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Trip report: Sintra, Evora, Porto, Lisbon

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Boston 'hound here, trying to distract myself from the tense current events in my hometown. We just returned last night from a wonderful trip to Portugal (our first). It will not be our last. Thanks to all the Portugal experts (you know who you are!) and other fellow visitors.

-Sintra: Our hotel manager at Oh Casa Sintra steered us to Tasca, near the theater and round the corner from a tattoo parlor, an off-the-beaten-track locals place. I had my first bacalhau dish and B got the grilled octopus skewer. My dish was tasty, in light cream sauce and accompanied with smashed potatoes, but I wanted more oomph. Garlic, perhaps? The octopus was perfectly cooked. The food was obviously freshly cooked - we were the only ones in there at ~ 4 pm and the food took some time to come out, which was fine with us because we had a lovely, effervescent vinho verde (Coroa do Vale). And, of course, our first encounter with couvert (which we knew about beforehand) to keep our bellies company. Nice and firm olives and good bread. Dinner is forgettable and I won't report on that! EUR24 (US$31)

We have late lunch the next day at Regional Restaurant, next to the Municipal Building. We share the monkfish stew - it's huge, brimming with rice, though a stingy portion of fish. But the flavor hits the spot on a rainy, chilly day. Sopping up the stew with the good bread is imperative. Vinho verde pairs beautifully. EUR33 (US$43).

After a day trip to Cascais, we return to Tasca for dinner. We had hoped to get into G-Spot around 9:30-ish but it was closed for a private party. Not much is open, except for the very touristy places around the Nat'l Palace so we scurry to Tasca. Bingo! It is packed at almost 10 pm and all eyes are on the Newcastle-Benfica match - this is right up our alley! My whole grilled "snook" fish (robalo or sea bass) is small but deftly grilled, with very crispy tasty skin. B's monkfish skewer come with a couple of head-on shrimp. Both are accompanied with limp broccoli rabe (but we were grateful for something green!). EUR31 again.

-Evora: Wonderful late lunch at a new place, called Piparoza, a small wine/tapas bar in a pedestrian way, right behind the main plaza (Rua Alcarcova de Baixo 23). We told the owner we didn't want any red meat, but ok to fish. He brought out a very savory fish sausage with a succulent olive oil-based sauce, cheese, roasted peppers with coarse salt, beautiful bread. The Dona Maria red that he brings us is delicious. He brings us a taste of light and airy chocolate mousse. Loved this place. EUR32.

Dinner at Cafe Alentejo was great. Obviously very touristy when we walked in. The bacalhao salad that is part of the couvert was quite flavorful - tart, bright, fresh, full of cilantro and garlic. We initially ordered the fish bread stew and oxtail special, but they are out of the oxtail. The young, cute waiter tells us that the fish stew should enough. And he was not kidding! (It's great when waitstaff are not working for tips, as they do in the US...no fear of the upsell.) We both loved this - layer the thinly-sliced bread at the bottom, ladle on savory, tomato-based stew, and then finally the rosemary-scented fish. Much more flavorful than the good food in Sintra. No wonder people love the food in this region. Red sangria is a refreshing accompaniment after lots of red wine at lunch. E31.

Lunch the next day at Salsa Verde made me happy. This is, I think, the only veggie restaurant in Evora. Clean, modern space. Seitan burgers, tofu, croquettes with curried potatoes, veggie acorda...I ate it all! Glass of vinho verde and a Sagres. Kindly owner. I think EUR18?

We try to go to BL Lounge for dinner - closed for private party! B takes me to Fialho. It's empty at 8 pm. Stuffy atmosphere in the back room. Tons of waitstaff - not really our kind of place. The chickpea couvert is good - tart and bright with vinegar, a welcome flavor. B likes the oozy, floral-y cheese. My fish soup pales in comparison to last night's. B loves his pork and clams (though the pork is a bit salty, and he loves his saline).

