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Wonderful meal in Wakefield: PortoBello

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  • Chris VR Sep 28, 2002 11:08 AM
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We had an amazing dinner at PortoBello restaurant last week. The menu is pretty solidly Italian, but with a few surprising Portugese specials thrown into the mix. We talked to our waiter (also one of the owners, I believe) after the meal and he explained that there are 2 chefs, him and another person. He is Portuguese, the other one is Italian.

First, the raves. The food was excellent, from start to finish. Everything was perfectly prepared, the sauces were flavorful, and the ingredients were high quality.

The bread was warm and fresh and served with flavored olive oil. We were ravenous and devoured the first basket pretty quickly.

We started with an Portuguese appetizer special that was something like "Camarones de la casa". It was 7 succulent shrimp in a spicy garlic sauce. I wanted to lick the plate clean on this one, the sauce was SO tasty. And the shrimp were perfectly cooked. Not rubbery or chewy at all. Although the sauce was flavorful, it didn't overwhelm the shrimp, the two tastes married perfectly. Unfortunately, the bread was gone and we hadn't gotten a refill so I had to settle for chasing the sauce around with a fork.

The salad was a step above the standard iceberg offering you typically get with many "salads included" meals. It was good quality mixed greens, well cleaned and not bitter. A few olives and tomatoes were tossed on for good measure, and a good vinaigrette rounded it out.

I went safe and chose the Chicken Francese. The chicken cutlet was incredibly moist. The lemon wine sauce wasn't strong enough to stand up to the egg coating on the chicken, so the overall taste was a bit too eggy for me. But the sauce was showcased on the perfectly cooked pasta that accompanied the dish. Hubby had the Portuguese Seafoood stew (a special). A tomatoey broth came loaded with seafood: calamari, scallops, mussels, shrimp. Maybe some other stuff but I wasn't in the mood to try it. He said the flavor was excellent but the mussels were a bit disappointing.

He had 2 glasses of the house merlot, which were served at too warm a temperature but were otherwise fine.

We split an apple caramel cheesecake for dessert, which was good, but not up to the quality of the other menu items.

Now for the drawback. They are woefully understaffed. As I mentioned, we talked with one of the owners, who said they have had a terrible time getting and keeping good waitstaff. We were there on a Thursday and there was the one waiter for all the tables, about 8 tables of 2-4 people. So things moved pretty slowly. But he did an admirable job of serving us without making us feel like we were putting him out or making him do more work, which is so often the attitude you can get in an understaffed restaurant. Although the pacing was slow, it worked perfectly for us, as we were in the mood for a leisurely, European-paced meal. If we had been in more of a hurry it would have been frustrating but we were enjoying lingering.

Decor is nothing fancy- a latticed ceiling with fake grape vines. Pretty much what you would expect of a place tucked into a shopping plaza. Low lighting and booths tucked into niches along the walls made things seem cozy. But the booths are not comfortable enough to settle down for a few hours. At the end of the meal I just wanted to get off the slightly uncomfortable bench. Dinner for two (with the abovementioned appetizer, wine and dessert) came out to $60, pre tip. The prices are a little higher than you usually get out here in the suburbs, but I'm willing to pay for superior ingredients.

Despite the service issues, I won't hesitate to head back to PortoBello again in the very near future. PortoBello is on Main Street, close to the Melrose line, in a shopping plaza.

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  1. I have had one meal there, this past spring. I tried the flaming Portguese sausage (not linguica, IIRC), and went with a kind of steak fiorentina, which was OK but was perhaps from towards the end of the cut and sort of shortchanged on the tenderness versus flavor calculus, because it was otherwise well prepared (sometimes its the particular cut of the piece, not the preparation....). Service was like you said. Pleasant. I need to go back now after your review, to check out more of the menu.

    They are trying to expand their Portuguese offerings, which I think would be a major plus, as they would have no competition within miles of the place.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Karl S.

      "They are trying to expand their Portuguese offerings, which I think would be a major plus, as they would have no competition within miles of the place."

      We did talk a bit about O'Fado, in Peabody, and he mentioned that the family that owns the restaurant is having troubles- the older generation passing on and the younger generation not as interested in the restaurant business. He didn't think it would be around much longer.