An unforgettable supper at Ceia

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If food was just fuel for the body, how come there are meals that linger in our memory as incandescent moments? One of these moments was a lunch amid the vineyards of Herdade do Esporão prepared by a young chef called Pedro Pena Bastos. Another such moment was a recent dinner at a new Lisbon restaurant called Ceia, the Portuguese word for supper. The setting was different but the chef was the same.

We were received in the spacious courtyard outside the Ceia dining room by sommelier Mário Marques. He offered us a choice of two welcome drinks: cherry kombucha or a natural sparkling wine from Quinta da Serradinha. The drinks came with plates of beet beignets served with smoked codfish eggs. Like everything else in this enchanted evening, these choices seemed unusual until we tried them and perfect once we tried them.

Mário invited us into the serene dining room where a long wooden table awaited 14 lucky guests. Pedro welcomed us with three tantalizing bites: Jerusalem artichokes, French toast with seaweed and cockles, and venison from Alentejo served with fermented walnuts and black olives. They were followed by a precious taco made with rose prawns from Algarve, beetroot pearls and yuzu.

A Japanese-inspired tomato broth with mackerel and broccoli showcased Pedro’s ability to create unusual combinations that work perfectly. Then, a large oyster shell from Alvor was placed on the table surrounded by bowls with sweet oysters, fermented asparagus and lima caviar. We were still savoring this intense taste from the sea when flavors from the woods arrived: grilled Hokkaido pumpkin, mushrooms, and a beurre blanc made with Indian cress.

The service progressed with the pace of a sacred ritual that has been perfected throughout the ages. Alexandre Coelho, our amiable server, invited us to visit the adjacent room where chefs place final touches on their next offerings. It is fascinating to observe the choreographed precision that produces such refined food.

Each guest received a bowl of pasta, only it was not pasta—it was the freshest squid, delicately cooked, cut like tagliatelle and served with a sauce made with bergamot zest, hazelnuts and pickled onions. The flavors of the sea continued with a line-caught robalo (sea bass) dressed with chanterelle mushrooms, marjoram and fennel cooked in parsley oil.

A beautiful loaf of sourdough bread smoked with tomato and thyme created an intermission that separated the fish from the meat courses. It came with aged butter seasoned with salt from Castro Marim and a bright-green, spicy olive oil from Pedro’s family estate.

These rustic flavors prepared out palates for the next dish, a rectangular prism of slow-cooked bísaro pork jowl that melted in our mouths. The other meat course was a cylinder of beef from Simental cows, grilled on charcoal and adorned by collard greens and buckwheat.

Next, came a plate of lovage with compote, ganache and sorbet made from a huge Buddha’s hand lemon cultivated in Alentejo. The pungent citrus notes readied our palates for a trio of desserts made with enoki mushrooms, cocoa and quince.

Coffee, brewed in a double-globe glass coffee maker, was served with gum made from dehydrated beets and coriander, raspberry bonbons, and spicy cookies coated with a cream of turmeric and sweet potatoes.

Throughout the meal, Pedro Pena Bastos combines tastes, aromas, textures, and temperatures with the skill of a master orchestrator. His deep understanding of the subtle qualities of different ingredients allows him to create brilliant flavors and invent bold harmonies. The result is a culinary symphony that is unforgettable.

Ceia is located at Campo de Santa Clara, 128. Lisbon. Click here for the restaurant’s website.

 

Inspired beer at Musa

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Nuno Melo and Bruno Carrilho enjoyed so much the craft beers they tried in their travels abroad that they started gathering information about the art and science of beer production. Beer is made with only four ingredientes. You can buy the first three–yeast, malts and hops–all over the world. But the fourth ingredient—high-quality water–has to be locally available. When Nuno and Bruno discovered that Lisbon’s water is perfect for beer making, they bought a warehouse in an industrial suburb called Marvila and set to work.

They hired an accomplished British engineer to design and set up their factory and located suppliers of premium yeast, malts and hops. Then, they persuaded a talented American artisanal beer maker to create some unique beer recipes. Finally, they hired a dedicated crew willing to share the toil and joy of making great beer.

Nuno and Bruno called their project Musa, the Portuguese word for muse, to acknowledge the flashes of inspiration that kept the spirit of fun and irreverence alive.  This spirit is reflected in the rock-tinted names of their brews: Red Zeppelin, Mick Lager, Twist and Stout, Saison O’Connor, Born in the IPA, and Frank Apa.

The back of the Musa warehouse houses the factory. The front is a bar with beer on tap that provides immediate customer feedback about the new beers that are launched. Some of these new beers result from collaborations with restaurants, artists and gourmet-food producers like chocolate mavens Bettina and Niccolo Corallo.

Musa uses the bar to organize Sunday lunches prepared by well-known chefs and to throw awesome parties featuring singers, bands and DJs. One of the year’s biggest events, Ouro, Incenso e Birra (Gold, Incense and Byrrh), jointly organized with fellow craft-beer makers Dois Corvos and Lince, is coming up on January 12. If you’re in Lisbon this Saturday, it will be hard to find a better party!

Musa is located at Rua do Açúcar 83, in Lisbon. Click here for their website.

Hotel Convento do Salvador

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One of the best-kept secrets in Lisbon is a hotel called Convento do Salvador. It is run by a non-profit association that charges modest prices for 43 very comfortable rooms. The location is fantastic, right in the middle of Alfama, the neighborhood around St. Jorge’s castle.

The hotel occupies the site of one of the oldest convents in Lisbon, Convento do Salvador, built in 1392. We know a lot about the convent thanks to a book published by one of its abbesses, Maria Batista, in 1618.

