courtyard of their childhood home. Ana traveled the world to apprentice in great restaurants. And now, in the beach of her childhood summers, she created a culinary treasure.  

Lamelas is located at Rua Candido da Silva 55a in Porto Covo, tel. 924060426.

Dining with Miguel Castro e Silva at Quinta de Ventozelo

We have for years admired chef Miguel Castro e Silva from the distance. We dined at his restaurants, read his cookbooks, tried his recipes (his marinated sardine preparation is a staple at our table). So it was a great privilege to have dinner with him at Quinta de Ventozelo

We met at Cantina, the restaurant that occupies the place where the old farm canteen used to be. Miguel arrived with a bottle of wine. “Do you want to try the wines I make at Ventozelo?” he asked as a way of introduction. Soon our glasses were filled with a white Viosinho from 2017 that is fresh and vibrant. It went perfectly with our first course, river fish “escabeche.” 

We told Miguel how much we had enjoyed the food we had for lunch in the picturesque esplanade of Cantina:  wild boar covilhetes (a version of the small pies popular in nearby Vila Real), a warm soup made with beets and apple, grilled octopus, and a peach tart that celebrated the natural sweetness of the peaches. We asked how does he manage to achieve such high standards in all his restaurants. Miguel told us that he inherited both his organization skills and creativity from his German mother. He writes meticulous recipes and coaches his cooks in their preparation until they meet his exacting standards.

Miguel started cooking professionally only at age 31. Born into a family of doctors in Porto, he was expected to study medicine. He studied biology in Germany but lost interest and became a musician. To earn a bit of money on the side, he started cooking. When he returned to Portugal, his friend Dirk Niepoort asked him to prepare food for his wine tastings. Dirk would describe the wines he planned to serve and Miguel had to come up with food that paired well with the wines. It was an experience that allowed him to perfect his cooking skills and learn a lot about wine. 

This enological knowledge is evident in the next wine we tried, a remarkable white that combines Viosinho with a blend of red varietals. It was a perfect complement to our second starter: a sausage called “alheira” topped with a fried quail egg. 

Miguel tells us that he is reviving and refining the cooking traditions of the Douro valley. Every Sunday, the cooks at Cantina prepare a roast in an oven fired with vine wood. The soup is made in old iron-cast pots on a large outdoor fire. All the ingredients come from the farm. The animals are naturally raised and everything from nose to tail is used in the kitchen.

Our main course, a suculent stewed rooster, was a perfect example of the refined, satisfying rustic food that Miguel is devising. It combined well with a delicate red wine aged in oak barrels previously used to make white wines.  

Several fruit-based desserts arrived. Once again, we admired the sparse use of sugar that gives the fruits their chance to shine. As the dinner came to an end, we made a few toasts with some old Dalva tawnies.

But there was one more thing. Miguel ordered a pot of tea. Ventozelo produces a wonderful gin with the aromatics that grow on the farm. Miguel had the idea of making an herbal tea with the same aromatics: lavender, lemon thyme, Portuguese thyme, and globe amaranth. It makes a fragrant infusion that was the perfect ending to a perfect meal. Thanks to chef Miguel Castro e Silva the food at Cantina is as spectacular as the view.

Click here for the web site of Cantina, the restaurant at Quinta de Ventozelo and here for Miguel Castro e Silva’s website.

Culinary magic at Cura

We first met Pedro Pena Bastos as the chef at Herdade do Esporão when he was only 25 years old. Sitting at a table overlooking the vineyards of this iconic Alentejo estate, we were taken on an unforgettable culinary journey.

We met Pedro again at Ceia, the elegant restaurant in João Rodrigues’ Santa Clara 1728 hotel. We remember sommelier Mário Marques welcoming us in the courtyard outside the restaurant with glasses of natural sparkling wine from Quinta da Serradinha. Sitting at a long wooden table with a small group of fellow culinary travelers, we experienced once again the wonders of Pedro’s cooking.

As soon as we landed in Lisbon, we made reservations for Pedro’s new restaurant, Cura, at the Four Seasons Ritz hotel. We arrived a few minutes early and knocked on the imposing glass and metal door that separates the restaurant from the hotel. The genial Mário Marques came to greet us and showed us around.

