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Posts from the ‘Portuguese’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Pine Nut Ricotta, Paneer, Cream Cheese

PicMonkey Collage

Avant Garden. I didn’t think I’d be eating vegan food on a Friday night (you know, totally Tuesday fare) and yet there I was with a friend sharing plates, drinking wine (from a more conventional list than expected) like I was on a pretend date. It’s all very now (non-basil-based pestos, toasts, grains, pickled produce) and very tasty (the absence of dairy doesn’t register at all). Strangely, the standout was a toast. Strange because the descriptions don’t always sell the dish. Fennel hummus, Castelvetrano olive, orange, walnut was a delicious autumnal combination, rich and almost buttery, while I was resistant to the beets, mango, avocado, black sesame, tamari, tobanjan, lime not because of the long ingredient list but because the mango and avocado read too nuevo Latino, which clearly this round stack of food wasn’t considering the double dose of fermented bean products. Stick with the more outre combos i.e. smoked macadamia, maitake, and crispy leeks rather than seemingly familiar blends like tomato, basil, and almond ricotta.

artichoke slice

In a delayed Big Mac Attack-esque move, after too many drinks at my late ’90s staple Boxcar Lounge, I found myself at 2:30am crouched in a doorway with an enormous, molten artichoke slice dripping with dairy. It wasn’t until I woke up the following afternoon with a charred, ripped-up roof of my mouth (that still hurts three days later) that I even remembered taking a photo. Good going, drunk self.

lupulo duo

Lupulo. Despite the prominent bar, I find NYC places like this tricky to dine in alone because you can eat a cobbled together light meal by spending $24 on two small plates (shrimp turnovers, creamy and fried like haute junk food and duck hearts skewered with pickled mango and shishito peppers) or outlaying the same amount on a more substantial dish to receive less variety. And then despite reasonably spaced stools and well-defined place settings, after the loud male half of a big-spending older couple has had numerous samples of beer followed by multiple full glasses on one side and a single Manhattan has been consumed by a young lady on the other, limbs start splaying, elbows thrust, and personal boundaries become encroached upon until you quietly leave still vaguely hungry. 

samudra duo

SamudraBoth a vegan and vegetarian meal within 48 hours is highly unusual. Samudra is great, though, for chaat and South Indian carbs like the super light dosas filled with spinach to be healthy and hefty uthappam I always get stuffed with paneer. The best, though, might be the vada, perfectly deep-fried chickpea flour doughnuts, crackly on the outside and fluffy in the middle, served here with mild coconut chutney and sambar.

kitchen 79 geoy hor cheese

Kitchen 79. Not enough cheese yet? Let me introduce you to geoy hor cheese a.k.a. Thai crab rangoon. With sweet chile sauce? Amazing. And that doily only helps matters.


Portuguese isn’t a cuisine I’ve eaten countless times but I know enough to realize that wasabi and coconut milk aren’t standard Iberian ingredients. Modern is definitely the keyword at Aldea, from the sleek, blond wood and white leather bi-level space to the flavor combinations that appear on the plate.

Aldea may not be an impenetrable scene but it there was a full house at 9pm on a Friday, for sure. Even with reservations we had a bit of a wait, which I don’t mind when the staff is gracious and affable. I think they’ve hit the right note of professionalism and casualness in both service and food. The cooking is high caliber—chef, George Mendes was visible in the open kitchen—but never feels uptight.

Aldea presunto

Presunto, cured Portuguese ham was offered alongside serrano and Benton’s country ham. It was the obvious choice since I’d never tried it before. The thin slices weren’t markedly different from Spanish jamon, maybe a touch lighter and less fatty.

Aldea sea urchin toast, cauliflower cream, sea lettuce, lime

Sea urchin toast, cauliflower cream, sea lettuce, lime. Sure, I had a few glasses of vino verdhe in me but you wouldn’t think my palate would be so out of whack that I tasted phantom wasabi in this. James didn’t detect it and I’m not seeing it listed on the current online menu. I swear that off-white smudge wasn’t pure cauliflower, which is kind of like the anti-wasabi in its blandness. My only complaint was that the snack was gone in seconds. I guess that’s why it’s called a petisco, a.k.a. little bite.

Aldea baby cuttlefish, caramelized lychee, mentaiko, squid ink

Baby cuttlefish, caramelized lychee, mentaiko, squid ink. This appetizer also rambled well beyond European borders; more liberties were taken with the smaller dishes. The coconut foam worked with the sweetness of the lychee and mild curls of seafood. I wish I had concentrated more on the cod roe.

