Coimbra is indeed the bomb.
I chose to have my birthday dinner there earlier this month with my husband and our respective parents. No one had eaten Portuguese before, and everyone questioned my choice (more so because it was in Newark). I am glad to report that everyone left very happy.
The place is a block off of the main strip (Ferry Street), so it is quieter and more desolate outside. Coimbra has a bar in front, the dining room is casual and set up for groups. We got there early, around 5, but shortly after the place filled up with the first of two early evening rushes. A table for 6 was no problem.
I knew the portions were huge, but we still ordered way too much, considering we dented the (really good) bread, cheese, (awesome) olives and (tasty) bacalhau fritters they put out on the table to start. I didn’t see the bill but I recall from traveling to Portugal that it is standard to put things like that on the table and you pay for what you take. I don’t know if that was the case here, but they were worth it if it was.
Next, we all split the flaming sausage, mussels in green sauce and bacon-wrapped scallops. The scallops were small, but cooked perfectly and very tasty. Mussels were on the large side, delicious. Sausage was good – smoky, large chunks of meat with fat that was not grisly, just good.
For entrees, most really could feed about four people. I didn’t see the goat on the daily specials so I went for the seafood with green sauce. The sauce was delicious – light, creamy-looking but thin in a good way. Parsley was in full effect, very vibrant, plain and hearty.
Among the other orders were the shrimp with garlic sauce –soupy-style, almost too salty, but just a perfect meal for a cold day. The shrimp were small as well but tasty.
Meat kebabs – Cooked perfectly, charred lightly. The steak in particular was outstanding. My husband was not crazy about the veal they used, and said it was dry.
Fried chicken in wine and garlic sauce – Delicious, light hand with the sauce and let the mild spices stand out. Surprisingly meaty for the small birds they used. I am noticing a trend here.
Steak special – It was called muscle steak (?), a special on the menu - three medallions of what looked like an unremarkable eye round steak, but were juicy and delicious.
Tuna – It did not look terribly appealing, but was good, according to my mom.
Basically, they know what they are doing with meat.
The sangria was of the almost too sweet variety and reminded me slightly of a Minute Maid frozen fruit punch concentrate, but so does a lot of sangria. That said, it was really good, very drinkable. Coffee was delicious, very strong.
The service was better than I was anticipating, considering we were neither regulars nor Portuguese-speakers. I think a little obrigado went a long way with the waiters, who really were helpful and friendly in a hands-off kind of way. The only things that needed explaining were some of the desserts, which ran from the typical like tiramisu and cheesecake (which was delicious) to a variety of custard-based desserts that the waiter could not quite differentiate, and resorted to telling us the ingredients (“Eh, there’s egg, milk, sugar… it’s good”). I tried the “House Dessert,” which was in the custard realm and very good with coffee.
The crowd runs the gamut – kids, dates, guys night out, huge families. Even during busy periods, there was no rush at all – we lingered and the food took its time to come out, but never so long that we noticed. I was so happy with the entire experience and will be returning to try the specials. Highly, highly, highly recommended.