Our favorite restaurant in Évora

August 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

BotequimdaMouraria-Edit©

Our favorite restaurant in Évora, Botequim da Mouraria, seats only eight people and takes no reservations. There are no tables, everybody eats at the counter. Domingos Canelas, the restaurant’s owner, recites the menu, an endless list of delicacies that includes wild asparagus, eggs from blissful chicken, incredible prosciutto from Alentejo, luscious figs, briny clams, succulent fish and meat. In the kitchen, his wife Florbela cooks these ingredients with great skill and refinement. When Domingos brings the food he smiles, anticipating our enjoyment.

We asked him to select a wine from the restaurant’s amazing list. Instead of choosing an expensive bottle, he decided to impress us with a perfectly chilled white wine from Herdade Grande. “In Portugal,” he said, “you don’t need to spend much money to drink great wine.” And we agreed, marveling at the perfect harmony between the wine and the food.

During our leisurely lunch, many customers came to the door and left because there were no seats available. And yet, Domingos didn’t  try to rush us. “You need time to enjoy the food of Alentejo,” he said.

We asked whether he planed to expand the size of the restaurant. He answered without hesitation: “I can only maintain this quality if I stay small.” At Botequim da Mouraria small is wonderful.

Botequim da Mouraria is at Rua da Mouraria, 16-A in Evora, tel. 266-746-775, email: botequim.mouraria@sapo.pt.

Viseu turned upside down

July 29, 2014 § 1 Comment

Mesas

Roman cities are generally organized around two perpendicular streets, the “cardo” and the “documanus.” In Viseu, an elegant city in the interior of Portugal, the cardo is called Rua Direita. This ancient street has been turned upside down by an installation called Mesas (the Portuguese word for tables). Artists Pedro Rebelo and Ricardo Jacinto suspended in the air tables once used by jewelers, tailors, office workers, school children, card and ping-pong players. These tables project sounds recorded while they were in use, inviting us to celebrate the people who study, work, and play in this city.

Mesas is part of Ephemeral Gardens, a great annual event which fills the streets of Viseu with art, music, dance, theater, and gastronomy. Click here for more information.

The place to be in Lisbon

July 21, 2014 § 5 Comments

Palácio Valle Flôr compositF©For the price of ordinary accommodations in London or Paris, you can stay in an extraordinary palace in Lisbon. It’s all thanks to José Dias, an entrepreneur who made a fortune producing cocoa to feed Europe’s insatiable appetite for chocolate. After many years of hard work on the island of São Tomé, Dias returned to Lisbon. He received the title of Marquis of Valle Flor and began the construction of a magnificent palace.

The Marquis bought land with breathtaking views of the Tagus river and hired architects to design a building with perfect proportions. He then decorated it with great refinement, commissioning elegant furniture, beautiful paintings, graceful sculptures, and radiant stained-glass windows. After its inauguration in 1915, the palace became a fashionable gathering place for the royal family, celebrities, and nobility.

With the death of the Marquis in 1932, the edifice entered a period of slow decay. To save this work of art from oblivion, Dionísio Pestana, a successful hotelier, bought the building in 1992 to convert it into a luxury hotel.

It took almost ten years to restore the edifice and equip it with modern comforts. The result is the Pestana Palace, a hotel favored by a long list of celebrities that includes Bill Clinton and Madonna. The Marquis of Valle Flor would surely love to see that his palace is, once again, the place to be in Lisbon.

The Pestana Palace is located at Rua Jau, 54, tel. 210401711 , email: guest@pestana.com. Click here for the hotel’s web site and here to see more photos of the palace.

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro

July 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

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The name of this wine estate near Lisbon means golden hill farm. It is a fitting designation because this is a place where grapes are treated like gold and wines are made with a jeweler’s precision.

The soil of the farm is similar to that of Côtes du Rhône, so José Bento dos Santos, the farm’s owner, planted the same grape varieties that thrive in that French region: Syrah and Viognier.

Graça Gonçalves, the estate’s enologist, talks about each parcel of the farm as if they are old friends. She knows their qualities and shortcomings and choses cultivation methods that help each of them thrive. We ask which is her favorite parcel and quickly realize it is an impolite question. Graça does not answer, but when she talks about parcel 24 her eyes shine more than usual. This parcel is planted with Syrah grapes that came from old vines in Côtes du Rhône. Each plant is different and it is this variety that creates the quinta’s top wines, such as the aptly named Syrah 24.

When harvest time approaches, Graça walks through the vines, taking samples to analyze in the lab, tasting the grapes, imagining the wines that will be produced. When the time is right, the grapes are picked by hand and carefully selected. There are then numerous decision to make, such as how to press the grapes and whether to stage the wine in French oak barrels or stainless steel vats. Why such meticulous care? Graça explains: “Wine is roughly 14 percent alcohol and 85 percent water, so there is only one percent for the fruits of the vine to create emotion.” It is impossible not to feel this emotion when you open a bottle of Quinta do Monte d’Oiro wine.

Click here for the Quinta do Monte d’Oiro website.

Black figs

July 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

Figos

When you go to the market buy black figs, recommends the Portuguese writer Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen in her poem The Morning Walk: “but figs are not black, they are blue on the outside and pink on the inside and they all shed a tear made of honey.”

The best of both worlds

June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Azeitonas Bel Canto-F

Portugal is a country with century-old traditions. But it is also a place where a new generation is creating the future.

Consider the fruits of the Olea europaea, commonly know as olives. If you visit a Portuguese farmers market, you’ll find delicious olives cured in traditional ways. But if you dine at Belcanto, José Avillez’s wonderful restaurant in Lisbon, you’ll be served three invented olives. The first, a spherical olive that explodes in the mouth, is an homage to Avillez’s apprenticeship at elBulli. The second is a delicious black olive in a light crunchy tempura. The third is an inverted dry martini: the liquid is olive juice and the “olive” is a sphere of gin.

Which do you prefer, tradition or modernity? In Portugal you don’t have to choose.

Belcanto is located at Largo do São Carlos in Lisbon, tel. 21-342-0607.

Making love last

June 26, 2014 § 2 Comments

Mangerico

In Portugal, June is devoted to celebrating the popular saints. In Lisbon we celebrate Santo António on the 13th, in Oporto São João on the 24th, and in Sintra São Pedro on the 29th.

There is an old custom of writing a verse and offering it with a “manjerico” (a pot of miniature basil) to our loved one. According to tradition, if we smell the manjerico with our nose, it dies quickly. We should instead pat it gently with our hand and smell the hand. Then, the manjerico will last and, presumably, so will our love.

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