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Piri-Piri, Pastel de Nata and Port…Perfectly Portugal

Piri-Piri, Pastel de Nata and Port…Perfectly Portugal

Jul 15th, 2013, 08:19 PM
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Piri-Piri, Pastel de Nata and Port…Perfectly Portugal

When mom mentioned an interest in visiting Portugal I was thrilled. I had been to Portugal 25 years ago on a spring break holiday during a college study abroad program and I had very fond memories of Portugal. Having read a lot of recent articles extolling the relative travel budget friendliness of Portugal we decided to “go for it”.

We choose to book the Rick Steves 12 day Heart of Portugal Tour the details are here: http://tours.ricksteves.com/tours/sp...tugal/portugal . Could we have done Portugal on our own? Sure, but the tour included all the places we really wanted to see and having been on other Rick Steves tours, the alumni tour discount was very enticing. We got $50 off for each previous Rick Steves tour and after 6 tours for me, and 3 for mom, the savings was a bonus.

Another attraction Portugal provided was the country’s food and wine. Mom and I were already familiar with vinho verdhi and being the foodies we are, we were eager to try more of what Portugal might have to offer. Believe me, we were not disappointed in this category.

I was excited to go back to Lisbon, where the tour began, so mom and I decided to arrive in Lisbon 3 days before the tour started. We flew on AirFrance to take advantage of their premier voyager cabin. The tickets cost slightly more than regular economy, but if we can’t fly business class, this is the next best thing. Plus AirFrance offers champagne as an aperitif before meal service, always a plus!

Thursday, May 9th

We departed Savannah, Georgia on Thursday, May 9th, the flights were smooth and the connections at Atlanta and CDG were stress-free. Although we had a 4 hour (give or take a few minutes) connection time in Paris, you just never know what obstacles you might face when traveling. Fortunately there were no problems, but I have to say having Sky Team Priority status is a nice perk.

Friday, May 10th

When we de-planed in Paris, I knew we would have to go through passport control. When we got to this area, the line must have had a couple hundred people in line. However, to the side of the long line there was another line corral with a small sign saying “Sky Team Priority”. We flashed the attendant our onward boarding passes showing our gold status and were ushered in to a line with only 2 people in front of us. In less than an hour from touch-down we were through passport control and in the AirFrance lounge indulging in French croissants, coffee and juice.

We arrived in Lisbon on time and our luggage arrived with us. Getting a taxi at the airport was easy, there were plenty available and for about € 20 a taxi whisked us to the Hotel Lisboa Plaza located at Travessa do Salitre, 7 in about 30 minutes.

The Hotel Lisboa Plaza is in a terrific location just off the major Avenida de Liberdade and very close to a metro station for easy access to much of what Lisbon has to offer. Here is the hotel website: http://www.lisbonplazahotel.com/ The staff were pleasant and accommodating, prior to our arrival I emailed them a request to make several dinner reservations for me and all were done with speed and accuracy. The bathroom and room were clean and fairly spacious, there was nothing extraordinary about the room but it provided everything we needed. The breakfast, which was included in the room price was abundant and had a good variety. The bar/lounge area was great for a pre or post dinner drink. The food and beverage staff in both the breakfast room and lounge were very attentive. I would not hesitate recommending this well-priced hotel.

After taking a nap for a couple hours we refreshed ourselves and headed to the hotel bar/lounge for the first of many aperitivo drinks. We were not disappointed when we found out we could order a half bottle of Alveda vino verdhi, which was a brand recommended to me by a fellow Fodorite. With such a great start to our Portugal adventure, we were now ready to eat.

In doing my pre-trip research I was reading a lot about the chef Jose Avillez. He has a restaurant called BelCanto, which had recently received a Michelin star. I knew we didn’t want to go bust the budget on the first night, and through a little more sleuth work (thanks to foodie blogger Katie Parla and Fodorite LinCasanova) I read about Cantinho do Avillez, which is the chef’s more casual restaurant. We had an 8:30pm reservation and took a taxi there from the hotel. Taxis were plenty and reasonably priced in Lisbon, from the hotel to the restaurant the fare was about € 7. Here is Chef Jose Avillez’s website where you can read more about him and his restaurants: http://www.joseavillez.pt/

As we entered we were greeted warmly and escorted to a table. We loved the room right away, there was a rustic, yet slightly modern and casual vibe. It was the perfect first night in Lisbon place for us. Our server was terrific, friendly, but not overly so. Knowledgeable about the menu and the wine list and her English was excellent. We ordered a bottle of the house white wine and was not disappointed, it went very well with all our food choices.