-Porto: A late dinner snack at our hotel, Pensao Favorita, following a regrettable earlier dinner elsewhere. We shared the mushroom tagliatelle, redolent of earthy, garlicky flavors. Why didn't we eat here to beign with?! Spicy and bold red wine, finished with rich chocolate cake and port. EUR24.

Unplanned lunch at Taylor's, as we were there for a tour. Another rather stuffy restaurant, with lots of waitstaff and captains, etc. Not our style, but we're hungry and there are not many other options around us. Chickpea salad is a generous timbale, with whole chickpeas, red chilies, a blob of wonderful oozy cheese on top. The penne with "Portuguese" pesto is ok - a small pricey portion, I decide to tear up some of the good cheese from the couvert and distribute it in the dish before swapping dishes with B - vast improvement! (By the way, it seems that fresh, handmade pasta is not offered in Portugal? At least in my small sample of n=2.) EUR50.

Late afternoon snack on the way home at Presto Pizza for a passable, cracker-thin veggie pizza and VERY generous glasses of red wine. We chat with a shopkeeper in CC Bombarda, then as soon as we walk in our room, we get news of the bombing in Boston. We are too shocked to walk out for the rest of the night.

-Lisboa: B desperately wants to go to the "Chicken Museum" (aka Bonjardim). Even I eat some of the famous grilled chicken with piri-piri sauce. B says it's some of the best chicken he's ever had (I don't normally eat it so I have no idea if it's particularly good or bad). I have to agree with him that the sauce makes the dish. I will try to replicate it at home. Fries, vinho verde to accompany.

We try to go to Ramiro for my birthday dinner, but the line is out of control. We wander, with no Plan B in place. B finds a place via some iPhone app..Sacramento. Short story, do not go to this place. Quite bad and pricey. Ginjinha de Carmo erases those bad memories of dinner. Quite modish and different from the other ginjinha bars we've seen. Cute and friendly girl behind the counter.

Lunch at Pombalina is awesome! The waiter is like a crazy squirrel, darting all over the tiny space. B likes his suckling pig sandwich, and I my mozz and tomato sandwich. Both on warm brown rolls. Spinach empanada, vinho verde (on tap).

Dinner at Sinal in Bairro Alto is a bit disappointing. The trilogy appetizer (sausages, octopus salad, cod fritters) is a decent start - only the octopus is really good. Fritters are cold and oily (like a lot of other things we've had in Portugal - I think that's the style?) and B likes only one out of the three sausages. B's roasted chicken with clams is a lot of work to eat, very bony, not much meat and I think it was under-cooked. My cod loins with shrimp and fennel is just ok. It's swimming in cream sauce - I expected it to be more rustic. We stop by Royale Cafe on the way home which was lovely (we should have tried dinner there instead). Red wine, port, an ok hummus, and berry crumble. We loved the atmosphere here.

We can't wait to get back to Portugal! Obrigada!

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  1. Interesting report, thank you! I have to admit not to have heard of any of the places you discovered except for Bonjardim, Ramiro and Fialho, all classics, and BL Lounge (more recent).
    Glad you had at least one decent Poruguieses wine (Dona Maria), and hope you tried some of the great Portuguese wine wines also (vinho verde does not really qualify and sangria is not eally local...)
    To answer your question, fresh pasta is indeed virtually unheard of in Portugal, they don't have a great tradition of Italian immigration / restaurants.

    1 Reply
    1. re: monchique

      Indeed, many of the places you don't know are nothing special, food-wise, but we enjoyed the experience (for example, Tasca in Sintra and Pombalina in Lisboa, a simple sandwich shop).

      At Sinal we did have a crisp and fresh alvarinho (one of my favorite grapes). Again, my report is not comprehensive (imagine how much longer my post would have been!) so there are some lapses and gaps.

      I must reiterate, we are really looking forward to returning to Portugal. Thanks for all of your previous posts, which I read avidly!