Belcanto

Composit Bel Canto

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Belcanto, the most celebrated restaurant in Lisbon, is close to the São Carlos opera house. Decorated with whimsical porcelain plates, the restaurant looks like a stage and its meals are as thrilling as a great opera performance.

Our lunch’s overture was composed of small bites often included in the couvert of traditional restaurants:  tremoços (lupini beans), olives, and a carrot and garlic salad. The presentation was unusual–they were served on top of Portuguese cobblestones. But the real surprise was that they all turned liquid once we bit into them, filling our mouth with explosions of flavor. This culinary prelude was accompanied by Vicentino, a wine from Zambujeira do Mar that left our paletes refreshed with hints of green pepper.

There were more surprises. First, a fake edible stone covered with salmon caviar. Then, crispy chicken skin with corn coriander and liver, a combination that tastes like roasted chicken. Next, a delicious algae cornet filled with tuna served inside a flower pot.

A genial waiter introduced a chorus of breads made from corn, buckwheat, quinoa, and puff pastry. Next came a duet for clams and “lingueirão” (razor clams) accompanied by a 1979 Porta dos Cavaleiros, a velvety red wine from the Dão region produced in the birth year of chef Avillez.

Then the arias started. The first was a Golden Egg–an egg cooked at a low temperature, covered with gold leaf and adorned with threads of fried leek. It arrived with a lively Arinto white wine made by António Maçanita in Pico, a volcanic island in the Azores archipelago.

The second aria was called Ocean Dive: a pristine sea bass (robalo) cooked in sea water with seaweed, “salicórnia” (samphire), razor clams, and mussels. We were still savoring the final chords of this crowd pleaser when a new theme was introduced: a flavorful remake of the bucolic “cozido” that the chef’s grandmother used to prepare with boiled meats and cabbage. It came with a vigorous 2012 Bruto from the Douro region.

The performance reached its climax with another traditional recipe reinvented: the roasted piglet from Bairrada. We don’t know what culinary sorcery was used to produce this perfect combination of crispy skin and juicy roasted meat. All we can tell you is that the result is magical.

A new theme was introduced by a duo of pre-desserts: a raspberry sorbet and an “abade de priscos” pudding. They were followed by a tangerine dream made from frozen juice and filed with tangerine sorbet. Vila Oeira, a rare dessert wine from Carcavelos harmonized with these sweet delights. Coffee and mignardises brought our meal to a blissful finale.

You have to be patient to dine at Belcanto. The restaurant is booked for weeks in advance. But it’s worth the wait to experience such an unforgettable culinary performance.

Belcanto is located at Largo do São Carlos in Lisbon, tel. 21-342-0607.

 

 

Magano

Composit Magano

When lunch time comes, some Lisbon residents dream about being magically transported to the plains of Alentejo. “O Magano,” a restaurant in the Campo de Ourique neighborhood, is a place where these dreams come true. Open for more than a decade, it brings to the capital untranslatable Alentejo delights such as “pézinhos de coentrada” and “carne de alguidar.”

We told our waiter that we wanted to try a little of everything. “I can bring you the menu or you can leave it up to me,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. We agreed to put him in charge and soon the table was covered with small plates of codfish with chickpeas, grilled peppers, favas with chouriço, miniature pies, green bean tempura, and marinated partridge with razor-thin fried potatoes.

“This was a wonderful lunch,” we said, complimenting our waiter on his choices “It’s not a problem if you want to skip it,” he said “but I had something else for you to try.” He went to the kitchen and brought back a steaming terrine of tomato broth. He carefully placed a piece of bread on each soup plate. Then, he poured the tomato broth and toped each piece of bread with a slice of grouper. The result was pure culinary satisfaction.

We made it clear that we didn’t have room for dessert. “I understand,” our waiter said with an enigmatic smile. He then brought us a plate with “queijadas,” “lérias,” “fidalgo,” and a Portuguese version of “îles flottantes.” “Just in case you change your mind and decide to end the meal on a sweet note,” he said. It was a pleasure to succumb to these temptations.

Magano means mischievous boy in the slang of Alentejo. Our waiter is a magano who knows that no one can resist the brilliant simplicity of the food of Alentejo.

O Magano is located at Rua Tomás da Anunciacão 52 in Lisbon, tel. 21 395 4522. Reservations are a must. 

The last harbor

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The existence of one of Lisbon’s best fish restaurants has been a closely guarded secret for more than half a century. Its name is “Último Porto” (the last harbor). Now that the secret is out, we might as well confess everything.

The restaurant is tucked away in the corner of one of Lisbon’s harbors (Rocha do Conde de Óbidos). It is not a glamorous place. But for fish lovers it is heaven.

There are tables inside and an esplanade surrounded by containers that is very pleasant when the weather is warm. It is easy to park and the walk to the restaurant is beautiful with the river in front of us and the city on our back.