We started with the tempura fried green beans with tartar sauce, because we had been told that was one of the chef’s signature dishes. It was ok, but I had wished the beans were crispier, the tempura batter was good, but the beans had no snap to them. The second starter we ordered was the nisa cheese and this was a highlight. We found ourselves scrapping the dish looking for more. For main dishes mom had a scallop dish that was excellent, the scallops were perfectly cooked. I had the cod dish, which was ok, but was not a stand-out. We did order dessert, which doesn’t always happen, but we are glad we did. The lemon basil sorbet was cool and light and flavorful, it was the perfect ending. With 2 espresso to close out the meal we were off to good food start in Lisbon all for € 87.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 15th, 2013, 08:53 PM
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LCI: this report is very welcome! We are Portugal lovers having been there several times, but not for the last few years.

I'm already beginning to think of another trip, just salivating at your descriptions of place, hotel, food, and looking forward to mire of your great reporting.

Waiting for more!
taconictraveler is offline  
Jul 15th, 2013, 10:29 PM
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I'm a big fan of Portugal, looking forward to more.
thursdaysd is offline  
Jul 16th, 2013, 05:45 AM
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Thanks for the encouraging words taconictraveler and thursdaysd!
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Jul 16th, 2013, 06:10 AM
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Love Portugal andnit's cuisine and I'm so happy you're sharing your trip. Vinho Verde is a perfect summertime wine.
HappyTrvlr is offline  
Jul 16th, 2013, 07:15 AM
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You had me at Pastel de Nata. Can't wait to hear about your latest adventure! I love the way you and your mom travel.
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Jul 16th, 2013, 07:26 AM
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I apologize for some of the typos in the first post, that's what I get for starting a trip report late in the evening! I want to correct my spelling of the vinho verdhi we had the first night, in case others are interested. The correct spelling is Aveleda.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 16th, 2013, 01:06 PM
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LCI no worries. Portuguese is a tough language, especially the pronunciation. But while we're correcting, if you don't mind, it's "vinho verde" and I remember the Quinta da Aveleda so very well.

Our first trip was in 1984, (which doesn't even begin to date me!)

The wine is so good, esp. for people like me, is that it is very low in alcohol, and I remember, on that first trip, that DH and I killed a whole bottle of vinho verde at lunch in Tomar on our trip north! Probably couldn't walk, never mind drive, if we did that today!!
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Jul 16th, 2013, 06:48 PM
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Taconic...you are correct, typically vinho verde is around 9% alcohol, where others wines I tend to drink are in the 12%-13% range. I find the vinho verde wines I drink to be very "quaffable" and can easily have several glasses. ;-)

The spelling is always a mystery to me I've seen it in all different combinations with and without the "d's" and "h's".
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 16th, 2013, 08:01 PM
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Saturday, May 11th

Our first full day in Lisbon dawned with clear blue skies and pleasant temperatures. In fact, the weather was perfect every day we were in Lisbon.

After breakfast at the hotel, I set out for the metro station around the corner from the hotel, where I purchased two Viva Viagem cards. Lucky for me, there was an attendant at the station who was helping people use the automated ticket machine and I had the cards in less than 5 minutes. These cards are valid for 24 hours from the first time you use it and they cover Lisbon’s metro, funiculars, trolleys, and buses. The price for the re-loadable card was € 6.50. If you plan to use it another day, you can re-load the card for 50 euro cents less. We used these cards for 2 days and really got our monies worth.

