So here’s a wine I was not going to review. I picked this up on Georges’ recommendation, from Antic Wine. Georges is, in a word, the man. I talk about Georges more in the Antic Wine entry, but much of what you need to know about Georges you can pick up from the way he marked this bottle in the photo. When I first opened this wine, I shouldn’t have. But I came back the next day and found that she is a delicious beauty of blackberry pie, cherry tart, autumn leaves, moss, and dusty dried flowers, with a perfectly balanced tannic closing, to boot. Wow. I haven’t had a French wine do this for me in a while.
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:
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.
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
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
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
This one takes a while to open up – it needs to breath a bit. But once it has, a complex bouquet of roses, cocoa, slate, and faint tobacco notes gets things started. The opening attack has more acid than expected, with somewhat lemony notes and red fruit. Not exactly what you would expect from the bouquet, or color of the juice. The red fruit gives over to an echo of luscious pear and grass, before chewy tannins come in to help deliver raisiny cocoa and hot stone notes (yes, that’s a thing, thank you very much). This wine was a blind faith purchase from Javi at Vinalium. There will be more such purchases in the future. It was gorgeous with fuet and piquillos, and opened up in exactly the way Javi described that it would.