DeCastro Gaia

“You have to try my restaurant in Gaia at Espaço Porto Cruz. Stop by the terrace first and then come down to DeCastro Gaia to eat,” advised chef Miguel Castro e Silva.

A few days later, we stepped out of the elevator on the top floor at Espaço Porto Cruz and wow, what a view!  The waters of the Douro river flowed quietly below, saying farewell to the city on their way to the sea. Porto, dressed in bright light, was trying to sway the river to linger a little longer. The river margins were decorated with “rabelo” boats, the traditional vessels that, in times gone by, brought barrels of precious ports to be stored in the Gaia cellars.

It was hard to leave the gorgeous view, but we were curious about the gastronomical experience created by Miguel at DeCastro Gaia. So we went down one floor and sat at a table overlooking Porto.

Before the meal started, our waiter brought us a seductive white Dalva port that put us in a festive mood. Then, a velvety vegetable soup prompted us to say the first of many “oh, so good!” 

The waiter filled our glasses with Contacto Alvarinho, a lively green wine made by Anselmo Mendes. It paired perfectly with our next dish, a lush artichoke and goat cheese salad. More delights followed. The turnovers made from phyllo dough, spinach, and alheira were wonderful. At first bite, they resemble a Greek spanakopita, but then the allure of the alheira surprises the palate.  The codfish fried in batter (“patanisca”) melted in the mouth. Finally, the rooster fish with clams was fresh and oh, so good! 

The menu offers old classics of Portuguese cuisine and new classics created by chef Castro Silva. What the menu does not reveal is the freshness of the ingredients and the precision of the confection. The Portuguese have an expression “tudo no ponto” that describes food that is perfectly cooked, seasoned, and sauced.  That is what DeCastro Gaia offers. What more do we need?

DeCastro Gaia is located in Espaço Porto Cruz at Largo Miguel Bombarda 23, Vila Nova de Gaia. Click here for the restaurant’s website.

The Boa Nova tea house

We drove from Porto to Leça da Palmeira on a warm, sunny day to have lunch at the Boa Nova tea house. Our expectations were high. The building, classified as a national monument, was designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, an architect who won the Pritzker prize. It houses since 2014 a restaurant headed by chef Rui Paula that has earned two Michelin stars.

The house, ensconced inside a cliff, is a gentle mark on the landscape. As we walked up the stairs that lead to the front door, we were greeted by the wind carrying aromas of salt and seaweed to stimulate our appetite. We stopped for a few moments to look at the spectacular seascape. Then, the door opened and we stepped inside. The sea is even more alluring framed by afizélia, an African red wood that covers the interior walls and ceilings. Inaugurated in 1962, the tea house is one of Siza’s early works. The influence of Frank Lloyd Wright is clearly visible. But instead of echoing the flatness of the American prairie, the house reflects the rugged landscape of the Portuguese coast. 

We sat at the table admiring the expansive view. The sommelier came over and we talked leisurely about what to drink with the meal. We settled on a sparkling wine made with Arinto at Quinta da Romeira in Bucelas that kept us pleasant company during our gastronomic journey.

The meal started with a rustic touch: a warm toast buttered with lard that was a staple of the chef’s childhood breakfasts.  It was followed by a splash of sophistication: a translucent taco with avocado and fish eggs. A spoon with clams Bulhão Pato arrived next. We ate it in a single bite. It filled our palate with the taste of many clams. 

Then dessert arrived in the form of an elegant eclair. “Time goes by fast at the Boa Nova tea house,” commented our waitress smiling. “It feels like you just started the meal and you are already having dessert.” It was a false ending. The eclair is a savory treat stuffed with a delicate mussel filling.

A number of delights from the sea arrived in quick succession. A slice of robalo (sea bass) bathing in a green algae sauce, topped with perfectly crisp skin and percebes (gooseneck barnacles). Scallops embraced by tapioca, adorned with two sauces, one made with lemon and the other with chouriço (sausage). A large red shrimp called carabineiro with carrots of different textures and a delicious bisque. Salmonete (mullet) with cassava and cashew nuts, a preparation inspired by Brazilian cuisine. And, finally, cherne (grouper) wrapped in paper and accompanied by sweet potatoes. 

