There are two restaurants I've visited in the Algarve, Portugal's southern coast, which I will never forget. Places where they just keep bringing you huge servings of extraordinarily good food (and wine) until you can't eat anymore. Some of the best food I've ever had.
In the United States, the closest approximation I've had to those honest experiences (although it doesn't reach the heights of the Algarve gems) is the Saturday night dinner at Sol e Mare, which we tried a few weeks ago. Mario Nocera, the North End legend, cooks a five course meal of whatever he happens to feel like cooking when he wakes up on Saturday morning. No choices. Just eat what's given to you. Fortunately, this works when you're in the hands of someone as talented and as crazed about good ingredients as Mario Nocera.
It doesn't matter much what we had, since it changes every Saturday, but for what it's worth, it was all quite good: a bowl of steamed clams, shrimp and calamari sitting in butter and garlic; fresh linguini with mushrooms, calamari, and spicy tomato sauce; PERFECTLY cooked halibut with cherry tomatoes; a veal dish; and a lemon wedding cake.
The place is packed with regulars speaking Italian with the large numbers of staff, which includes Mario's ten year old son, who delights in serving many of the dishes! Also, there are lots of quirky touches, like the owner singing Karaoke, the open kitchen, the friendly, but unrefined, servers, and the occasional vist from Winthrop locals who just happen to be walking by and stop in to see what's happening.
It's by no means upscale (it's a hot dog and hamburger shack during the week) but the atmosphere is pleasant, sitting right accross from the beach in Winthrop.
Note: Dinner supposedly starts at 6:30. We arrived at 6:30, and we were the only ones there. Regulars seem to trickle in between 7:00 and 7:30. Because Mario paces the meal so that diners eat their courses at the same time as other diners, our meal was VERY long. Thus, there is a choice. If you want your pick of tables, and are prepared for a three and a half hour meal, go at 6:30 and the place will be nearly empty. If you want a slightly shorter meal, and don't need to sit by the window on the beach, go between 7:00 and 7:30.
By the way, it's BYOB, and it costs about $40 a person. Bring lots of wine. You're going to be there a while!
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