Once I had the Viva Viagem cards I popped back to the hotel to pick up mom and we walked down to the Restauradores Square to catch a bus that would take us to our first stop of the day, the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum). Prior to arriving in Lisbon, I studied the city’s mass transit website and found which bus would take us to where we needed to go, without having to make a transfer and I’m happy to say, this worked out perfectly, well at least for getting to the museum, the return was another story, but I’m digressing. When we boarded the bus, I asked the driver if he stopped at the museum and he said yes, he would point to the stop we should get off at. Lucky for us, another bus passenger was looking out for us too and not only told us which stop to get off at, but also which direction to walk in to get to the museum.

I had read a bit about this museum in a few guidebooks and the museum website, which is here: http://www.museudoazulejo.pt/ but, my friend, who happens to be a tour guide and a big tile aficionado wrote an excellent guide to the tiles that are all around Lisbon including information about the museum. If you are interested in tiles I highly recommending buying his guide to Lisbon tiles at this website: http://endlessmile.com/lisbon-azulejos/

Mom and I were both delighted with this museum, which is in a former convent. The entry fee was € 5 per person and worth every penny! Since the location is outside the tourist center of the city, there were not any big crowds on the Saturday morning we were there and it was nice to explore each floor of the museum and all the beautiful tiles. The tiles ranged from the religious to modern & geometric. We spent a couple hours marveling at the works on display.

When we were ready to leave, I spied a bus stop right across the street from the museum entrance. When we walked up I saw the same bus number listed as the bus we arrived on and we took a seat to wait. Bus after bus came and went from this stop and none was the number bus we needed. It finally dawned on me the bus number posted at the stop was for the night route…Good Grief! So much for my detailed planning! I tried to figure out where the stop was for the bus that was a direct route back to our hotel, but after walking around and not finding anything going in the direction we needed, I managed to get an alternate route that took us on another bus to the Santa Apolonia train station and then the metro back to our hotel. I’m resourceful if nothing else!

And now we were ready for our afternoon culinary adventure with Inside Lisbon tours on their gourmet walking tour.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 17th, 2013, 06:50 PM
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Can't waitvfor the next episode. This is just terrific reporting.
taconictraveler is offline  
Jul 18th, 2013, 05:11 AM
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Also waiting for the next part!
lincasanova is offline  
Jul 18th, 2013, 09:45 AM
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Bookmarking to read later.... don't want to rush through a great read
AnnMarie_C is offline  
Jul 18th, 2013, 07:42 PM
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And now for the rest of Saturday, May 11th:

Prior to this trip I researched food-related activities that might be fun or interesting for me and mom to do while on our own in Lisbon. I found the gourmet walking tour with Inside Lisbon and thought it sounded right up our alley. After reading the tour description I was a little concerned with how much walking might be involved knowing Lisbon is a steep/hilly city, and hills are not “great friends” for mom. I emailed the company to ask if the tour was on mostly level ground, or was there a lot of hills that would be on the tour. I was impressed with the speed with which they replied and assured me the tour was mostly level, but there would be a few streets that involved steep hills, but we would have the option to wait while the tour group went up the hill and came back down. I’m happy to say that mom and I managed the whole tour without any diversions on our part. We may have been “bringing up the rear” but we kept up with the pace.

The tour started at 4pm at the statue in the center of Rossio Square. On a typical day the square would not be swarming with large masses of people, but this day was the final day of an Iberian festival and there were lots of tents set up in the square selling all kinds of products from Portugal and Spain and live music performances. Luckily, we spotted the tour guide without any trouble. The tour was listed as lasting about 3.5 hours, but I read reviews on the tour company website and Trip Advisor saying if Paulo is your guide the tour could go as long as 5 hours. Can you guess who our guide was? Yup, it was Paulo, boy was I glad I made our dinner reservation for 10:30pm!

My memory is fading a bit and I didn’t take detailed notes, but I recall the group was probably about 10 people from the U.S., Canada and Australia, we were a definitely a food and wine loving bunch. Paulo the guide was excellent. He lives in Lisbon, but was originally from the Azores, and had owned a restaurant in London for some years. His knowledge of the food history of Portugal was vast and mom and I learned a lot about the origin of some culinary traditions.