It is difficult to create a new space in the Four Seasons Ritz. Inaugurated in 1959, the building’s modernist geometry serves as the canvas for a stunning art collection that includes works by the great painter Almada Negreiros and many of his contemporaries. Cura’s dining room, decorated by architect Miguel Câncio Martins, integrates well the old and the new. A large metal sculpture hanging from the ceiling harmonizes with the wood panels designed by Fred Kradolfer, a brilliant Swiss graphic design artist who lived in Lisbon. The colorful chairs reference the playful use of color popular in the 1950s. 

While we were chatting with Mário about wine, a plate arrived with long strips made from chickpeas and pumpkin sauce seasoned with marjoram oil. This simple start bears the hallmark of Pedro’s cooking: the constant search for new harmonies and textures that enchant the palate. 

After much pondering, Mário opened a bottle of white Tourónio from Quinta de Tourais in the Douro valley. It is a bright white wine that kept pace with the festival of culinary sensations that followed.

Black pastries filed with veal from the Minho region made a striking appearance on our stone table top. They were pitch black on the outside and succulent on the inside. 

A translucent tagliatelle dressed with a hazelnuts and bergamot sauce came topped with a dollop of caviar.  We recognized this classic trompe l’oeil preparation from Pedro’s repertoire– the “tagliatelle” is made from thin strips of fresh squid.

Slices of breads made from ancient grains were served with butter from the Azores’ Flores island and the magnificent spicy olive oil produced by Pedro’s family. There was also a delicious brioche and some breadsticks made with cheese from the Azores.

Then, a fillet of red snapper came floating on a sauce made from the liver of the fish and perfumed with parsley and saffron. Next, a succulent piece of black pork from Alentejo was accompanied with a beet purée, orange, and foie gras. The dessert featured an original, delightful combination of Jerusalem artichokes, cocoa and arabica coffee. 

We were enjoying one more glass of wine when three little “mignardises” arrived. Mário recommended that we try them in the order, from left to right. The first was made from Belgium biscuit, artichoke and black garlic. The second, made with egg and honey, was an homage to the recipes that came from Portuguese convents. The third, a sphere made from raspberry and lavender, was crispy on the outside and liquid on the inside. It was a final sleight of hand in a dinner full of culinary magic.

Cura is located at Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca 88 in Lisboa. Click here for the restaurant’s website.

A rooftop restaurant in Lisbon

As soon as we exited the elevator, on the 5th floor of Hotel Bairro Alto, we walked to the terrace, attracted by the generous view of the Tagus river. Our waiter suggested that we stay outside and enjoy a few appetizers before going into the living room. And so we sat down and watched the Lisbon skies change into their evening colors. 

The restaurant, called BAHR, offers a menu designed by Nuno Mendes, a Portuguese chef who has earned many accolades in London. It is hard to choose–everything sounds great–so it took us some time to place our order.

After a few minutes wait, a savory aroma heralded the arrival of a plate with rissois de berbigão, fried turnovers with a cockle filling and a hint of curry. We noticed that they were breaded with Japanese panko instead of with traditional bread crumbs. But we were still surprised by the first bite. It was perfect: the crispness of the exterior contrasted with the moist flavorful interior creating an harmonious combination of texture, taste and temperature. 

A plate of percebes (goose barnacles) served on toast arrived next. The percebes looked normal but their smokey taste accentuated by a buttery sauce was exceptional. They were followed by roasted carrots dressed with a mouthwatering citrus sauce.

The temperature was dropping, so we retired to the living room. Our plates were served with a vegetarian version of a Lisbon classic: codfish Brás style. The codfish was replaced by a roasted cauliflower accompanied by a sauce made from broccoli cooked in a salt mass, spinach and parsley. Seldom has a cauliflower shined so brightly. On the table, there were sides of potato chips cut razor thin with a Japanese mandoline.