This whirlwind tour of sea treasures was followed by a plate called dejá vue. It is a surprise, so perhaps it is best if we don’t describe it.

The dessert was called “late harvest.” It is fresh and crunchy, a combination of honey, nuts and dried fruit that evokes the flavors of a late harvest wine.

At the touch of a button, our waiter made the windows vanish. Suddenly, the sound of the sea filled the room and a gentle breeze refreshed our senses. 

Our waitress brought us another dessert: olive cake served with olives and olive ice cream decorated with tuilles shaped like olive leaves. Then, a cart carrying small wooden boats offered us a choice of apetizing petit fours. 

Our high expectations were greatly exceeded. We left the tea house in a state of enchantment, delighted by the beauty of the place, the deliciousness of the food, the elegance of the plating, the graciousness of the service, and the magic of it all.

The Boa Nova tea house is located at Avenida da Liberdade nº 1681, Leça da Palmeira, tel. 229 940 066. Click here for the restaurant’s website.

The magic of a dinner at the Yeatman

Yeatman restaurant

At the end of our dinner at the Yeatman last November, chef Ricardo Costa gave us an envelope sealed with wax stamped with the hotel’s Y symbol. We brought the envelope home where it’s been sitting on our desk. A couple of days ago, we woke up to the sight of grey skies and the sound of howling winds. We reached for the envelope and broke the seal, hoping to summon some of the magic of our Fall evening at the Yeatman. Inside, we found the dinner’s menu.

We recalled that our meal started softly, with a cup of tea made from kombu, an Asian algae. Then, there were oysters with foie gras and an apple gel that accentuated their  briny taste. They harmonized with a glass of bright, sparking wine from Murganheira. The meal continued merrily with a miniature piece, three inventive combinations of algae and tuna.

This preamble was followed by a chicken oyster–a small oval cut with intense flavor. It was delightfully roasted, seasoned with dehydrated chili pepper, served with a mushroom broth and topped with a cheese sauce.

Beautiful slices of lírio, a fish from the Azores, arrived on top of a cylinder bathing is sea foam and decorated with pearls.  The pearls, cylinder and foam were all made of cucumber. The delicate flavors paired perfectly with a glass of Quinta de Baixo Vinhas Velhas, a great white wine made by Dirk Niepoort from old vines in Bairrada.

The white wine refreshed our palate so that we could fully appreciate the next course: a succulent lobster with cauliflower puré and a whimsical bloody Mary made from lobster jus. Then, more of our favorite flavors gathered on the plate: xarem, a polenta-like preparation popular in Algarve, topped with a corn cream, a cockle called berbigão, black-pork prosciutto, egg, and a coriander broth.

A refined bouillabaisse arrived at the table, meticulously prepared with imperador fish accompanied by small, flavorful shrimps from the Portuguese coast and dehydrated algae. What would Marcel Pagnol think if he saw Marseille’s rustic bouillabaisse  prepared with the artistry of a Cartier jeweler?

A glass of a great red from the Dão region produced by Quinta do Perdigão heralded the arrival of the luxurious meat dishes. First, succulent veal with spring onions, Jerusalem artichokes. Then, crispy roasted piglet with spices and tropical fruits.

The meal ended with a delightful persimmon filled with pistachio sorbet topped with a cream of vanilla and saffron. But this was a deceptive ending  because soon another pleasing dessert arrived: blueberries with mascarpone ice-cream and kafir limes. And just when we thought it was time to leave, our waiter arrived with a serving cart full of irresistible chocolates, caramels and nuts. It was an epic dinner!

We finished reading the menu and looked up. The wind had waned and the sky was blue.

The Yeatman is located at Rua do Choupelo, (Santa Marinha), in Vila Nova de Gaia. Click here for the hotel’s website. 

 

Perfection in Matosinhos

DCIM103GOPROWhen Oporto residents want to eat fresh fish, they drive to the nearby Matosinhos beach. The town’s main street (Rua Herois de França) and its side alleys are lined up with restaurants.

We usually go to S. Valentim and order rodovalho (turbot). We avoid appetizers so that, when the perfectly-grilled fish arrives at the table, we can give it our undivided apetite.

Each restaurant has a large charcoal grill outside maned by a master griller. This is a person with unbreakable concentration who doesn’t take the eyes off the grill until the fish is perfectly cooked.