Take for instance, tempura, we thought Japanese, right? Guess, what, the Portuguese brought the tradition of tempura to Japan. This actually made sense once we realized what a sea-faring, navigational country Portugal was, think about all the explorers setting out to “conquer the world”, where did many come from? Portugal….think about Henry the Navigator. And boy do the Portuguese people love their coffee and let me tell you, it was some of the best we ever had. Why? Well, think about Brazil, that was a Portuguese colony “back in the day” and all those coffee beans they grow there! We must have stumbled over several cafes in Portugal called Café Brazil! Now I can see the light bulb going off above my head! The connectedness doesn’t stop at food, it’s in the language too. The word for thank you in Portuguese is Obrigado and what’s thank you in Japanese? Arigato. Sound similar? It sure does to me.

As we are meandering through the streets of Lisbon learning about the food culture of not only the city, but the country too, our mouths begin to water, we are ready to taste some of what Lisbon has to offer. The first stop on the tour was a specialty food shop adjacent to a bacala stand. Inside we got our first sip of Port wine and I’ve got to say we were both impressed. Our previous Port wine experiences at home weren’t great, so this was a real pleasure and the cheese that accompanied it was delicious too! We made a stop at a bakery/café that specialized in pastel de nata, which is a custard tart of sorts and for as many bakeries as there are in the country of Portugal there are versions of this sweet treat. It was good, mom thought it was too sweet for her taste. But it would pale in comparison later in the week when we had the famous pastel de belem, which claims to be the original (and even mom thought that version was far superior!).

I wish I had taken better notes about each stop along the tour, but we did get a taste of Ginjinha a sweet liquor made from the sour cherry-like ginja berry, sugar and grappa and another stop provided us with local beer and cod fish cakes. We ended the tour at the Casa do Alentejo, a 17th-century palace, with an intriguing interior. Here we sat down for a light variety of dishes and wine from the Alentejo region. We wrapped the tour up at 9:45pm and said good-bye to our new food & wine friends and walked over to where we would be having dinner. I know, it sounds like we should be stuffed after this gourmet walking tour, but mom and I were very mindful of our dinner reservation and tasted all the tour offered in moderation.

Even though our dinner reservation was for 10:30pm we arrived about 20 minutes early and had no trouble being seated right away. Tonight’s dinner was at Honra by Olivier located at Praca da Figueira #16. Here is the restaurant website: http://www.restaurante-olivier.com/honra/honra-en.html

This is the newest restaurant by Chef Olivier da Costa, which pays homage to Portuguese comfort food. Although the menu had traditional Portuguese “comfort food” written all over it, the interior was sleek and modern, we felt like we could have been walking into the latest “it” place in NYC or San Francisco. But the service was unpretentious, and friendly. And, if I had to go by what the hostesses and servers in all the restaurants we had been to in Lisbon (which at this point is only 2) were saying, my Portuguese pronunciation of please and thank you was the best they ever heard! Ha-Ha!

Mom and I settled into our table and perused the menu. There were several items that looked good to us, and as we were trying to decide what to order the server put down the most beautiful looking loaf of bread. Why was this particular bread so stunning to us? Because it was bread stuffed with some of the most delicious sausage we had ever tasted. Seriously, we could have devoured the whole thing, but erring on the side of restraint we limited ourselves to one piece each, because, as is the norm in Portugal the little “pre-meal” nibbles didn’t stop with the bread. Beware…if they place little plates of olives, fish or cheese spread on your table, even if you didn’t ask for it, and you eat it, you will be charged for it. But mom and I knew this and we really wanted to try the cod fish spread here, which we enjoyed immensely.

When it came time to order, we decided to order the fried green beans starter so we could compare it with the one at Cantinho do Avillez. I have to say, the fried green beans at Honra were miles above the ones the night before at Cantinho do Avillez.

For mom’s main dish, she had the chicken piri-piri, since she prefers food with a bit of a kick more than I do. She was a little disappointed because it wasn’t spicy enough for her, which meant it probably would have been great for me, but the chicken was perfectly moist and juicy. I had the black pork with apple sauce and rice with spinach. I loved the pork, it was beautifully cooked, and melted in the mouth. We had a bottle of house white wine, which was fine, but we did prefer the wine at Cantinho do Avillez just a little bit more. We ended the meal with 2 espresso. The total cost of this meal was € 72.

