Portugal Restaurant Review: Esporão Restaurant

Esporão Restaurant | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Esporão Restaurant | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Esporão Restaurant | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Esporão Restaurant | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Esporão Restaurant | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Esporão Restaurant | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Esporão Restaurant | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Esporão Restaurant | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Esporão Restaurant | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Esporão Restaurant | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

When we were talking to my mother about our travels in Portugal, how we were planning on driving around the Algarve, she said there was a town Évora, we had to go to, and a winery about 45 minutes from there where we had to have lunch. She took it upon herself to email them and make a reservation for us. And then, as we continued traveling around and talking to people, the name of this winery kept popping up. “Oh, you have to go to Esporão for lunch!” “You like food? If you feel like splurging, go to Esporão.” I was glad that we already had it on the books!

The drive to Esporão was beautiful, even if it was blanketed with soft, gray clouds. We passed fields of sheep, cows, and horses, trees dotted with huge storks, and orange grove after orange grove. We arrived at the winery about thirty minutes early (they recommended we arrive 10 minutes early and had warned of construction on the roads), and spent some time exploring the gift shop full of wines and olive oils, looking out at the view over the vineyards and lake, and relaxing in the sitting room which was warmed by a wood fire and decorated like the hippest hotel: leather seats, beautifully woven carpets, modern industrial lamps. We were then escorted into the dining area, which continued the beautiful decor. Our table was on a wall of windows that looked over the terrace and the view we had been admiring earlier, but the room had more great rugs and brightly colored art decorating the back wall.

Our server explained the concept of the restaurant, the importance of focusing on local Portuguese ingredients, and how much they make in house. After settling on the six course tasting menu and one wine pairing to share (one of us *cough Jonah cough* had to make the 45 minute drive back), we sat back, ready to start our meal. We started with three small amuse bouches, which were accompanied by a deep pink rosé that tasted of strawberries. The first was a mushroom tartlet with cheese and nasturtium; Second, a spiced cookie topped with crab and celery root; And third, a cracker with foie gras, oxalis, and black cardamom. I could have made a meal out of those bites. I wished each one lasted longer, that I got more chances to tasted the playful, unique flavor combinations. It boded well for the rest of the meal.

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North to Porto: Portugal #5

North to Porto | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
North to Porto | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
North to Porto | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
North to Porto | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
North to Porto | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
North to Porto | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
North to Porto | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

From Lisbon we went north to Porto. It rained during most of our time there, but we still made the best of it. The ten days we spent in Porto was our time to relax a bit. We knew there wasn’t necessarily ten days of stuff to do in Porto, especially without a car. But we made sure to do most of the things in the town that we had read about.

The first was to eat francescinha, a regional sandwich made with 3 kinds of meat: steak, ham, and smoked sausage. The meat sandwich is then covered in cheese, heated (so the cheese gets melty) and then drenched in a beer, tomato, and piri-piri sauce. We knew we needed to try this dish, but I must admit I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. I’m not big into sandwiches, and we had been eating so much meat that I kind of wanted a break. But try it we did, and I actually really liked it! My friend Caitlyn sometimes describes things as “gut bombs” when they’re particularly heavy or fatty and you know you’re going to be feeling it the next day. That’s exactly what this francescinha was. But it also kind of reminded me of the classic combination of a grilled cheese with tomato soup. It was warming and super flavorful. I’m just glad Jonah and I split one.

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Last Lisbon Food Adventures: Portugal #4

Last Lisbon Adventures | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Last Lisbon Adventures | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Last Lisbon Adventures | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Last Lisbon Adventures | Serious Crust by Annie FasslerLast Lisbon Adventures | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Last Lisbon Adventures | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Last Lisbon Adventures | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Our last week and a half in Lisbon was spent doing two things: crossing adventures off of our to-do list before we ventured to other parts of Portugal, and working. We adopted a simple approach of spending a day working, then a day adventuring, a day working, and a day adventuring. These adventures included things as simple as going to new neighborhoods and walking around, as daring as trying new foods, as long as taking a train to Sintra to explore castles, and as fun as renting bikes to ride along the coast.

The neighborhoods of Intendente and Mouraria were recommended to us by our Lazy Flavors tour guide Mariana, so we took the subway out there a couple of days after our tour. We poked around the beautiful A Vida Portuguesa store and, when our stomachs started grumbling decided to find lunch. Our timing and location worked out perfectly, as we were just a block away from Cervejaria Ramiro, a seafood restaurant that I had read about and had been recommended to us. We sat down just a few minutes after they opened and after we ordered, the flood of people came rushing in. We were, however, some of the more adventurous ones in the dining room, as we ordered a plate of goose barnacles, which Mariana had also told us we needed to try. Our waiter showed us how to peel off the scaly skin to reveal a tender, pinkish purple flesh, which you could easily pluck off of the barnacle end. They were tender and light, and reminiscent of the sea without being overly fishy. Definitely a new favorite for me.

