Restaurante Santo António de Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

What was once an absolute steal, tucked away in one of the Alfama’s tough to locate corner terraces, must have made its way into a guide book or two.  I’m now no longer conflicted about listing it here.

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Keep going, you’re on the right path.

Although they recently raised their prices to be somewhat less shockingly inexpensive and shrank the number of menu offerings, it’s still great quality Portuguese food at friendly prices.  (Oddly, each time I’ve mentioned the menu changes to the staff, they denied it, saying “impossible!”)  Most of the staff here appear to speak some amount of English, though you don’t need much Portuguese to find dourada grelhada (grilled sea bream) on the menu.

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They just really like Dustin Hoffman.

The neighbors sharing the terrace add a good deal of charm to the outdoor ambiance – you will always be accompanied by at least one tiny dog, one Portuguese grandmother straight out of central casting, and a pet bird with a call so distinctive you think it’s fake at first. On the inside, the walls are covered with photographs of actors from their iconic roles, some even signed.  Dustin Hoffman in particular occupies a unique location of honor, getting his own dedicated lighting and wall just off the restrooms.

I’ve been here several times and to my knowledge there is no Fado show included.  Head to Santo António for a break from the ubiquitous singing and price gouging and a nice meal that still benefits from the unique feel of the Alfama.  Oh, and beware the fried potato skins that come with the couvert – you may end up battling your dining mates for them.

Restaurante Santo António de Alfama, Beco São Miguel 7, 1100-538 Lisbon, Portugal

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Chez Henri, Geneva, Switzerland 

If you should find yourself in the Paquis neighborhood near the train station and despairing of the new hamburger rage, sick of pizzerias and kebab, duck into the rear of the Hamburger Foundation for a lovely surprise.  

I’ve had oysters in Europe before and had always despaired of their bland flavor and  puffy texture.  Nothing like the culinary roller coaster of love you can find in most oyster bars in the US, East or West coast.  In other words, I was skeptical.  Whether it was the warm friendly service staff, the other smiling patrons, or the soundtrack that followed Edith Piaf with Chet Baker (a match truly made in heaven), I conceded to my companion’s prodding and went for it.  

I was stunned to find the familiar delcious, creamy, brininess a la kumamoto.  Shucked with love and pride right before your eyes and delivered to you by those very same hands – a stellar and unexpected treat!  If you like oysters, it’s worth the treasure hunt to find Chez Henri.  
Chez Henri, Rue Philippe-Plantamour 37, 1201 Geneva, Switzerland


Vale da Poupa 2015 – Douro, Portugal

A bursting fresh nose with kiwi, citrus, pear, and passion fruit.  If you’re more familiar with New Zealand’s Marlborough Valley Sauvignon Blanc, this will feel comfortable.  Acid, grapefruit, and passion fruit hit the front palate like, well, a mallet.  So full and vibrant it almost feels bubbly in the mouth.  Slides across the center of your tongue like a flaming snake, delicious and unpredictable.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Vale da Poupa 2015
  • Winery: Consultores, Lda – Quinta da Faisca
  • Region: Douro
  • Country: Portugal
  • Varietals: Moscatel Galego Branco (Muscat Petits Grains)
  • Price: $?
  • Where to Buy: Lisbon

Terra do Zambujeiro 2011 – Alentejo, Portugal

Leather, dry leaves, and crushed flowers on the nose, with a faint hint of dark berries.  Red and black fruit, with vanilla on the front palate.  Dusty, chewy tannins come in on the mid-palate, with tobacco and more leather and pepper.  The rear palate is the real revelation where briny cherry flavors burst forth, complementing the dark, leathery and peppery finish.  I had this with a spicy pasta and the wine more than doubled the strength of the cayenne pepper in the pasta as it all washed down.  This gorgeous wine spent two years in French Oak and is unfiltered.  It was recommended to me by Tatyany Matos at Garrafeira Nacional in Lisbon.  Spot on recommendation (the woman’s a genius), true to the tagline on the label:  every drop, a drop of perfection.

  • Rating: Stunning
  • Name: Terra do Zambujeiro 2011
  • Winery: Quinta do Zambujeiro
  • Region: Alentejo
  • Country: Portugal
  • Varietals: Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional
  • Price: $?
  • Where to Buy: Lisbon

A Vida Portuguesa, Lisbon, Portugal

Audrey Bag
International symbol of good taste:  Audrey

If you’re looking to better understand Portuguese culture through its food, cultural goods, and household products, while finding a unique and distinctively Portuguese gift for that special someone, this is the place for you.  This is perhaps the best of a series of shops trafficking in goods that harken back to older, arguably simpler times.  I call them saudade shops – in reference to the uniquely Portuguese word for a sense of longing for something lost – and there are many great ones.

I’ve never taken a person here that has walked out empty handed.  It just doesn’t happen.  I’ve picked up things for sisters, nieces, mom, friends, and girlfriends – not to mention more than a few things for myself.

A Vida Soaps
More smells than you can handle

You just can’t go wrong.  The collection of fancy scented soaps, lotions, and perfumes is as impressively expansive as it is unique.  The fact that the clientele is at least as Portuguese as it is foreign says much about the quality and authenticity of the stock.

