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Mar 11, 2008 05:52 AM

Atasca, Portugalia, O Cantinho, or Casa Portugal?

Here's the scoop: I'm a native of the SouthCoast area (New Bedford) and would like to have some tasty potuguese food on Friday without the commute... Which of the four restaurants gets your vote? I'd like to bring about a party of 6 with me, if that changes things... Thanks!

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  1. Just to let you know, O Cantinho closed a few months ago...

    1. Atasca is good, if not a tad pricy, but mitigated by the warm decor.

      1. Also, you'll want to throw Con Sol into the mix - "Iberian" cuisine that seems Portuguese to me - located in the original Atasca space on Broadway.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Bob Dobalina

          I enjoyed Atasca a few weeks ago. Haven't been to the others. Sqid app and main was a clam/pork dish..alejanta (sp)

          1. re: 9lives

            That squid was really good ... perfectly cooked and tender, mostly little tendrils instead of the body rings you typically see.

            The clam and pork dish was good too, but J&J's is better if that's an option.

            J & J Restaurant
            157 Washington St, Somerville, MA 02143

        2. i'm a fan of casa portugal. minimal space, moderate service, great food and very very reasonable prices

          1. Atasca: Was a huge fan of Atasca Broadway and O Cantinho was a good addition and then replacement before it recently closed. The current Atasca on Hampshire is well liked and I was really excited when it opened, but have had been really disappointed on 3 occasions, had ok meals on another 2 (one of these with awful service), and good meals another 2 times. It is the higher-end option, has the advantage of a small plates menu (I do like to sit at the bar). They do have some unique options like cured presunto which are worth it and I think they carried over the piri piri shrimp from Hampshire which I love.

            Portugalia: For dining the room here can get very loud, at lunch time its a nice oasis away from the street. They really do salt cod dishes here and that is their speciality, most other seafood and fish dishes are pretty good (their african shrimp doesn't compare to Sunset and don't like their mariscada much). The appetizer sampler is quite good (but could be salt cod overload if you do those for main dishes). They do seafood versions of dishes that usually have meat (like a seafood version of feijoada a transmontana). Also if someone doesn't like Salt Cod, they usually have a white fish version of the lagareiro (bacalhau a lagareiro is grilled salt cod, with garlic smashed potatoes) on the specials list, but I for salt cod I particularly like the bacalhau a braz and b a gomes de sa (the most traditional portuguese cod dishes, their a ze de pipo). They list a large selection of vinho verde wines, but sometimes the list isn't up to date with current stock. I have never gotten a meat dish here that satisfied me, so if that is specifically what you are looking for another option might be best.

            Casa Portugal: This reminds me most of eating in Portugal, both with the service and the food. This was the Portuguese restaurant we frequented when I was a child and sometimes I don't think the food always lives up to my memories and when good Atasca can certainly top it, but I enjoy it a lot. It can get a bit crowded, but the room doesn't feel as loud as Portugalia and its more intimate. They have a better wine and much better Port selection than the other restaurants listed.

            Sunset Cafe: This has the most complete Portuguese menu and a large room for banquets. I avoid recommending it on chowhound or to friends, although in the past it has been my favorite of all the above. They were always known for very slow (and often poor) service and other faux paus such as a mildew smell in the AC the whole summer. However, a lot of the Portuguese community has moved to the suburbs and they have started doing a lot of things to attract Brazilians (it was always a common place for Brazilian and Cape Verdean parties to go because it could handle a wedding reception), doing buffets and dinner-club style nights. If you do go its worth sticking to certain dishes: the African Shrimp (with heads), steak a sunset (bife a cavalo), sopa de alho, their bacalhau lagareiro (Portugalia is also good),and carne alentejana. They also have a decent coelho a cacadora (rabbit which other portuguese restaurants don't do, offer stewed goat, and their paelhas come with lobster and a lot of food (somewhat inconsistent preparation compared to spanish restaurants, though). Try the molotov dessert either here are at J+J's (none of the other portuguese restaurants offer it).

            Con Sol: Its in the original Atasca location on Broadway and I am dying to try it, but we have missed them several times (too late, closed once, not open for lunch except sundays (??? we tried on a saturday and it was closed).

            PB Restaurant in Everett: This isn't in Cambridge, but is just over the bridge on Rt 99 from Sullivan Square. This is a Brazilian restaurant, but they do have one Portuguese chef (and a Brazilian chef that I believe has also worked in Portuguese restaurants). I have mostly stuck to their Brazilian dishes, but several friends (and one hound) I sent for their Portuguese food have been pleased. They have done a couple of Portuguese cultural nights and have Portuguese dishes not offered by other restaurants (some other salt cod dishes), so despite the mixed menu, are taking the Portuguese part of the menu seriously. Do call before you go as I have also struck out once and when we called to order ahead for lunch today, nobody answered.

            J+J's Restaurant: This is a small convenience store, sub shop, and restaurant at Washington St in Somerville, at the intersection of the off-ramp from McGrath O'Brien Hwy. To enter the dining room, you simply stay to right as you enter. The food here is a bit more homey than some other restaurants, but I have never had a bad meal here (I eat here and at Portugalia most of all).

            With the exception of Atasca, most main plates at these restaurants are sized for sharing. For 6 people, you could be very full on 4 dishes.

            12 Replies
            1. re: itaunas

              And I was thinking when I posted, "where's Itaunas on this one?"

              Thanks for the compleat review.