Next, we tried codfish confit with açorda (a bread-based preparation) from Alentejo. The codfish was superb. When we asked what made it so special sous-chef Nuno Dinis came to the table to explain that we were enjoying skrei, a codfish from Norway that is only available between January and April. It arrives fresh at the restaurant where it is cured with sugar and salt to accentuate the taste of the sea. The codfish was dressed with a savory yellow sauce made with a fricassé of sames (the stomach of the codfish) and a broth made from bones and gelatin.

The meat entrée was black pork with two sauces, one made from clams the other from spinach, parsley and coriander. It is a happy marriage of the flavors of two Portuguese classics: clams Bulhão pato and pork with clams.

The meal ended with queijadas that tasted of lemon and salt. We can’t wait to return to BAHR to enjoy this food that so perfectly combines simplicity, tradition, and refinement.

BAHR is at Hotel Bairro Alto, Praça Luís de Camões nº 2, in Lisbon. Click here for the restaurant’s website.

Was Christopher Columbus born in Cuba, Alentejo?

Adega Monte Pedral

Last Summer, we visited Cuba, a small town in Alentejo. We were attracted by the legend that this hamlet of white-washed houses is the true birth place of Christopher Columbus. The navigator called Cuba the large Caribbean island he discovered in 1492. Why did he choose such an unusual name? Was it to honor his hometown?

We asked a local where to go for lunch. He smiled and pointed to a building on the other side of the road. A large sign read “Adega da Casa de Monte Pedral.”

As soon as we entered the restaurant, we heard voices singing in harmony. A group of locals was sharing a glass of amphora wine and singing traditional Alentejo songs called “cante.”

We sat at a corner table in the spacious dining room full of old wine amphoras. Our waiter asked whether we would like to try the wine that the singers were drinking. Of course we did! It came with a bowl of terrific olives and a plate of splendid prosciutto made from black pigs raised in Alentejo on a diet of acorns. The white wine was deliciously refreshing and devoid of affectation.

Our meal started with a soup made from beans, sausages, black pork, and “tengarrinhas,” a wild thistle abundant in the region. The flavors blended perfectly, to create a deeply satisfying taste and aroma. Our main course was culinary perfection: grilled black pork with a lettuce and mint salad and olive “migas,” a bread-based accompaniment.

José Soudo, the restaurant owner, said farewell to the singers and started making the rounds. He stopped at every table to talk to the diners, using a small glass to try the wine they were drinking. José told us that the building used to be the home of a wealthy family. He bought it four decades ago and turned it into a restaurant that quickly became part of the community. It is a place where the locals stop before lunch and dinner to drink a glass of wine and sing a few songs. His son is the cook. “You have to come back to try his other specialties, tomato soup, purslane soup, lamb stew, and much more,” said José.

The house came with six large amphoras which José used to make 3,500 liters of wine to drink with his friends. Over time, he accumulated 28 amphoras, so now he has enough amphora wine to serve in the restaurant.

We left confident that Cuba is not Christopher Columbus’ hometown. After all, if he was born in a place with such enticing wine, satisfying food and harmonious singing why would he ever leave?

Adega da Casa de Monte Pedral is located at Rua da Fonte dos Leões, Cuba, tel. 936 520 036, email geral@casamontepedral.pt. Click here for the restaurant’s website.

Taberna Albricoque

Taberna Albricoque

Albricoque, a quaint word for apricot used in the Algarve, is a great name for a Lisbon restaurant that blends the old with the new. The space is old; it opened in 1905 as a tavern for travelers from the nearby Santa Apolónia train station. The food is rooted in the traditional culinary vocabulary of the Algarve, the birth place of Albricoque’s chef, Bertílio Gomes. But the approach to food and service is new. Every recipe has been refined to make it more appealing. The character of the restaurant, imparted by features such as the original floor paved with hydraulic tiles, was preserved. But modern amenities, unthinkable in 1905, have been added.

Everything on the menu is delicious. Our meal began with a plate of olives that tasted like sausage because of the way in which they were fermented. There was also a salad made with the purple carrots that were common in the Algarve in old times. Then, the feast continued: savory muxama (cured tuna), plump oysters from Ria Formosa, crispy rissois de berbigão (cockle turnovers), silky alhada de raia (manta ray with garlic), extraordinary marinated carapau (horse mackerel) combined with figs and toasted almonds and served on shinzo leafs.

