Restaurante O Murta, Faro, Portugal

This place was a very lucky find and a huge treat.  We dug this one out of an old guidebook and, after much arguing and discussion with the cab driver, who had no idea it existed, we were happy to arrive.  You need one word and one word only to dine magnificently here:  cataplana.  I freely admit to not previously being aware of this transcendent dish:

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Another angle

Cataplana!

O ye of fishy savor

Of all the salt and wind of the sea

Of all the earthy flavor of plant and seed

Of all the dreams I’ve yet to dream

Cataplana, “oh, sim!”

I’ll have the Cataplana, please.

I just made that up, but you should follow the instructions and order Cataplana and be happy to wait for such perfection to be delivered to your table.  It is a traditional dish of assorted seafood and vegetables such as peppers, onions, and potatoes.  And, like many traditional dishes, one that is far too overlooked lately.  As a huge paella fanatic, I must admit that if the Portuguese ever figure it out, they’ll give the Spaniards a run for their saffron-flavored money with Cataplana.

The owners here have been doing this for a long time:  thirty-plus years, as the patriarch of the family told me.  The service is very homey – they only serve dishes that make them proud to smile, and generally eat exactly what you do.  As in, you will see them around the corner chomping away on their own portion, if you, like us, go too late.  For my money, Murta runs like a well-tuned instrument:  each note is perfectly tuned with each inch and you almost cannot go wrong ordering any combination on the menu.

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The bacalhau wasn’t bad either!

I already wrote a poem here.  What else do you want to know?  In the last several months the Cataplana is probably the best meal I have had, whether Barcelona, Sevilla, Lisbon, New York, LA, Zurich, Geneva, DC, Chicago, or Miami, this little granny-ran hole in the wall in the south of Portugal beat them all.  So, go!

Rua Infante Dom Henrique 136, 8000-256 Faro, Portugal 

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Antic Wine, Lyon, France

I stumbled upon this place a few times, always finding the doors securely locked and the lights out. The French; they hate money. Or at least that’s what I had come to think over the course of a month spent locked out of every service or shop imagineable by the time the class I was teaching at the University let out around 6pm each day.

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Georges has a great sense of humor to match his sense of taste.

I finally got lucky one night while meandering around the old town: Georges dos Santos, the owner, happened to be inside, doors open, drinking wine with a friend. Georges was welcoming, engaging, and funny as hell. His pal, the owner of ultra-luxury brand Zilli, was also fun and friendly, poking fun at his own label. Amen. Georges and I had a nice chat, he got a sense of what I was into, and he started pulling wines from his shelves, including the tough-to-get Clos Signadore from Corsica. That bottle came with a nice story of what he had to do to get his hands on a few cases.

I’m sure that with enough time, Georges and I could find plenty to disagree on. Of the things we have discussed, we mostly see eye-to-eye: Washington wine (glad they like it), Empordá (the style keeps on changing), Portuguese table wine (great to explore), Virginia (no thanks). The list goes on. Thus far, Georges has turned me on to six different wines I would not have otherwise encountered. The results, for me, range from “incredible value” to “holy holy!!” The second time I visited Georges he actually remembered me from the prior year. Since I’m not particularly difficult, I’d say he has an eye for his clientele. All told, I highly suggest paying Georges a visit if you find yourself in Lyon.

Antic Wine, 18 Rue du Boeuf, 69005 Lyon, France

Clos Signadore – Patrimonio, Corsica

The crispness of apples with cherries, grass, and a dank cocoa note.  More dried cherries, musty walnuts, moss, and vanilla on the front end.  Powerful tannins come in with pepper, red fruits, and an echo of cocoa and cinnamon.  This is a wine with a story:  I picked this up from Georges dos Santos of Anti Wines in Lyon, France.  Georges is an interesting character, a real personality that styles himself as “the flying sommelier” which, as far as I can tell, is pretty accurate.  According to Georges, after a few glasses, he had to plead and cajole his way into getting his hands on just a few cases of this wine.  Apparently, the Corsicans prefer to consume it all at home, the world be damned!  If you can place hands on a bottle, I suggest you do so.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Clos Signadore
  • Winery: Christophe Ferrandis, Clos Signadore
  • Region: Patrimonio
  • Country: Corsica
  • Varietals: Nielluccio
  • Price: 40 Euros
  • Where to Buy: Antic Wines, Lyon, France

Cervejaria Romiro, Lisbon, Portugal

This is the kind of place that causes you to continue giving hyped spots a chance.  Each time you think you’ve had it with what the crowd tells you, there’s a Romiro.

