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Let me tell you about some great meals in Portugal--Long

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Let me tell you about some great meals in Portugal--Long

James G | May 26, 2003 10:28 PM

As a service to the Portugal-bound chowhound community, let me share with you all the highlights of the wonderful restaurants we found along the way.

Evora (Alentejo): We were only here one night, and it was the night that the place we had been recommended was closed, so we asked our hotel (the wonderful Albergaria Solar de Monfalim) to suggest a place. They sent us to Fialho, a place that seems equally popular among locals as among the tourist set. The waiters here are very friendly and accommodating, though they are guilty of a particularly obnoxious habit of bringing lots of "couvert" dishes (little tidbits that are ubiquitous in Portuguese restaurants and for which you usually just pay a nominal fee) that they charge you for if you touch them (or don't send them back right away). We were lucky that the dishes they gave us were a) really good, b) not expensive, and c) helped to address incredible hunger pangs that might have caused us to over-order had we not had them to nibble on while perusing the menu. Anyway, the acorda here (a seemingly national dish of bread soup) is delicious, as is their pork Alentejo style (pork cubes cooked with clams in their shells). They have a very nice wine list, heavy on the wines of Alentejo, and excellent desserts, too.

Lisbon: We had three nights here and made the most of them. Dinner our first night was at the eclectic Sua Excelencia in the Lapa district. The owner of the restaurant is quite a character, who comes to your table and recites the menu of the day in any of (supposedly) five languages. His English is excellent, with only a few quirks, such as referring to "spices" as "condiments". Many of his dishes are, according to him, the "best in the universe", or are made with ingredients that are the "finest in the universe". Judging by the meal we had here, he could be right. For starters we had a truly outstanding gazpacho and enormous grilled Mozambican prawns (almost as big as small lobsters) with a piri-piri sauce, and for entrees we had a grilled lamb dish and stewed calamari in a rich, very intense sauce. They also serve very traditional desserts here, including the unusual Pudim a Abade de Piscos, which is made with caramel that is cooked with a piece of smoked ham.

Lunch one day was at the apparently very trendy Pap'Acorda, in Bairro Alto. This very chic-looking restaurant with very chic waiters (also very friendly) makes an outrageously good acorda, as you would expect. Several versions are on offer, as well as other dishes, and if you do come here bear in mind that the portions are HUGE. In fact, when you order the acorda they bring out the bowl from the kitchen and serve you about 1/2 of it, taking the rest back. We wondered what they did with the remainder, but then it turned out that, when you finish what's on your plate they fill it again with what was left in the bowl. You must save room for dessert, however, since their chocolate mousse is legendary--a waiter comes to the table with an enormous bowl full of the stuff and ladles out a portion that you have to scrape off the spoon, it's so thick. Here, too, if you manage to finish what they give you they will offer you more...

XL is another very trendy and popular place, located across the street from the parliament building in Estrela. XL has a very impressive wine list, and a wide range of entree souffles, for which they are well known, judging by the number of souffles that other patrons ordered. We are told that the place is called XL because the owner is a rather large guy from Angola, though he was not in evidence the evening we were there.

Our last meal of the trip was at Nariz do Vinho Tinto, just up the street from Sua Excelencia in Lapa. This place is a bastion of traditional Portuguese cuisine, and indeed has an excellent acorda (though not as good, we thought, as that of Pap'Acorda) and a large wine list. However, I don't think the food was as interesting as at Sua Excelencia or as tasty as at Pap'Acorda or XL. This may be because we were here on a Sunday, a night when most restaurants are closed, so perhaps the regular chef had the night off?

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