After a fun-filled day and a lot of great tasty bites, we walked back to the hotel and had an after dinner drink at the hotel bar, which helped us to drift off into peaceful slumber so we could be roaring to go in the morning for our day trip to Sintra!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 19th, 2013, 03:54 AM
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I'm really enjoying your trip report. Lisbon is one of my favourite cities.
ter2000 is offline  
Jul 19th, 2013, 06:09 AM
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I forgot to mention in the last trip report installment above, the cost of the gourmet walking tour with Inside Lisbon was € 28 per person. We thought this was a very good value for what we got. We have been on similar tours in NYC, Seattle, Rome and Nice and although they were all very good, they were all more expensive than this one in Lisbon, some significantly more.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 20th, 2013, 03:16 PM
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So glad I discovered this trip report. I actually stumbled on it when I was searching for some of your Rome trip reports.....always full of good information and great food reviews. This fall while in Portugal we are flying once again to Rome for five nights......our favorite city.....and I need some "new ideas"

Having had a home in the Algarve for many years has made me very "partial" to Portugal. Being short on time right now I will come back and eagerly read how you and your Mom enjoyed the tour. I was sure you would like trying the Vinho Verde as it is a bit like a less bubbly Proseco. If you get up to Trader Joes in Charleston they often carry it in the summer months. Not as good as drinking it in Portugal though as it suffers with shipping here. Any idea when TJ's is opening in Savannah? Where is your next trip going to be?
lowcountrycarol is offline  
Jul 20th, 2013, 07:35 PM
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Hi LowCountryCarol!

I thought of you a lot during our travels in Portugal. We loved it and of course the vinho verde! We followed your suggestions and enjoyed the Aveleda and Casal Garcia brands, along with others we had not tried before (and loved! it's so much better there!)

No idea when the TJ's may be opening in Savannah. I heard a Whole Foods would be opening in SAV in a year or so, and usually (but not always), if there is a Whole Foods, TJ's isn't far behind...I can only hope!

Next trip is a long weekend to NYC over Labor Day weekend. Then a 2 week trip to Italy in October, one week to of a cooking vacation in the Abruzzo region and one week in Rome.

I apologize for slacking on adding to the trip report, it's been a busy weekend. I hope to have more written in the next couple days.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 21st, 2013, 02:56 PM
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Sunday, May 12th

Today we took a day trip to Sintra with Inside Lisbon Tours. Could we have done it on our own via train? Sure, but after reading about the tour offered by Inside Lisbon and that the number of people was limited to just 8 in a minivan plus the guide, we decided to do it this way. And we also got a visit to Cabo da Roca and Cascais tossed into the mix too.

We departed from the tour meeting point in Lisbon at Restauradores Square/Ave. de Liberdad at about 9am. Our guide was Nadia and she was pleasant and informative. This was a full day tour which cost € 55 per person.

The first stop on the tour was the Pena Palace. Mom and I, along with another mom-daughter duo on this tour choose to take the little shuttle bus from the entry point up to the palace, the others in the group did the uphill walk. Both took about the same time, approximately 10 minutes. This palace sits high above Sintra with terrific views, but really is a mash-up of all different types of architectural styles, let’s just say it was interesting to see.

We did have plenty of time to go inside the palace, which was mildly interesting to me. Maybe it was because it was fairly crowded and people were shuffling through the rooms in single-file, but frankly, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

When we were done at the Pena Palace we took the shuttle bus back down to the entry point and Nadia had the minibus waiting for us. We jumped in and were off to the Old Town area of Sintra where we could wander about checking things out and stop for lunch.

We spent most of our time in the Old Town wandering about popping into little touristy shops and stopping for a lunch break. Mom and I weren’t ravenously hungry, but we did want something cool and frosty to drink. We found a nice little café in the center of town and ordered two mocha frappes. They hit the spot perfectly for us. It was a great place to spend an hour relaxing in the sun, watching the world of Sintra go by.