Aldea arroz de pato, duck confit, chorizo, olive, duck cracklings

Arroz de pato, duck confit, chorizo, olive, duck cracklings. Every mention ever of Aldea notes the duck rice so I played along. If the only meat included was the rosy, sliced duck breast, I might be disappointed. Sous-vide cooking certainly makes the dark poultry tender—and it wasn’t close to mushy—but there’s no point to duck unless it’s accompanied by some of that glistening, fatty skin, all the better if it has been crisped up. The duck cracklings made this dish and the browned coins of chorizo added pleasantly to the oily richness. The little blobs of apricot sauce weren’t out place; they provided a sweet-tart lift to this otherwise hefty bowl of rice. Fruity touches appeared to be a theme.

Aldea sea-salted chatham cod, market cranberry and fava beans, lemon-basil

Sea-salted Chatham cod, market cranberry and fava beans, lemon-basil. Ok, you knew cod had to be on the menu. Not bacalao, though.

Aldea sonhos, spiced chocolate, smoked paprika apricot, hazelenut praline

Sonhos, spiced chocolate, smoked paprika apricot, hazelnut praline. I feel like I’ve had this dessert before, obviously not with all three of these dips, I just can’t remember where. And I’m not confusing it with churros and chocolate. I love having choice, but when it came down to it the dark chocolate had the most impact.

Aldea sweets

Parting sweets.

Aldea kitchen

Aldea * 31 W. 17th St., New York, NY

The Woodburning Pit

  This was the second time in less than a week that I had the lights turned off on me while still eating. Maybe someone’s trying to give me exposure therapy. They say you can overcome phobias by being repeatedly exposed to the scary-to-you experience. I say that’s crap but I’d rather tackle my aversion to talking to strangers on the phone or walking up-and-down staircases without using the handrail before dealing with my fear of being the last diner in a restaurant.

It was partly my own fault because I thought the newish Bay Ridge churrasquiera closed at 11pm not an hour earlier. Then again, I would’ve been done by 10:07 instead of 10:37 if it hadn’t taken 30 minutes to get half a rotisserie chicken. I’m still not sure what the deal was and whether or not running out of food on a Friday night is typical or an aberration. I noticed people waiting for takeout for long stretches of time and another couple who sat down left after being informed they were out of both chicken and ribs.

Portuguese food is scarce in Brooklyn and The Woodburning Pit serves a subset of the cuisine, focusing on grilled meat. They did have caldo verde, but this isn’t a formal place offering sit down dishes made with staples such as bacalhau, clams or sardines. The premise is not dissimilar to a Peruvian pollo a la brasa takeout joint or jerk chicken storefront. The main difference is that this eatery is aiming for a bit more ambiance, providing a handful of wooden tables for dining in, Portuguese beer (Super Bock to name one) and imported metal sconces (at least that’s what the Made in Portugal sticker visible from where I was sitting implied) to liven up the walls. Oh, and that normally you have proteins at the ready, waiting to be chopped up and crammed into aluminum containers.

We initially ordered a rib and chicken combo to share then freaked out that it might not be enough food. I’ve been trying to reign in my gluttony, though trying to be dainty is less attractive when faced with a $3 sharing charge. Obviously that wouldn’t apply to to-go orders, which only reinforced my initial impression that take away is probably preferable here.

Woodburning pit garlic shrimp

To supplement the unknown quantity of food coming our way, we ordered garlic shrimp. These were similar to Spanish gambas but had a touch of vinegar, as did much of the food. I think it comes from a Tabasco-like sauce if not actual Tabasco. I’m glad we did have an appetizer because we were informed our chicken would be another 15 minutes. I was not in a rush so this wasn’t a big deal.

The service, by the way, was pleasant in a mom-and-pop, part of the community, knows the locals kind of way you see in parts of Brooklyn you’d expect like Bay Ridge and still thriving in enclaves like Carroll Gardens despite its increasing new-school nature. They just seemed to have misjudged supply and demand. I’ll make allowances for businesses getting up to speed.

Woodburning pit ribs and chicken

I do think that half a chicken and four ribs supplemented by some of the longest fries I’ve ever seen and a slew of rice was plenty for two. The meat was a little gnarled, at first glance it was hard to tell the pork from the chicken in the pile of burnished brownness, but nothing was dried out. The skin could’ve been crispier, but everything was moist and had a peppery zing.

This would’ve been a perfectly acceptable mid-week meal but I require more oomph from a Friday or Saturday night dinner. Is that weird? The Woodburning Pit would be suitable for takeout or delivery if you happen to live near the Bay Ridge/Sunset Park border.

The Woodburning Pit * 6715 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY

A Lorcha

It was crazy to think we’d manage A Lorcha after a big late afternoon meal at Fernando’s, but since I never get up early enough for breakfast on vacation (or weekends ever) I at least have to get in two meals per day for maximum eating experience.

I missed my Saturday night reservation because I was jetlagged and couldn’t drag myself out of bed. I wasn’t particularly hungry Sunday evening either, still feeling the effects of a multi-course lunch at Robuchon a Galera, but Macanese food had to fit into the schedule, pathetic appetite or not.