Famous for its seafood, that is what you will eat.  The waiters come around with digitized menus in several languages on iPads.  Items are listed by kilo weight, but you don’t order that way.  You just tell them what you want and for how many humans, and they do the estimating for you.  And don’t worry, they actually estimate perfectly.  Unlike with American spots, which I’ve found tend to constantly over-estimate in an attempt to run up the bill, Europeans (at least Portuguese, Spanish, and French) tend to value your experience over that of the house.  I don’t recall being asked how I wanted things prepared, which is fine because the chef chose “perfectly” as the cooking method.

Will you wait in line to get in here?  Yes.  Even the footballer who thought he could game the system was shuffled back into line.  But that line will move quickly and there is a fine reward at the end of it, rather unlike most lines I’ve tolerated.  You will be pleased.

One final note:  apparently I did it wrong by failing to order a “prego” at the end of the meal.  Don’t fail me.  Make up for my error and get one of these tiny little beef sandwiches that are said to be exquisite.

Cervejaria Ramiro, Avenida Almirante Reis No. 1-H, 1150-007, Lisboa, Portugal

A Note on Ratings

Forget the 100-point system, and the stars/cups system along with it.  I find these things useless.  For starters, what is the criterion?  Is it always simply about subjective notions of what is good?  What about value – I’ve had countless wines that were pretty delicious, but would never buy them again at that price point.  And what exactly is the difference between an 89-point wine and a 91-point wine, again?  Why have five stars when you keep adding halves and quarters?

What we have opted for instead is a system of adjectives that actually tell you something useful about the wine.  Each category is explained below.

Everyday Red/White

This is the most price sensitive category.  The thinking here on splitting it out between reds and whites is that you generally know which you are in the mood for with respect to day-to-day drinking.  This is the wine you choose on a random Tuesday night to go with a nondescript dinner at home.  The category concentrates in the $12-15 price range and is dominated by trusty, buy-it-by-the-case selections.

Impressive

This is the wine that you take to dinner at the boss’s house or a dinner party with friends.  It’s less price sensitive than the Everyday category, but unlikely to top $25.  These wines are for when you’re feeling special or wanting to make a good impression.

Stunning

This is the wine that you save for when you’re trying to impress that special date, or simply want to treat yourself.  This is the least price sensitive category, though could easily run only $20.  It’s home to wines you’ll want to horde for yourself and maybe that friend that really knows wine.  Pare these with cheese and let them shine!

Meh

Initially we did not intend to include a negative category, but realized quickly that not doing so could easily lead to re-purchasing disappointing bottles.  Something got you to buy that first bottle, so why take the risk of making the same mistake twice?  Most of these will be a question of value:  here is where you will find that $50 bottle that just didn’t live up to the hype.  You won’t find $10 bottles here.

Mercado do Campo de Ourique, Lisbon, Portugal

I never would have found this place on my own.  Many thanks to a group of locals that invited my friends and I along to watch the Euro Cup final match, pitting Portugal against France.  And a hell of a time, it was!

This is along the lines of the many food markets you see around the world that mixes fresh items with stalls or bars that cook/prepare food.  Something like Barcelona’s Boqueria or New York’s Chelsea Market.  For the Euro Cup final, they set up several televisions, including a huge projection screen.  We sampled many of the wares – from slow roasted pork reminiscent of Cuban lechón, to sushi, burgers, and a gorgeous Portuguese charcuterie board – everything was on point.  The wine purveyor had a great selection from several regions of Portugal and nifty little vinyl bags he would fill with ice to keep things cool.

Needless to say that after Portugal triumphed, there was much dancing, singing, kissing, and the beer flowed and flowed . . . free of charge of course.  Having had a great experience here during a very hectic, overly-packed moment, I would highly suggest any gastronomy fan to pay it a visit.

Mercado do Campo de Ourique, Rua Coelho da Rocha 104, 1350-074, Lisbon, Portugal