On our walk back from Intendente to our neighborhood, Santos, we passed through many parts of Lisbon, and as we passed a shop filled with bacalhau I realized that I hadn’t yet written here about it. Bacalhau is dried, salted cod. It is a weird phenomenon, and I can’t quite figure out why perhaps the most iconic Portuguese ingredient is from Norway when the country of Portugal is known for its incredible range of fresh seafood. To cook with it, it is soaked in water and rehydrated for 24 hours, but even then it’s still kind of chewy and weird. There are lots of variations of bacalhau you’ll find here: croquetas, seared with peppers and onions, and maybe the strangest is a kind of fish salad with shredded bacalhau, raw onion, olives, parsley, and little crispy noodles. I’ll admit, I have yet to enjoy a bacalhau dish.

Our bike ride was really an excuse to get to Belém without sitting on a train or bus for upwards of thirty minutes. We rode along the bike path on the river, soaking in the ocean air. We had four orders of important business in Belém: see the momument to the maritime explorers, go up the Tower of Belém, visit the Jerónimos Monastery, and eat the best pastel de nata in the greater Lisbon area. Only one of them was food related! Aren’t you proud, dear reader? Let’s get to the part you’re interested in, the pastry. Pastel de nata is an egg custard tartlet, usually infused with vanilla and sometimes cinnamon, and baked in such a way that the top gets speckled with little darkly caramelized bits. We had tried a few in Lisbon, and while I like them, custard pastries are not really my thing. In all of my research for Lisbon, everyone said you had to go to Pastéis de Belém for the best pastéis de nata, but I thought to myself, could they really be that much better than the ones I had already tried? The answer? Oh yes they could. These pastéis were served warm, already a huge advantage over the others I’d tasted. What else made it better? The smoothest custard ever, more cinnamon, and a cracklier, slightly saltier, and much butterier crust. If you are questioning if the trip to Belém is worth it for these sweets, stop it. Just go. (Also a tip if you’re going: There are two doors. The one on the right with the crazy line out the door is for takeaway. Go in the door on the left and enter their cavernous restaurant area – it goes on and on, room after room, forever. We only waited about 3 minutes for a table.)

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Market Tour with Lazy Flavors: Portugal #3

Mercado da Ribeira Tour with Lazy Flavors | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Mercado da Ribeira Tour with Lazy Flavors | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Mercado da Ribeira Tour with Lazy Flavors | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

I always love exploring a new culture through their food, and that was one of the things I was most excited about doing in Portugal. When I think of Portuguese food, I think of fresh seafood, piri-piri, and Iberian ham. And all of those were things we’ve been enjoying since we’ve been here. But we knew we wanted to dig in a little deeper, and so Jonah booked us a tour with Lazy Flavors.

One of the places I kept reading about in my research of Lisbon was the newly refurbished Mercado da Ribeira, aka Time Out Market Lisboa, so we decided to tour the market with Mariana of Lazy Flavors. The market is one of the oldest in the city, and has been rebuilt and expanded multiple times. But in 2014, it was bought by Time Out with a new concept in mind: keep half of it as a produce, meat, and fish market, and open the other half as a dining hall. They invited in some of the top chefs from around the country, some amazing shops, a bar, and more to offer a huge range of classic and contemporary Portuguese food.

We started our tour walking through the market side, and Mariana talked about some traditional dishes and ingredients in Portuguese food. We scoped out new kinds of seafood, talked to a butcher who has been in this market for 60 years, and learned about a traditional sausage called alheira. Alheira was invented by the Jews of Portugal who were given the choice in the 15th century to either leave the country or convert to Christianity. Many of them supposedly converted, but secretly maintained their Jewish religious practice, which included not eating pork. In order to hide the fact that they hadn’t actually converted, they openly made sausage, but stuffed it with game or poultry and bread instead of pork.

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A Trip to Cascais: Portugal #2

A Trip to Cascais | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
A Trip to Cascais | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
A Trip to Cascais | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
A Trip to Cascais | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
A Trip to Cascais | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

When I told my grandmother about our grand travel plans, she immediately wanted to connect me with some friends of hers. Lauren and Sam live in Mozambique but have a house in Cascais, where they spend a few months every year. My grandmother introduced us over email, and they gave us some tips about our time in Lisbon, and we planned to meet when they were in town in January. They invited us out to Cascais to go to the market and then prepare and have brunch together.

Cascais is a suburb of Lisbon: it’s about 20 miles west and sits nestled on the coast. If you get a sense of the ocean in Lisbon, that sense is much stronger in this town. It used to be a fishing village, but is now a upscale vacation town, with lots of Europeans making their way there to spend summers on the beach. It has the same cobblestone streets and brightly colored buildings as Lisbon, but was much more calm and laid back. I wonder if it would feel the same in the summer when it’s filled to the brim with people.

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