Grilling fish is easy, unless you want to do it perfectly, in which case it takes years of experience. It is this perfection that keeps fish lovers coming back to Matosinhos.

S. Valentim is located on Rua Herois de França, 335, Matosinhos, tel. 229379204.

 

DOC & DOP

DOP

The rustic food of Portugal is made of elemental aromas and deeply satisfying flavors. It is a cuisine of humble people; fishermen, shepherds, and farmers, who liked food that nourishes the body. In contrast, the French culinary tradition pioneered by Marie-Antoine Carême is all refinement and beauty. It is a cuisine of kings and queens who loved to feast their eyes as much as feed their belly.

Rui Paula, a Portuguese chef, spent two decades marrying these two traditions. At DOP, his restaurant in Oporto, he serves country food cooked with palatial elegance. DOC, his restaurant in Amarante, offers a similar menu. Here, the dining experience is heightened by the serene beauty of the location, on the margins of the Douro river.

If you’re traveling in the north of Portugal, don’t miss the opportunity to try these restaurants. They’ll satisfy your body and soul.

Click here for Rui Paula’s website. DOP is located at Palácio das Artes, Largo de S. Domingos, 18, Porto, tel. 22 20 14 313, email dop@ruipaula.com. DOC is located at Estrada Nacional 222, Folgosa, Armamar, tel. 254 858 123, email doc@ruipaula.com.

Refining tradition in Oporto

Paparico, in Oporto, looks like the kind of restaurant that uses recipes passed from a shepherd’s mouth to a shepherd’s ear.  Any lingering doubts about the rustic nature of this eatery are assuaged as you enter and see the granite walls and heavy decor.

But, when the food arrives, it becomes clear that the chef has traveled the world to learn the art of cooking. We take a bite and our taste buds scintillate with the certainty that no shepherd ever cooked food that tastes this good.

Paparico does not try to redefine traditional Portuguese cuisine. It seeks to refines it in discrete, clever, wonderfully delicious ways.

O Paparico, Rua de Costa Cabral, 2343 Oporto, tel. 225400548. Click here for Paparico’s website.

Great traditional cuisine in Oporto

Looks can be deceiving. Adega S. Nicolau, a restaurant in the Ribeira area of Oporto, has no celebrity chef or design furniture. But it serves amazing food: grilled fish, fried sardines, roasted codfish, fried octopus, and much more. The star of the menu is the “posta de vitela arouquesa” a steak of veal from Arouca seared to perfection, the best we have ever had.

Everything on the menu follows traditional recipes, but the food is hard to imitate. It takes enormous confidence to trust the quality of the ingredients and let them shine through simple preparations. It is this confidence that Adega S. Nicolau has been building since 1930.

Adega S. Nicolau, R. São Nicolau, 1, Ribeira, Oporto. Tel. 222-008-232.

Everybody knows Aleixo in Oporto

Casa Aleixo, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2012.

Casa Aleixo’s granite walls have welcomed diners for over one hundred years. This restaurant was first a “tasca,” a place that serves cheap wine and snacks. When it changed hands, in the 1950s, the new owners perfected a small menu of dishes prepared with the best ingredients they could find in the Póvoa do Varzim market. The quality and consistency of the food quickly attracted a loyal following.

Aleixo’s owners use whimsical names to describe different parts of the restaurant: lab for the kitchen, surgery room for the dining room, pharmacy for the wine cellar, and torture chamber for the cashier.

At Aleixo you can eat perfect laminated octopus, tender whitefish fillets, and succulent roasted veal. And, since prices are reasonable, you can go through the torture chamber without enduring much pain.

Casa Aleixo, Rua Estação 216,  Oporto, Tel.  225 370 462.


Reinventing Portuguese cuisine

You need to study before eating at Pedro Lemos’ wonderful restaurant in Oporto. You have to learn the taste of roasted suckling pig, the smell of codfish and chickpeas, the texture of veal from Miranda, the saltiness of sardines, the sweetness of rocha pears. Only then will you understand that Lemos is reinventing these traditional Portuguese flavors with imagination and soul.

Pedro Lemos, Rua Padre Luis Cabral, 974, Foz do Douro, Porto, Tel. 220115986, email reservas@pedrolemos.net