              1. re: itaunas

                itaunas, could you tell me a little more about J+J's? Is the dining room comfortable? Is it full-service? What kinds of items are on the menu? Is it a pretty friendly place? (Some of the restaurants around there look a bit rough around the edges.)


                1. re: hiddenboston

                  The dining room is full service (and for instance you can order subs and sandwiches at the counter, but in the dining room need to order plates) and its fairly simple/ethnic, but not at all sketchy. Among the decorations are Portuguese hand-painted azulejos with jokes about marriage, man and his horse... so on. I almost always get waited on by Brazilians there and they are quite friendly with us, some of the other patrons talk to you, most simply keep to themselves (I tend to go at lunch, I think Aromatherapy and some other folks are there more regularly at dinner where we have gotten into conversations with other tables). If there is a table drinking a fair amount of wine or beer, they may get boisterous.

                  They do not have a huge kitchen, so they focus on some of the greatest hits of portuguese food and mostly simpler dishes. For seafood I tend towards the Bacalhau a lagareiro (grilled salt cod with garlic potatoes) and occasionally the polvo (octopus), but they also have arroz de mariscos (rice and seafood) and maybe mariscada (seafood saute/broth). Carne Alentejana there is a good bet and I agree with YumYum that I prefer it to Atasca (Atasca also once served it to me with the wrong potatoes). Their version of Portuguese Steak and Carne Alentejana come with a fairly light broth (some places have thicker broths, some red wine reduced, even a bit of demi-glace) which is why I said its fairly homestyle cooking (not gravy master though, which some portuguese restaurants have served). They have a grilled half chicken which is pretty good. They also serve one style of Molotof (also spelled molotov -- a portuguese sweet made with orange liquer and egg whites -- unusual because most portuguese sweets are heavy on the yolks), which comes as a slice from a loaf pan.

                  Like all restaurants in Portugal they give you something to start -- usually bread, stewed gizzards (Aromatherapy says they sometimes don't give these to clearly Gringo tables), and chickpeas. Unlike Portugal, you aren't charged if you eat it. I once had them fry up a batch of rissois de camarao that I really thought were great, but mostly these and the salt cod cakes seem to be the frozen ones imported from Portugal (in this would give the edge to the salt cod cakes).

                  Along the same line the Snack Bar on Cambridge Street is definately worth a visit. No wine or beer, though, but they do a few Azorean dishes and have a (usually consistent) list of specials which can be quite good (the only other place aside from Sunset for rabbit). Believe it or not I really like the food at the nearby Portuguese Sporting Club (which has a plaque about the oldest pizzeria in Somerville), but that can really be rough around the edges (members only, male only) -- JJ's is really comfortable and no worries about going there in mixed company.

                  1. re: itaunas

                    Thanks much, itaunas. Once again, I appreciate the time you spend on these informative responses. I'll have to make a point of getting over to J+J's one of these days, as it isn't too far from where I live.

                    1. re: hiddenboston

                      I am happy to be help, but have to confess that in recent years (I have been going there for about 10 years now), I tend to "eat and run" at J+J's focusing on just a few of the dishes. Aromatherapy has done a much more complete job at hounding the menu so definitely look for her posts.

                      1. re: hiddenboston

                        J+J is across from the SPD, so there are usually a lot of cops in there at lunchtime -- you shouldn't be worried about the sketchy factor unless the police give you the willies. I've never had a problem, but if you're nervous about hanging out there at night, go in for a sub during the day to get your feet wet. The prego sandwich is delicious, less than $5, and so garlicky you wont be able to go back to the office after lunch. In a good way.

                        1. re: yumyum

                          Heh heh, no, having the police nearby is definitely more of a comfort factor for me. I just wasn't sure if the place would be unwelcoming to folks who aren't regulars.

                          1. re: hiddenboston

                            The owners & staff are all sweethearts. Even when I'm the only gringo in the place I feel perfectly comfortable. There are usually families and kids. There can be a slight language barrier sometimes. And hey, I finally tried the molatov, very nice! Huge, but light. The grilled tuna managed to be thoroughly cooked yet not dry. These guys are good. Do try the bifana.

                            1. re: Aromatherapy

                              Aromatherapy have you tried the dobradinha (tripe with white beans) at J+J's somewhat recently? I used to like their version, but have only had it at the Snack Bar recently. This is something that a lot of Brazilian restaurants don't do too well (Brasil on Ferry in Malden is pretty good), but I am thinking I need to get back to J+J's to try it while the weather is good for that kind of food.

                              1. re: itaunas

                                Not this year. IIRC they make theirs with red beans, weird but good anyhow. I'm no expert being a relatively recent convert to tripe, but I like it.

                          2. re: yumyum

                            The pork companion to the prego (or prego no pao, steak nailed on bread :-) is the bifana and I can eat both. J+J is my favorite prego in town, some grill flavor and more seasoning (without too much paprika). Plus if you want it a little less done, they will make a slight effort to cook it a bit less (its a thin steak, so expect well done). This is basically what O Cantinho served slightly dressed up as their steak sandwich. The Neighborhood is better known for breakfast but also has some Portuguese corner bar food (they also have febras or portuguese pork chops as part of the saturday, but not sunday brunch menu), but doesn't serve into the night.

                        2. re: itaunas

                          Finally tried the Snack Bar's Azorean pot roast ("alcatra regional"), as takeout. A very solid homestyle prep, cooked with red wine. I hate dry and/or stringy pot roast and this was neither, texture was excellent. Served sliced with tomato-tinged rice, enough for 2 for $8 (supply your own veg). Specials menu had rabbit, quail, beef stew w/veg, pork chops.