Thursday, June 28, 2018

Tasting notes from a delicious Portuguese vacation

Viewing Porto from the top of the Torre de Clérigos
We kicked off summer with a little Europe getaway, during which we spent a few days exploring Portugal. It was an awesome trip with no shortage of beautiful sights and fantastic food. Here are some of my tasting notes.

Porto was our first stop in Portugal and is the country’s second-largest city (Lisbon’s the biggest). We had less than 48 hours to explore but covered a lot of ground during that time and enjoyed getting to know Portugal’s second city on foot. Walk across the Ponte de Dom Luís I, which spans the Douro River, for great views of Porto and also to check out Vila Nova de Gaia’s restaurants and port wine tasting rooms.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch with great Porto views at Taberninha do Manuel. Their beef stew was robust and garlicky, and I also loved their salt cod fritters (we found these delicious starters on menus throughout the trip), but perhaps the most memorable part of our meal was the gut-busting Francesinha. This traditional Porto sandwich featured sliced white bread, steak and linguiça, all covered in a thick beer and tomato sauce and plenty of melted cheese.

Behold, the Francesinha (and this was just my half of the sandwich)
We unexpectedly ran into our friends’ parents while visiting the Porto Cathedral, which was a pleasant surprise. They gave us a rundown of their favorite local finds, including A Grade, which turned out to be a wonderful spot near the river but tucked away down an alley. I loved their caldo verde (a soup with potato and greens) and fried hake which, despite its intimidating appearance, made for quite a tasty meal.

The baddest fish in the whole damn town (and quite delicious)

After Porto we made our way south to Lisbon, where my favorite restaurant was Zazah. Located in the Principe Real neighborhood, Zazah has a hip, modern vibe, charming service and a menu packed with delicious, shareable dishes and creative cocktails. Our group of 18 (yes, 18!) left full and happy. Everything on the dinner menu was delicious, but my personal favorites were the wild game croquettes, the mashed potatoes with truffles, the mushroom gratin and the grilled, sliced sirloin.

The Time Out Market Lisboa is a must-try destination when visiting Lisbon. This massive food hall, located in the Mercado da Ribeira market hall, houses dozens of fantastic food vendors. Going here with a group is great because everyone can cruise around and order on their own, then convene at one of the hall’s tables to enjoy the meal together (and, if you’re lucky, your friends are willing to share bites of their dishes).

Top picks included:

  • Marlene Vieira -- Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa (sautéed codfish and potatoes with onion, egg and olives) 
  • Cozinha da Felicidade -- Croquetes de Pato, Compota de Laranja (duck croquettes with orange jam)  
  • Alexandre Silva -- Perna de Pato Confitada (confit duck leg with honey, orange and thyme glaze, parsnip puree and watercress)   
  • Santini -- probably the best hazelnut ice cream I’ve had in my life.  

A few of us tried to eat at Bairro do Avillez but they were booked solid, so we set out on foot to find another dinner option that could accommodate us without a reservation. After a bit of wandering we found Tapas Bar 47, which turned out to be quite the fun, low-key spot. The gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) and sautéed mushrooms (also with lots of garlic) were my favorite dishes.

We spent one day touring the town of Sintra, located outside of Lisbon. We had a busy schedule and only had only a short break for lunch between destinations, so we popped into a little cafe called A Padaria, where we grabbed some quick sandwiches and drinks, and enjoyed our lunch seated on the steps of the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.

Our lunchtime view from the steps of the Palacio Nacional de Sintra
On our final night in Lisbon, we checked out Casa de Linhares, one of Lisbon’s Fado houses. Fado is a type of Portuguese folk music that dates back to the 19th century. We fully enjoyed a night of beautiful, mournful music paired with a delicious tasting menu. It was a great way to close out an overall fantastic trip!

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