Sunset Cafe Lunch Update (Portugese, Cambridge)
I mentioned recently that Sunset Cafe in Cambridge was offering a fixed-price buffet and finally made it there today. This is the Portugese restaurant I would love to recommend (most selection, good food and prices, live fado on weekends, and able to handle large parties). However, their service is very variable (the kitchen is always slow) and occasionally other things bother me.
What bothered me today, was their AC was having problems and omitting a mouldy smell in the restaurant. Additionally they had decorated the tables with small bamboos, which look nice, but almost always bring small flys. I only saw one fly, but the dining room got a -.
The buffet was certainly a decent value -- it included salad, sopa/acorda de alho (a garlicky broth with green pep, tomato, often bread, etc), mashed potatoes and rice, basic spaghetti, and 3 main plates. I think you also get a drink and not certain about dessert (I thought the menu didn't show it). The buffet had some interesting plates -- squid with potatoes in a creamy sauce. We got there around noon and it was pretty fresh, although it wasn't refreshed while we were there and none of the hot plates were covered.
I decided to order off the menu and it turned out they had a full lunch menu (a long time ago they had one, but on other visits you had to order off the dinner menu). Carne alentejana (pork and clams), "small" sunset special steak (bife a cavalo), braised rabbit. There were at least 15 items off the regular menu (well over 70 plates), all around or under $7.95. (I think the rabbit that someone was looking for was $6.95) I didn't see much in the way of salt cod and they didn't offer their excellent african shrimp (head-on, with a demi-glaze based african sauce) or any of the paellas they have at dinner.
I like their sauces and the carne alentejana was no exception and the potatoes were done perfectly. Not many littlenecks, but they were good. I expected it to be half the dinner plate, but it was almost as large. The sunset steak was seemed thinner than the dinner portion and the sauce I thought was lighter, but it was good and the egg perfectly done. I ordered the sopa de alho a la carte (it didn't have enough bread to be an acorda) and it was excellent like before, steaming with a poached egg. The bread and starters were good too, although I didn't request cheese which I sometimes do at dinner (recommended). Service was attentive, but the kitchen was slow overall.
As far as the food this place is the whole package and the fado is excellent. For better service, a nicer (but also loud) dining room, and excellent seafood Portugalia is good. J&J's for a casual dinner and Casa Portual for a more intimate location and excellent wine list. The "snack bar" is also good if you want to grab something to run (although their carne a alentejana is the same price and doesn't compare). There also is cafe casal and O'Cantinho which is well covered here. I wish I could say the AC is going to be fixed tomorrow, but expect that is unlikely.
I was pleased with the lunch options and you have the chance of looking at the buffet before deciding what to order. You need to budget a whole hour, whereas Portugalia is much faster at lunch.
I had hoped to get a second peek at the lunch menu before leaving, but didn't. I believe they were advertising the buffet for Saturdays, so I think both the lunch menu and buffet might be offered, but am not certain.
As far as the bread, you need old bread, but I think that both Central (next to Royal Pastry) and Casal have something to offer. I usually frequent Central for portuguese breads and Casal we sometimes get Brazilian rolls, but that is because of convenience. The country bread or rolls from Central are not exactly right, but would work well. Even portuguese rolls woudl be fine. The bread at Sunset would be even better (denser and heavier, almost like broa but no cornmeal), but I think it may come from Fall River. Sessas in Davis has some crusty, dense breads that would work.
Sunset's never done it for me. When I'm in the area, I fancy O' Cantinho. Their petiscos (small plates - stewed beans with linguica, stewed peas with linguica and bacon) and the Bife com Ovo (steak & egg) are to die for. I also like the Tortas de Bacaalhau (salt cod pancake sandwich). Yummy stuff.
re: Bob MacAdoo
FWIW, the premise of my post is that Sunset has its problems and is not going to work for everyone. I would love to recommend it because of the music, breadth of their food, and how good it can be. But mainly because of the service, I hesitate from recommending it.
I too, enjoy O'Cantinho. That said O'Cantinho and Sunset are completely different animals. Sunset has somewhere around 70 items on their dinner menu -- you aren't going to find roasted goat, braised/stewed rabbit, or african shrimp on O'Cantinho's menu. And for those who think Atasca/O'Cantinho is heavy on the salt, Sunset usually is not.
For a more intimate setting and full dinner from Sunset, I do like Casa Portugal or might even go to Portugalia (louder, though).
While I like O'Cantinho for lunch, I would more often go to one of the Portuguese social clubs, J&J's, even Casal, the bar at Sunset and Portugalia, etc. The clubs have a rotating menu and more food for the same price. J&J's and the Snack Bar have pregos for under $3, as well as bolinhos de bacalhau and ressois de camarao, etc. O'Cantinho is a nice easy selection which its great to have out there, but there are other options, and its no replacement for Atasca Broadway (the charcoal grill in the front window roasting sardines is the closest I have been to Lisbon in boston).