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.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Last Meals

I've been contending with lascivious Spanish aristocrats, long lost Brazilians and male bunny boilers lately. It doesn't leave a girl much time for blogging, I must say.

In the midst of this fantastic soap opera, though, I've been contemplating the imagined last meals of famous chefs. Not out of the blue, mind you. Such morbid thoughts rarely occur to me if I'm left to my own devices. In this case, I was helped along by an article in El Pais. It came out a while ago, but it's been skulking around my head refusing to leave like a good fake news article should.

Sea urchins are big for chefs, apparently. Sushi in various outlandish guises. Much complication and a few nods to the simpler things: radishes with olive oil and salt, for example. (Let me just say that you read it here first: the Return of the Radish (November 2007).) Meals at home with family and friends, more attractive if at least one of your homes is on the Amalfi Coast. Micromanagement: half wanted to cook for themselves. And most of all, gluttony: not a single chef limited himself to one dish, not even to two. Why would he and why would anyone for a last meal? I think condemned men should followed the lead here and take greater liberties in placing their orders.

As for my imagined final meal, I'd want it to be as much about memory as about food: the chicken soup my mother would cook when I was sick, the perogies my grandmother used to make, the bacon heavy scrambled eggs that are part of my dad's limited repertoire and now only make the rarest of appearances due to my mother's cholesterol related fears, my other grandmother's nalesniki for dessert. I'd wash it down with some Catalan cava (sparkling wine) in celebration of this part of my life. I would probably be very very sick at some point, but you know, with the last meal and all, that probably wouldn't be my greatest concern.