Chef Bertílio likes to explore the methods for preserving food used in the Algarve before refrigerators became common. He salts a fish called abrótea then hangs it in the cold for a couple of days to drain its liquid. The result is an intense, satisfying taste reminiscent of that of salted codfish.

We didn’t order the fried moreia (moray), because it is usually greasy and chewy, but the chef brought a plate to the table for us to try. It was very thinly sliced and perfectly fried, a revelation of flavor, texture and aroma. The meal ended on a sweet note with almere, a dessert made with the liquid that is left from the making of requeijão, flavored with thyme and pine nuts.

If you’re near Santa Apolónia, stop by Taberna Albricoque to try its delicacies. If you’re far, come to Santa Apolónia for the privilege of dining at Taberna de Albricoque.

Taberna Albricoque is located at Rua Caminhos de Ferro nº98, Lisboa, tel. 21 886 1182, email reservas@albricoque.pt.

The shark’s beach

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Roger Sobreiro, an American wine merchant of Portuguese descent, recommended a small restaurant called A Praia do Tubarão (the shark’s beach) that is his safe harbor when he visits Portugal. We drove to the picturesque town of Costa Nova to try it out.

The restaurant’s facade is painted with the traditional red and white stripes used to decorate fishermen houses. The same red and white palette dominates the cosy interior where Adriano Ferreira, the owner, was waiting for us. He has worked in Costa Nova for 50 years, first as a waiter and then, in the last three decades, together with his wife at A Praia do Tubarão.

“I hunt and fish and all hunters and fishermen are liars,” he said as a way of introduction. Despite this forewarning, we asked Adriano to choose our lunch menu.  “Most of our food is served in the pots where it is cooked: caldeiradas (boulliabaisses) , “ensopados,” and seafood rices. We follow two simple rules: everything is fresh and everything is cooked to order,” he explained.

Adriano went into the kitchen and returned with a plate of petinga (small sardines) and tiny fried balls of berbigão rice. Then, he poured two generous glasses of the wonderful Duas Quintas white from Ramos Pinto. The petinga was crisp, hot, luxuriously fresh and perfectly fried. The rice balls were flavorful and deeply satisfying.

We ate an “ensopado,” a plate made with fish, potatoes, onions, garlic, and olive oil. It is seasoned with “sal d’unto,” a salt and lard combination. It comes with a sauce called “alhada,” made from garlic, lemon and piri piri. The flavors blend to create a unique taste and aroma. The quality of the ingredients and the cooking is superb.

Dessert was a small bowl of the traditional “ovos moles,” a convent sweet made with egg yolks and sugar. The meal ended with a vibrant espresso made with Delta’s famous diamond blend.

We said goodbye to Adriano and promised to be back soon to this welcoming place that serves delicious traditional food.

A Praia do Tubarão is located at Rua José Estevão, 136, Costa Nova Prado, Ilhavo, tel. 234 369 602.

Culinary bliss at Essencial

Restaurant Essencial_

If the cobblestones of Bairro Alto were not so slippery, we would tell you to run to Essencial, a new restaurant in Bairro Alto. Walk instead as fast as you can because this dinning room that seats only 25 guest will soon be impossible to get into.

The restaurant is headed by André Cordeiro, a chef with impeccable knowledge of French technique. He studied for five years with Alain Ducasse in Paris and then worked with three chefs who earned the coveted title of Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (best craftsmen in France). André came back to Lisbon to combine fine-dining ingredients such as truffles and foie gras with the amazing fresh produce available in Portugal. The results are stunning–elegant food that is a joyful symphony of tastes, textures and aromas.

While we were chatting with chef André, a plate of bread arrived. It came with a blend of butter from Pico in Azores, lard and rosemary. It was the one of several unexpected  combinations that delighted our palates throughout the meal.

The first appetizer was a crowd pleaser: delicate slices of marinated salmon with radishes, crème fraiche and tarragon oil, served with the luscious crêpes vonnassiennes made famous by chef George Blanc. The second appetizer was a sea urchin shell filled with beef tartare, sea urchin and nori seaweed. These dissonant ingredients created a pleasing harmony that made our taste buds sing.