Maria describes the convent as a place where you can “flee from the dangers and labyrinths of the world,” and live a simple life. She tells us with pride that it was here that a princess came to find peace. In 1460, princess Dona Catarina, the daughter of queen Dona Leonor, came to live in the convent after the prince to whom she was engaged died prematurely.

Much has changed about this place, but it is still offers peace and simplicity. The hotel is decorated with minimalist furniture and contemporary art. The spacious patio offers a great place to relax when the weather is warm. Most rooms overlook the patio but some offer the only luxury that the nuns enjoyed: a view of the orange rooftops framing the blue waters of the Tagus river.

Hotel Convento do Salvador is located at Rua do Salvador, 2B in Lisbon, tel. 218 872 565, email hotel@conventosalvador.pt. Click here for the hotel’s website.

Mercearia Prado

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António Galapito, the chef of Prado, a new restaurant in Lisbon, had a problem. Despite his large ensemble of proficient waiters, service was at times slow. The reason was that customers asked many questions about the provenance of the ingredients used in the restaurant.

Galapito took an unusual step to solve this problem: he opened Mercearia Prado, a grocery store that stocks the products he cooks with. So now his waiters can say: you find our ingredients in the grocery store around the corner.

Mercearia Prado is the perfect place to enjoy a light lunch or to shop for a gourmet picnic. Its shelfs are brimming with wines, cheese, prosciutto, canned fish, bread, vegetables, gourmet sandwiches, jams, and desserts. The products are so carefully curated that you can shop blindfolded and be certain that everything you choose tastes great!

Mercearia Prado is located at Rua das Pedras Negras, 37, Lisbon, tel. 960 280 492. 

Mindful coffee from Flor da Selva

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Most cups of coffee are drank in a hurry. They’re just a flash of bitterness and a shot of caffeine. Flor da Selva (jungle flower), the coffee produced by the last traditional roaster in Lisbon, is a gateway to a very different experience. This is coffee made to be savored mindfully.

We spent a delightful afternoon with Francisco Monteiro at Flor da Selva’s roasting workshop in the Madragoa neighborhood. His family’s company, founded in 1950, has preserved the secrets of the traditional roasting processes abandoned by most producers. They source green coffee beans directly from the best plantations around the world and roast them gently with oak fire wood. The coffee acquires a round, harmonious taste that contrasts with the metallic tang often associated with gas roasting. Our visit helped us rediscover the taste, aroma, and mystery of coffee.

We took several Flor da Selva blends of Arábica and Robusta beans to try at home. Preparing the coffee is a ritual that deepens the appreciation for this fine beverage. We like to brew Flor da Selva with the pour-over method, using a filter that ensures that the water is in contact with the coffee for the time necessary to soak up all the flavor from the beans.

First, we weight 29 grams for two cups. Then, we grind it finely, but not as finely as if we were making espresso, otherwise the water takes too long to pour through. We heat  filtered water at 205 Fahrenheit and pour it slowly over the grinds. The air fills with delicate aromas. Then a thick, golden foam develops (if the foam is thin and white, the coffee is too weak). Finally, we heat the cups with hot water, discard the water and pour the coffee. We drink it slowly, enjoying its lush, exotic taste. And we smile.

Flor da Selva is located at Travessa do Pasteleiro, 32 Lisbon, tel. 213 967 166, email info@florselva.com. Click here for their website.

 

 

Sleeping by the Tagus at the Altis Belém

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It is so wonderful to wake up in the Altis Belém hotel and see that the Tagus river is waking up too, still dressed in the same colors as the sky, flowing lazily towards the sea. We get a glimpse of the Belém tower getting ready for the visitors that come see her. And we spot the statue of Prince Henry the navigator, patiently waiting for the sun to bring the orange hues that make the light of Lisbon unforgettable.

The hotel rooms have beautiful white shutters that look like modern paintings, creating negative space around the boats in the harbor. And what a pleasure it is to have breakfast in the esplanade. The river is so close that we can eavesdrop on its waves chatting about Lisbon.

The Hotel Altis Belém is located at Doca do Bom Sucesso, Lisboa. Click here for the Altis Belém web site.

Great products from small producers at Comida Independente

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We fell in love with Comida Independente at first sight.  It is a new gourmet grocery store in Lisbon that has a selection of food and wines curated by its owner, Rita Santos. The shelfs of the elegant shop are filled with the best of Portugal: wines, olive oil, sausages, canned fish, salt, herbs, spices and much, much more. The store’s fitting motto is “great products from small producers.”

There are regular tastings of wines and foods that turn into exuberant gourmet parties. When we visited, Mário Sérgio from Quinta das Bageiras had everybody under the spell of his wonderful Bairrada wines. Lugrade, a famed producer of codfish, had sent their own chef to prepare tantalizing codfish cakes and other delights.

Rita hired two great collaborators: Inês Ruivo and Olavo Rosa, who graciously posed for us behind the store counter. Inês is an enologist who advises custumers on wines, food pairings and much more. Olavo has been involved in many gourmet projects in Lisbon. “I love the products we sell and the people that come to the store, we are connecting great producers with appreciative consumers,” he told us. “I am so committed to this project that I changed my name. From now on, please call me Evaristo.” This is the name of the grocery-store owner in the 1942 hit movie O Pátio das Cantigas (the courtyard of songs). The movie is about a courtyard with such a wonderful atmosphere that it creates a community. It is a fitting metaphor for Comida Independent, a grocery store destined to become a magnet for the gourmet community.

Comida independente is located at Rua Cais do Tojo 28, Lisbon, tel. 21 395 1762. To ask about upcoming events, send a message through their Facebook page located here.