Returned just about a week ago from a 12 day trip through mid to northern Portugal, with a stop in Barcelona for a few days at the end. This post will just be about the Portuguese adventures – Barcelona will be a separate report.
I’m going to concentrate on the winners (with only a brief mention of losers, and not all of them). Trip started with a smallish bang in Lisbon. First lunch, picked totally at random from the Rough Guide, was at a tiny place in Alfama called Barracao de Alfama where we had the most fantastic grilled sardines, as it turned out, of the entire trip. Washed down with the house Vinho Verde it was a perfect cure for jet lag. We also began, on our very first day, a search for the ultimate nata. I believe our first ones came from Confeitaria Nacional at the bottom end of Rossio – and the obsession was off to a great start. This led us, of course, to the Antica Confeitaria de Belem the next day – for warm, crispy ones, which fed our madness. A dinner at Bonjardim was good – oddly enough the fish (sea bream) was actually better than the chicken (but I think I'm spoiled because we have such good churrasco in Toronto). But both were delicious and cheap. Other Lisbon dinners were at Joao do Grao – I found the bacalhau with eggs really heavy and it stayed with me way too long, to be honest – and Solar dos Presuntos where I have to say my favourite thing was the presunto (but the grilled prawns were delicious too).
From Lisbon we went to Evora – a gorgeous, charming town. Had a picnic lunch at tables outside the market: cheese (omigod), tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers. presunto, bread, melon. Dinner at Botequim da Mouraria which is, I suppose, what passes for a Portuguese tapas bar. And it was fantastic. We ate sardines (canned, I think, but good ones), grilled peppers, mushrooms, some kind of fish roe, eggs with asparagus, tomato salad and an unbelievably delicious Evora cheese sprinkled with oregano and olive oil and baked until melty. The owner speaks no English but sign language worked well enough. I suspect his 10 year old granddaughter did the menu translation for him because one of the items listed on it is “fried skunks with garlic” (we didn't order it). The next morning we discovered that our hotel (Albergaria do Calvario) serves the best breakfast I have ever had at a hotel anywhere – beautiful fresh fruits, cakes, cheeses, jam, eggs, pancakes and French toast (to order) and very good coffee. Dinner that night was at Taberna Tipica Quarta Feira – there is no menu. You get whatever he made. It was delicious (some kind of braised “black” pork, veggies, dessert and a truly delicious wine- Paulo Laureano DOC something-or-other). Good and fun.
From there, a long and winding journey that eventually ended in Porto. Had dinner reservations at Pedro Lemos – a restaurant that has been mentioned numerous times on this board. We had the 5 course tasting menu with wine pairings and it was beyond perfect. Highlights: an incredible dish with cod done as a croquette in the shape of a sea urchin, filled with cod cheeks and in a pennyroyal-scented broth; two of us who don’t eat meat had a delicious pear filled with goat cheese and wrapped in phyllo (not a dessert); a modern take on roast suckling pig; and a stunning dessert that included a chocolate mousse and cherry sorbet. The wines were wonderful and we fell utterly in love with a Quinta do Crasto LBV 2004 port that was served with dessert. Alas, we all had a bit much to drink and so were probably a bit overly rambunctious but I’m hoping we didn’t disturb the other diners. It was a really great meal. The next day we did a port winery crawl – with the clear winner being Calem where we got chummy enough with the guides to get all kinds of extra pours to taste.
The rest of the trip we spent partly in a manor house in the Douro Valley where the food was adequate but nothing special. Another two nights in Barcelos where we found an excellent churrasqueria the name of which I forgot to note and a night in Obidos where we were forced to observe a medieval festival.
Fantastic trip, wonderful wonderful wines. I discovered that I love the wines from Alentejo – much more than the Douro wines – and I can’t stop drinking Vinho Verde since it’s been so hot here at home. Also I love natas. Who knew? Thanks to all who made any recommendations. It was all fab.