In fact, we had a treat while we were there, a big group of locals went into the restaurant part of the café (we were on the outside terrace), and they were all dressed up. A few minutes later we figured out why. Around the corner came a young couple carrying the most adorable baby dressed in all white, we figured there must have just been a christening and this establishment we were at was chosen as the family’s place for lunch after the church service. Well, at least that’s was it looked like to us.

Our little tour group for the day gather again at the designated meeting point and Nadia pulled up in the minivan to whisk us away to Cabo da Roca. It was about a 20 minute scenic drive from Sintra to the westernmost point in continental Europe. There isn’t a lot to see here, but the view is stunning, and just a tad-bit windy, to say the least.

After a brief stop at Cabo da Roca, we were back in the minivan and heading in the direction of Cascais, which is a beach-side town not far from Lisbon. We had time here to stroll on the beachfront promenade and mingle with lots of locals enjoying the beach and shops. Before we knew it, it was time to drive back to Lisbon. We were dropped off at our morning meeting point just around 5pm. It was a fun day full of some interesting sites.

Tonight we had a 9pm dinner reservation at As Salgadeiras, a restaurant in the Bairro Alto neighborhood which I found on a trip report by Fodorites Mr_Go and Ms_Go. However, before dinner, there is always (for us anyway) aperitivo. And for aperitivo this night we took Fodorite LinCasanova’s advice to venture up to the terrace at the Bairro Alto Hotel and we could not have made a better decision!

We loved, with a capital L, this terrace/lounge/bar. The terrace is open to the public, so you don’t have to be a hotel guest to go there and it is really worth it to go there. Here is the hotel website, with information on the terrace: http://www.bairroaltohotel.com/en/ the view from the terrace is fantastic!

We arrived probably around 6:30pm and had to wait for a table (there are maybe 15 tables). There is a bench along the back wall where people wait to be seated, but the servers will set up a small folding table there so you can still order drinks and wait for a table that has a “front and center” view. While we waited we ordered a bottle of vinho verde, and even before the bottle was served to us, a table in the “center of the action” that easily seated 4 opened up. I never expected to be seated there since we were just 2 people, but it was our turn to be seated and that was the first table to open and we got it. Wow! Great wine, great service and a stunning view. We were 2 happy ladies.

At about 8:30pm we started to wrap up our aperitivo hour(s) and asked for the bill and then walked to As Salgadeiras for our 9pm dinner reservation. It wasn’t a far walk, a few blocks, and we took our time with a couple little hilly streets. We arrived right on time to be greeted warmly by 3 very capable, funny servers who worked all the tables in the restaurant. We had a feeling we were going to like this place. Here is the restaurant website: http://www.as-salgadeiras.com/

For a Sunday night, this restaurant was packed, maybe because other restaurants choose to close on Sundays? But we really enjoyed all this place had to offer, good service, attentive, but not overly so, the 3 servers working the room had excellent English skills, and could joke in English with comprehension. And the food was delicious and abundant, portion sizes were very generous.

We started with more of the same type of cheese from previous nights and codfish “spread” which we loved. We ordered a shrimp and garlic starter to share which was served in a small cauldron and it was still bubbling hot when it was put in front of us. It was absolutely delicious. Mom and I both ordered the same dish, which we don’t usually do, so that we can try different things on the menu. But when we asked the server which of the many cod fish main dishes was the best, he responded with the Codfish As Salgadeiras and we both got that and were not disappointed at all.

After deciding on which dishes we wanted I asked the server if he would recommend a white wine that would pair well with our dishes and he recommended a great wine from the Douro Valley. We choose to pass on dessert, but we did have our usual 2 espresso and ended the meal with smiles on our faces. The total cost of the meal was € 84.

As we were leaving we asked one of the servers if he would call a taxi for us and he did. The taxi arrived very quickly and boy what a character the driver was! As we got in the taxi he handed us hats to put on and a soccer team scarf with Portugal written across in big bold letters. Then we handed the server my camera to take pictures of us in the taxi with the driver. The guy was hilarious, and he whisked us back to the hotel for about € 7.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 21st, 2013, 03:25 PM
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It sounds like you had so much fun everywhere!
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