A Lorcha is on the same strip as Restaurante Litoral, a restaurant similar in look and style–white stucco, dark wood beams and brick arches–that I tried in Macau previously. Both serve hearty fare in portions way too big for two to explore adequately. That probably explains why so many pushed together tables were occupied by extended families.

A lorcha pig ear salad

I’m always game for a pig’s ear salad and had no idea what to expect. The cold slices are definitely about texture, more cartilage than flavor. I was hoping all the little white bits weren’t raw garlic but they were. It was way overpowering and I’m not sure if that was intended or not. That’s not to say I disliked this dish; it was just very strong in all aspects, oily, vinegary, and not terribly meaty.

A lorcha macanese chicken

I would’ve tried the African chicken to compare it to Litoral’s but James insisted he didn’t like it last time. I don’t think that’s true. To appease, I ordered Macanese chicken to see what the difference would be. It turns out, I prefer the African chicken, which is a stiffer oilier curry. Macanese chicken is mild, stewy and coconut milk based with roughly chopped chicken pieces and potatoes chunks similar to a Malay kari ayam I later made in a Singaporean cooking class. It’s not too far from a Thai massamun curry either, if that’s more familiar.

I never know what to do with all the sauce and it seems wrong to eat potatoes and rice. This serving was enough of a meal by itself but I can’t justify eating only one dish for dinner, especially in a country I may never get to again.

A lorcha pork and clams

And I’m glad that I overindulged because the clams and pork were worth it. I love the uniquely Portuguese combination. Why not combine shellfish and meat? Clams are fine by themselves but sometimes you want something more substantial, and I guess, fatty. I was expecting little bits of pork but ratio between the two ingredients was almost equal.

I’m still not sure what makes food Macanese. Most of what I’ve encountered seems either Portuguese or sort of Malay or even Filipino (much of the staff and customers at both A Lorcha and Litoral were Filipino) not so much Chinese. I’m not feeling wild culinary fusing.

Of course I’m dying to try Macao Trading Co. which opened just before I left the country, despite being highly suspicious of the venture. I mean, in a way it’s kind of brilliant to sell a mishmash cuisine that most New Yorkers know nothing about in a rustically flashy setting. Maybe someone could sex up Guyanese food next? Interestingly, it looks like they’ve divided their menu up into Portuguese and Chinese versions of the same ingredients with little hybridism whatsoever.

A Lorcha * Rua do Almirante Sérgio 289, Macau


Update: I've heard downhill reports, but I wouldn't say that was the case on my July 2012 re-visit. But I would say that nothing's changed in three-and-a-half years. In fact, my new photos look practically the same as what's below but I feel the need to mention them in case anyone's interested. I imagine everything will look exactly the same in another three-and-a-half years too.

* * *

There was no way I was going to miss Fernando’s on this visit to Macau. After being thwarted by uncooperative cab drivers (after 30 minutes trying to flag one down) during a frustrating daytrip three years ago, I planned ahead this time.

What we hadn’t planned on was spending our first three nights of vacation on the former Portuguese colony. Originally, we intended to take the ferry from Hong Kong and back the Tuesday before heading back to NYC, just lunch and dinner. But we had to make an emergency change to our itinerary after arriving in Hong Kong Friday night with no connecting flight to Bangkok available (I’m still steamed that we had pay the full ticket price when we never got to our intended destination).

Rather than spend our entire two weeks in Hong Kong (a perfectly nice city but not for that long) we decided to regroup in nearby Macau and hoped to pick up the second leg of our Thailand journey after a few nights (way too optimistic). One downside was that while trying desperately to check hotels in the airport with wi-fi that cut out every few minutes, we found out that nearly everything was booked for the weekend or going at a premium. Not wanting to take a chance on a weirdo hotel, (hey, Macau is still kind of seedy despite it’s shiny Vegas aspirations) we went against our loose, unspoken budgetary rule (I don’t spend more than $200 per night on hotels and try to keep it under $150. Everything I’d booked in Bangkok was under $100 so this screwed up things completely. Yes, I am a tightwad.) and reserved a fairly luxurious, over the top, large scale, royal-hued semi-‘90s in feel room at the brand new Sofitel. After traveling for over 24 hours and by nearly all methods—plane, train, taxi and ferry—and stymied by already not having the vacation I’d planned for months, I just wanted to collapse on an enormous pile of down-filled pillows.

And eat suckling pig. By the next afternoon we were ready to tackle Fernando’s. And this time by public transportation. I’d learned my lesson about taxis. Catching a bus (21A or 26A if you care to replicate the route) from Senado Square is easy and at only five Patacas, (about 63 cents) an incredible bargain. The 45-minute ride to Coloane is scenic once you get past all the new casino construction in Taipa. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to finagle a seat (we got one half-way through) and relax during the windy drive to Hac Sa beach.