It is customary to serve the fish entrée before the meat but here the latter came first. It was a paté en croute made with duck, pork and foie gras served with smoked carrot purée and beets. How could the fish compete with these gratifying earthy flavors? The answer came in the form of a plate of sole. The freshness of the fish was a canvas that made the truffle stuffing and the Champagne sauce stand out.

The last entrée was a lush journey to the flavors of the woods: hare with foie gras, trumpet mushrooms and Jerusalem artichokes in a reduction of red wine, port wine and chocolate.

A vanilla mille feuilles with salted caramel produced a happy ending to a blissful meal. But our culinary experience was not over. There were still fireworks provided by a buttery French toast with vanilla mouse and a rich choux with praline.

Essencial’s minimalist space, impeccable service and interesting French and Portuguese boutique wines perfectly complement the food. We do not need the Michelin guide to tell us that the culinary stars shine brightly on Essencial’s dinner table.

Essencial is located at Rua da Rosa, 176, tel. 211573713, email info@essencialrestaurant.pt. Click here for the restaurants website. 

Pristine fish at Taberna do Valentim

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We met Valentim, the chef and owner of Taberna Valentim in Viana do Castelo, as soon as we entered the restaurant. He was working hard at the grill but took time to show us the superb mullets that had just been delivered. “The seas are often rough during Winter so at times we have to close the restaurant because we can’t find fresh fish of the quality we seek. These mullets came from Póvoa do Varzim. The sea was rough yet the fishermen still went out. Their fish is gorgeous but the they take too much risk to catch it.”

Taberna do Valentim has offered the same small menu for 40 years: pristine seasonal fish perfectly grilled, fish rice, “ensopado de peixe,” a fish stew prepared with white pepper and served on bread toasts, and caldeirada (bouillabaisse). The quality is high and prices are modest so the place is always packed.

After a very satisfying lunch, we resumed our conversation with Valentim.  “I started working when I was 8, serving glasses of wine and codfish cakes in my mother’s tavern,” he told us. “Then, I began to cook, so I’ve been cooking for a long time. But time is not what’s important. Passion is. Unless you have passion for what you do you’ll never be great at it.” This passion is evident in everything that comes to the table at Taberna Valentim.

Taberna Valentim is located at Avenida Campo do Castelo nº45 in Viana do Castelo, tel. 258-827-505.

Prado: the prairie in Lisbon

Prado Composit

Never underestimate the power of the light of Lisbon. Chef António Galapito was happily working at Nuno Mendes’ Taberna do Mercado in London when he was offered the opportunity to open a restaurant in Lisbon. Galapito said he was not interested. But he agreed to see the space.

It is a place full of memories, from Roman ruins to old fish-canning equipment from a factory that once operated there. The ceilings are high, making room for generous windows that invite the light in. It was impossible for Galapito to say no. He called the restaurant Prado, the Portuguese word for prairie, to signal his intention of bringing the best products from the fields of Portugal to his table.

The light became the inspiration for the menu. The food is simple, fresh, organic and seasonal. The wines are natural and biodynamic. The vibe is relaxed and the decoration minimalist.

We sat at a beautiful common table made from old pine wood. Our dinner started with a refreshing strawberry kombucha. Then, a plate of bread and goat cheese arrived at the table. The bread, fermented for 28 hours at Gleba, fused with the flavorful goat cheese and melted in our mouth.

The menu has many small plates that are perfect for sharing. We sampled several of these delights:  mussels, leeks, parsley and fried bread, cabbage cooked with sour milk and sunflower seeds, pleurotus mushrooms, with pimentão (a traditional pepper-based paste) and crunchy sarraceno wheat, green asparagus, requeijão and azedas, mackerel, mizuna, lettuce and tangerine, and finally, squid from Azores cooked in a pork broth.

Dinning at Prado is a wonderful opportunity to taste pristine produce harmoniously combined to create satisfaction and joy.

Prado is located at Travessa das Pedras Negras, 2, tel. 210 534 649, email info@pradorestaurante.com. Click here for the restaurant’s website.