We had a mixed dining experience this weekend at Estoril, a classic Portuguese restaurant in Fall River. We don't normally get over to Fall River very often, but friends from Boston saw the restaurant featured in a Phantom Gourmet segment and figured it would be an easily accessible place for us to meet up for dinner.
Estoril was completely packed at 7, with a long line of diners queuing along the wall closest the door (overflow from the restaurant's small waiting area.) The hostess and her mother looked positively frazzled in the face of the onslaught, and we overheard her telling one group that it would be 1 hour 45 minutes for a table for four. Fortunately, our friends made reservations, so we were seated within a few minutes of our party's arrival.
The restaurant has an ample bar and "lounge" (a few oversized leather armchairs and couches, and crushed velvet banquettes,) under a large chandelier. The main dining room features bright red walls and nautical murals. Although the décor is a old-fashioned, I thought it was quite charming. Despite the classic ambiance, patrons were all dressed very informally. I found this pretty depressing given the white-tablecloth, old-school vibe, but then, the seemingly relentless slide towards the casual in every facet of American life is my bête noire. I should probably just accept that, someday soon, I'll be eating dinner at a perfectly nice restaurant next to someone in their pajamas, but I digress...
Being partial to Portuguese wine, we were satisfied with the short wine list, and the prices really cannot be beat. We enjoyed (several) serviceable bottles of red for only $18 O.o
Our server was very friendly and welcoming. He brought us wine, water, and bread and took our dinner orders promptly. At this point, the meal went a bit off the rails. After we'd been swilling wine for about 30 minutes, we noticed through the alcohol haze that none of the people who were seated before us seemed to have any food yet. When our appetizer, shrimp Mozambique, arrived after an hour, we'd almost forgotten it was coming (not sure if that's the fault of the delay or the wine ;)
The shrimp were small and tasty, swimming in piquant, garlicky sauce. Needless to say, we scarfed them down in record time. Then we settled in for the long wait for the entrees. They finally emerged from the kitchen at about 9:15--an hour after the appetizer and about two hours after we first sat down.
The good news--everything was delicious, and it was enough to feed a small army! I had a massive bowl of paella, extremely well-seasoned, and stuffed with mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops, calamari, pork, chicken, and chourico. Everything had been stewed together, so the meat was flavorful and fork-tender. According to our server, the chef has a "secret method" for tenderizing the calamari, and whatever that secret is, it works perfectly. My fellow diners ordered the petit Portuguese steaks for which Estoril is, apparently, well-known--tender sirloin cooked rare with awesome pan-gravy, mushrooms, grilled hot peppers, and a fried egg on top. Given the size of the "petit" steaks, the full-size version must be an entire side of beef! There were a choice of sides for all of the entrees, including salad and house-made chips. We were all bowled over that these huge plates were only $12 a pop. Overall, the food was a big hit, and we had plenty left over for a second or even third meal the next day.
We were too full for dessert (and leery of the potentially interminable wait,) so we rounded out the meal with port and espresso. The desserts sounded classic (rice pudding, flan, fried ice cream) and I'm sure they would be absolutely delicious too, judging by the flavor in the rest of the meal.
Poking around on the internet, it seems that the positive Phantom Gourmet publicity has been a double-edged sword. Estoril really doesn't seem to have the capacity for the number of diners swarming the restaurant. The good news is that food quality seems stable. The bad news is that the kitchen can't keep up the pace. Service was good, and I have no doubt that there was nothing our server could do to expedite our meals; he promptly provided us with everything in his power to give (drinks, coffee, bread, etc.) Every table was waiting hours for their food. If it weren't for our pleasant company, it might have been an much less enjoyable evening. As it was, we managed to have a good time despite our rumbling bellies.
Overall, not sure we'll be back to Estoril anytime soon. At the least, we'll wait for the furor to die down, and I'm sure the capacity issues will scare off some of the newer diners (it might even scare us off!) But if you've got four hours to kill, good company, and a hankering for generous portions of awesome Portuguese food, Estoril is a solid bet.
1577 Pleasant Street
Fall River, MA