Fernando's bar

Though it was too cool to indulge in any sand or surf, the weather was just fine for having a drink in the backyard bar while waiting for a table. Oddly, there was no vino verde by the glass so I had to settle for house white. I was thrilled by the temperate, light jacket weather; the 60-something-degrees nearly erased my sweaty and cranky August 2005 memories. Even though both front and back rooms were filled around our 4pm arrival, we didn’t wait for more than 15 minutes. I’d heard service-related horror stories, and sure, the staff all but ignores you, but I’ve had much brusquer and careless treatment in NYC.

Fernando's backyard

It’s fair to call Fernando’s touristy but since that includes mainland Chinese, Hong Kongers, Australians and not really any Americans with fannypacks, I was ok with it. This was the only place I ever heard a Spanish accent the entire vacation (Latinos just don’t go to Asia it seems) from a young Mexican woman with a German boyfriend sitting next to us.

Fernando's portuguese rolls

Warm Portuguese rolls are a must. The old lady sitting on the other side of us stuffed a few of these yeasty behemoths into her purse. Practically every restaurant in Singapore and Hong Kong that offered foil-wrapped butter served New Zealand’s Anchor brand, and we also encountered a New Zealand ice cream chain in malls. Apparently, New Zealand is the Wisconsin of Southeast Asia.

Fernando's chorizo

Portuguese choriço isn’t loose and fresh like Mexican-style or even quite like the firmer cured Spanish version. These links were salty, paprika-spiked and chunkier textured in the casing with charcoal tinged edges. Being way too much for two, we made like our table neighbor and James stuffed our leftovers in his bag. This came in handy as a meaty midnight snack when I fell asleep back in the hotel by 7pm, still jetlagged and unable to stay awake for a dinner (the pitcher of sangria didn’t help). I’m never able to stay awake on the second day in Asia. I’m still mourning the hot pot dinner I never got in Beijing because I couldn’t get out of bed.

Fernando's suckling pig

Ok, sucking pig is the reason to come to Fernando’s. And while well-traveled foodies might scoff, claiming better pork and Portuguese cuisine elsewhere in Macau, I was impressed and my view wasn’t just colored by the journey and rustic trappings. For one, the meat tastes richer, and for lack of a better word, porkier, than what I’m accustomed to in the U.S. I could only eat a few pieces when normally a couple of slices wouldn’t seem satisfying enough.

The skin is the star. Sure, it’s crispy, but tissue paper thin rather than bubbly and thick like chicharron or lechon. Biting into the burnished exterior is almost like cracking a crème brulee with a nice layer of fat beneath the shell instead of custard.

Fernando's clams

Clams are sautéed in wine, and are perfectly edible. I would rate this dish higher if I hadn’t had such an amazing clam and pork rendition the following night at A Lorcha.

With my first meal in Asia being a glitch-free success, I had renewed hope for the rest of the vacation.

Fernando’s * Praia de Hac Sa 9, Macau

Ferreira Cafe

It freaks me out when a server tries to turn you off a menu item. I feel
like they're trying to keep me away from something really good that they're
afraid Americans won't like. (I will truly eat anything. The only time I was
given pause was over this laksa I'd been warned about at Singapore Cafe. I
know laksa, I love laksa, but this was laksa like no other. I swear there
was liver and twigs in it.) So, I asked about acorda, having no idea
what it was, and the waiter forcefully suggested I order something else,
saying "people who order it know what they're getting," and described it
vaguely as a bread soup with seafood, which didn't sound so beastly to me. I
couldn't tell if this was meant to be snotty like if you have to ask, you
don't need to know or if he just saying that it's something serious
Portuguese cuisine aficionados (I know zilch about Portuguese food) are fond
of, in which case I might like to try it.

Instead, I ordered a most un-Portugeuse starter of tuna tartare with
"armes asiatiques," (I can't understand why they're so into being
French-Canadian) then went for the bacalao entree, which prompted the waiter
to tell me it was salt cod, which was a big "duh," but I guess once you have
to ask about the acorda, you're dubbed an oaf for the rest of the evening.

The most interesting course was the dessert. Amid the requisite molten
chocolate cake, I found a stilton cheese cake with bananas, chocolate
ganache and a port sauce. It sounded totally insane, was incredibly rich,
but totally worked. I furthered the gauche quotient by ordering the house
port, an $800 vintage bottle would seriously be wasted on me.

Regardless, the meal was nice, and even nicer with the exchange rate.
The vibe was sort of business swank, not exactly my scene, but I just wanted
to go somewhere upscale that wasn't French (I'm not anti-French, I swear).

FerreiraCafe Trattoria *
1446 Peel St., Montreal,Canada