“Último Porto” opens only for lunch and it is always full of locals. Grilled fish is the main event and the stars of the show are the “salmonetes” (mullets). Their skins are colored with yellow and orange hues, their flavors as bold as their colors. But, there are many other great choices, from sea bass to codfish.

Many restaurants showcase their fish in a refrigerated display. Others bring a fish platter to the table so that customers can choose what they want. At Último Porto, the fish is treated like a work of art—shielded from light and protected from the elements. It only leaves the refrigerator to go to the grill where it is cooked to perfection. It is this care that makes the last harbor our first choice for grilled fish in Lisbon.

Último Porto is located in the Estação Marítima Da Rocha Conde d’Óbidos, tel. 21 397 9498. It only serves lunch and reservations are a must. 

 

 

 

A poetic lunch in Alfama

composit-os-gazeteiros

We got lost in the old Alfama neighborhood on the way to a new restaurant called “Os Gazeteiros.” It is difficult paying attention to where we’re going when there’s so much to appreciate: quaint streets, beautiful tiles, ornate doors and ancient windows. GPS systems are befuddled by the confusing street names and the locals give conflicting directions. It is all so that Alfama can keep its secrets.

We called the restaurant to apologize for being late and we were reassured in a charming French accent that this was not a problem.  When we arrived, we learned that we had spoken with the chef, David Eyguesier.

David explained that lunch was a three-course fixed menu inspired by seasonal, organic products. He then retreated to the kitchen that overlooks the small dining room to work on our meal.

A fragrant aroma preceded the arrival of the first course: a vegetable rice cooked with garlic confit, accompanied by slivers of black pork sausage, baby watercress, and an arugula ice cream. The flavors were delicate, the combination harmonious and inventive.

We asked David where he learned how to cook. “The name of the restaurant is the answer,” David replied smiling. “Gazeteiros are students who skip school to have fun. I’ve never been to culinary school. It’s ironic that the restaurant is located on Rua das Escolas Gerais (General Schools street).”

“So, how did you end up opening a restaurant in Alfama?” we asked, curious. “I fell in love with a woman who brought me to Lisbon,” he confided. “I always cooked for friends and I was inspired by the quality of the Portuguese produce. There are amazing products that sell for a fraction of what they would cost in Paris. Opening a restaurant to cook with these ingredients was a natural idea.”

David returned to the kitchen and we sat back enjoying the sight of the colorful trams that pass periodically right by the restaurant.

The second course was a culinary poem composed of seared sea bream, radishes pickled in cider vinegar, noori and fish broth.

The dessert was a sumptuous trio of pears marinated in ginger syrup, a walnut crumble, and a cream of “requeijão” infused with vanilla, verbena and thyme.

Alfama has a new secret: a restaurant run by a culinary poet. Reserve a table before the word gets out.

Os Gazeteiros is on Rua das Escolas Gerais, 114-116, Lisbon, tel. 218-860-399, 939-501-211

 

A food tour of Lisbon

composit-portugal-on-a-plate

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.

 

Royal pies

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The Portuguese love eating “empadas,” small pies that are perfect for a light meal or a mid-afternoon nibble. The art of making these treats reached great heights in the court of Dom Pedro II. The court’s chef, Domingos Rodrigues, regaled the royal guests with a wide variety of empadas made with fillings that ranged from wild boar to lamprey. His recipes are collected in The Art of Cooking, published in 1680.

Three centuries later, another chef, Belmiro de Jesus, applied himself to the art of making empadas. Belmiro loved the empadas made by his grandmother and spent a lifetime perfecting her recipe.

You can try the result of his efforts at Bel’empada, a take-out place in Lisbon’s Alvalade neighborhood. Belmiro’s delicious creations would make Domingos Rodrigues proud. Paired with a great bottle of wine, these small marvels are a royal meal.

Bel’empada is located at Av. João XXI 24, right at the crossing of Av. João XXI and Av. de Roma (tel. 21 407 5172).

 

Sweet moments in Lisbon

Composit Manteigaria

What is the best pastel de nata in Lisbon?  The answer depends on our mood. Some days, we like them perfumed with lemon. Other days, we prefer them scented with vanilla.

Our current favorites are the lemony kind. They are made by Manteigaria in Praça Camões near Chiado at a location that was once occupied by a butter shop (manteiga is the Portuguese word for butter). Perhaps as an homage to the past, Manteigaria’s pasteis have a buttery taste. The crispy crust and the rich filling are so satisfying that they make us feel, for a moment, that we discovered the meaning of life.

Whenever a new batch of pasteis comes hot out of the oven, Mantegaria’s cashier rings a bell. You’ll see people dropping what they’re doing and rushing to Manteigaria in search of a moment of sweetness.

Manteigaria is located on Rua do Loreto, 2 near Chiado in Lisbon, tel. 21-347-1492.