A Vida Portuguesa, Rua Anchieta 11, 1200-023 Lisbon, Portugal  

Herdade do Peso Reserva 2013 – Alentejo, Portugal

Cherries and violets on the nose.  Nice acid, cherries, and cocoa hit the front of the palate.  Chocolate and leather notes intensify as it flows across the tongue, with woody notes shored up by powerful tannins.  The finish is long and chewy, and you’ll feel and taste the red fruits in your jaws as you swallow.  Herbal and earthy notes linger after the finish.  A nice red, worthy of the Portuguese label.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Herdade do Peso Reserva 2013
  • Winery: SOGRAPE Vinhos SA
  • Region: Alentejo
  • Country: Portugal
  • Varietals: Alicante Bouschet, Syrah
  • Price: $?
  • Where to Buy: Lisbon

 

 

Ginja d’Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

 

Ginja Rack
So many Portuguese liquors, so few shots and still be on your feet.

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself stumbling around the Alfama between the right hours, and if you’re lucky enough to find the doors open to this teensy little establishment, you just might be lucky enough for the aged and wise Don Jorge to threaten you with the tiny blade of his wine opener, secretly pay your tab, then bound out onto the street while pumping his biceps at the world and announcing “amanha!” before you ever know what hit you.

Eder (whom I believe speaks English) and the rest of the staff are cordial and ready with a joke and a smile.  Though the menus offer food and all manner of tipple at rock bottom prices, I’ve only ever stopped in for a medronho (arbutus berry brandy), some fresh squeezed Algarve orange juice, and the occasional cafezinho.  You’ll notice the walls are adorned with all manner of Portuguese liquor, in addition to many different brands of the traditional ginja (cherry liquor) the place is named for.  Even if, like me, you stop only for a single fortifying shot of medronho before heading to the next Fado stop, you’ll grow an affection for this little place quickly.

Ginja d’Alfama, Rua São Pedro 12, 1100-172, Lisbon, Portugal

Tradição 2015 – Palmela, Portugal

A very fresh and mineral-driven selection grounded by fermentation and a brief layover in French Oak for 4 months.  Fresh vegetal and citrus notes greet the nose, with faint orange and coriander.  Very soft on the palate, with a gentle brininess and soft vanilla wrapping the tongue like a cashmere blanket.  A crisp finish and faint echo of green apples linger like the last dance.  One doesn’t first think white wine with chorizo, but damn if Nuno didn’t nail the pairing again.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Tradição 2015
  • Winery: Família Horácio Simões
  • Region: DO Palmela, Setubal
  • Country: Portugal
  • Varietals: Semillon (Boal in Portugal)
  • Price: $?
  • Where to Buy: Wine Bar do Castelo, Lisbon

Montefino 2005 – Alentejo, Portugal

You’re not ready for this wine.  You won’t believe it exists.  But, like the devil, it believes in you.  Yes, that is balsamic and cherries on the nose.  Soft acid, dark fruit, dried prunes, and a hint of rosemary-like vegetal greet the front palate.  Exquisitely balanced tannins shore up the structure, focusing the flavors.  Faint pepper and spice play on the mid palate, reminiscent of the haunting spice of the ubiquitous piri-piri.  Cherries and florals form the long finish for this tawny beauty.  I’m not the genius that found this wine – thank Nuno Santos of Wine Bar do Castelo for that – but you’re welcome, nonetheless.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Montefino 2011
  • Winery: Francisco B. Fino, Soc. Agricola, LDA
  • Region: Alentejo (non-DO)
  • Country: Portugal
  • Varietals: Trincadeira 25%, Aragones 25%, Alicante Bouschet 25%, Touriga Nacional 25%
  • Price: $?
  • Where to Buy: Lisbon

Mesa de Frades, Lisbon, Portugal

Don’t go here.  It’s a terrible place.  If you ignore my warnings and venture here anyway, expect to step into the alternate universe of real, living and breathing, Fado.

As you approach the big wooden door at the end of what looks to be a mixed use carpark or courtyard, prepare to be greeted one of two ways.  First, if the imposingly large, old, and somewhat foreboding door is shut, your approach will surely be halted by one of several different gruff locals who are charged with the task of not letting you get near the door until the time is right.  That means that, after the current song is completed he will “ring” the doorbell, which is actually a tiny light that flashes above the singer’s head, and the door will be opened from inside by the very person who is about to send you headlong into musical revelry.

If, by chance, your timing is just right and you walk up to an open door with clusters of Portuguese folks milling around, smoking cigarettes, and laughing loudly and slapping backs, then you are in.  These folks, in fact, are made up mostly of a community of Fado players – singers, guitar players, and their close supporters – that works much more like a family, than a scene.  As with family, there is much love and support, served with a healthy dose of rivalry and teasing.  If you show up more than once, you too start to become family and can expect nods of recognition and appreciation from performers and the staff alike.  Hopefully, you speak enough Portuguese to join in the conversations – a group of older white-mustachioed enthusiasts I came to call simply “os tios” are quick to include you in conversations ranging from finding the soul of Fado, to politics and love.

A word about the space:  there isn’t much of it.  Within a few hours of being in Lisbon you will have seen thousands of azulejo covered walls.  But Mesa de Frades is inside of an old chapel, the walls of which are covered by azulejo frescoes so stunningly beautiful that you’ll find yourself just beaming at them once the guitar player turns the lights back up.  As with all Fado, there is no amplification of the music, so shut your pie hole.  And you will be hushed as the musicians reach up and shut the lights out and you enter the dark, quiet, intensely romantic and hot heart of the fadistas who are not just performing for you, but pouring out their entire essence right there into your heart and soul.  It’s not uncommon to notice your fellow revelers wiping away tears or for you – your modern, Instagramming, Facebooking, emailing, busy persona – to just melt away into the forgotten corners of your heart, with only the strains of the Fado to guide you back out.  You’ve been warned.

Mesa de Frades, Rua dos Remédios 139, 1100-445 Lisboa, Portugal