Monday, June 23, 2008
Octopus in Portugal
It happened quite unex-pectedly, my last meeting with the octopus. It wasn't carefully planned and carelessly executed like the char grilled fiasco of last year. In fact, but for a gnawing hunger and a missing guidebook which might have led us to pre-tried options, we would never have settled for Cafe Paris in Sintra (Portugal). I mean, can you really expect an authentic Portuguese experience in an ostensibly overpriced restaurant named for a French city, particularly when it sits directly in front of one of the main attractions in town? Common sense dictates that you cannot. As it happens, however, common sense is a gift I lack.
Lucky for me. Cafe Paris serves a sublime grilled octopus. Certainly the best octopus I have ever had--and I am slightly obsessed with octopus so you can trust me on this. So redolent of perfection is it that it may well pave the way to heaven. Just one tentacle would certainly tempt St. Peter to open the pearly gates.
The octopus was just one of the highlights of a Portuguese trip filled with fantastic food and nightly Euro 2008 soccer. Other outstanding meals were had at the atmospheric Oliviers in Lisbon (a set menu of 9 excellent appetizers, of which the truffled tagliatelle and octopus carpaccio were the sensous stars, and a delicious but superfluous black pork main, all accompanied by an excellent bottle of Duas Quintas, a great Duoro red) and at the tiny Boquim do Mouraira in Evora (the owner of the bar, which seats no more than 10, himself whipped up a stack of tender grilled lamp chops, freshly fried potato chips and a delicious salad as he watched the Spain/Greece game and we sipped some tasty house red).
I must warn you, though, the Michelin starred Eleven in Lisbon was overpriced (expected) and unimpressive (unexpected) as well as over-salted (common in Portugal, but unacceptable at a restaurant of this level). Worse yet, the Pousada Solar da Rede in the Duoro Valley, while a stunning place to stay for the night, served some of the worst food we had on the trip (I suspect some of it pulled directly out of the freezer) and at a shameful price given the disastrous quality.