Pastéis de Belém (because why eat just one?). Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Ready for the weekend? I don’t know where this week went, whoosh. If you feel like there should be a killer breakfast sandwich in your near future, I have five picks of some recent ones for you, and you’ll want to take a look at this beautiful brunch I had last weekend at Marlowe (don’t miss the strawberry shortcake for dessert). And associate editor Dana Eastland and I put together this list of five brunch places with nice outdoor patios if you feel like bundling up for an alfresco brunch this weekend with Karl the Fog.
Saturday morning, I’m going to be emceeing a cooking demo and Q&A with Anjan Mitra of Dosa for the Plated cooking series at Two Embarcadero Center (on the street level). It starts at 11am, and tastes will be provided for the first 100 guests (I hear Anjan will be preparing eggplant khatta meetha/”sweet and sour”). Come join us! And parking is free/validated for four hours, you can’t beat that. Get your free ticket here. Best of all, Embarcadero Center will make a donation to Project Open Hand in honor of each chef appearance (the next one is with Joanne Weir on June 20th)—you can also make a donation when you order your free ticket (hint hint).
Today I have a jetsetter piece featuring the first half of my trip to Portugal, starting with where I ate and what I loved in Lisbon (that city is so fantastic). I also have a photo album you’ll be able to tear through quickly—it’ll make you want to book your trip, stat. (Stand by for the second installment, which will be about the wines of Portugal.) We also have a 707 scout from Heather Irwin, with the latest 707 news for you. We hope you enjoy today’s issue.
Have a rockin’ weekend. Marcia Gagliardi
I was invited to attend a five-day Portuguese wine tasting and education trip that was going to begin in Lisbon, and you can bet I was sure to fly myself out early. Lisboa, I really had no idea how cool you were going to be, and it’s partly due to the fact there aren’t that many people in my life who have traveled there. And you know what? That’s a big mistake, because this city is a full-on gem. Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Barcelona, they all get lots of love, but Lisbon is kind of like the quieter guy in high school who goes away to college for a year and returns home the next summer and is suddenly smokin’ hot—the charms were there all along, but it took you awhile to really notice them.
The city has a bunch of interesting parallels with San Francisco: it’s really hilly, full of cheerful yellow trolleys traversing the city like bumblebees, and with fresh air and beautiful light thanks to its proximity to water. The compact size feels comparable. There’s the 25 de Abril Bridge which, like the Golden Gate Bridge, is a suspension bridge and is funnily enough painted a color very similar to our bridge’s International Orange. Every time you see it, it feels like you’re back in SF for a split second. And then there’s the shared tragic history of getting wiped out by a major earthquake—the majority of Lisbon had to be rebuilt after its 1755 earthquake (there was also a fire, and fortunately we didn’t have a tsunami like they did).
Where Lisbon really has us beat is how old it is—we’re talking roots in pre-Roman times—and then subsequent layers of civilization on top of it. The architecture here is so rich, and everywhere you look, there is such beauty, from all the vintage Deco lettering to buildings covered in alentejos (the classic blue tiles) to the pavimentos (slippery cobbled streets, with larger designs in city squares, just like you see in Rio). So much old-world craftsmanship, everywhere.
It’s a city built for wandering, full of winding streets and stairs and vistas, and you’ll suddenly happen upon a group of people gathered around the little A Ginjinha stand, a famous place known for its liqueur made with sour cherry, or a bakery that’s over 100 years old. I dug the grittiness, the incredible graffiti and street art (including some really cool neon pieces and mind-blowing pieces by Vhils), and how easy it was to get around. Although when it’s absolutely dumping down rain, you’re going to want to find a café to hang out in—I couldn’t believe how much water filled the streets during an evening downpour.
The city is also shockingly affordable: I rented a top-floor apartment in the charming Chiado neighborhood for $110 a night, with a breathtaking view of Castelo São Jorge (thanks, Airbnb!), and taking a cab around was crazy cheap (this is what happens when you leave San Francisco—you suddenly see how much you’re overpaying for everything). When I had my first meal and got my bill, I almost laughed at how little my glass of wine cost—I’m talking 3 euros. The Portuguese definitely know how to encourage you to drink a lot of their national product. And I did.
And let’s talk about the food. If you love seafood, this is your place. I had some of the best seafood of my life, and there’s nothing like wonderful hospitality to make food taste even better. Dining solo can be awkward in some cities, but I was treated quite kindly and warmly almost everywhere I went. It helps to have some basic Portuguese down, do your best.
Some favorites (and be sure to check out my photo album on Flickr:
Solar Dos Presuntos This place is absolutely steeped in history, in regulars, in famous people—it’s like an Elaine’s of Lisbon (since 1974), with the walls of the two-level space covered in caricatures of politicians, stars, and athletes. I had plenty to look at in between making eyes at course after course of deliciousness. They serve thinly sliced Joselito presunto on a piece of lightly warmed slate, so the fat starts to melt. You will die. The huge fish tank when you walk in is also a clue to what you want—it’s all about seafood and classics here. I had the juiciest clams (almejas à Bulhão Pato) in a garlicky white wine broth, and perfect arroz with juicy prawns and lobster. My server made some great pairing suggestions, and dessert is death by the toucinilho (i.e., flan extreme) and a glass of moscatel roxo.
Cervejaria Ramiro Yes, Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain have blown the lid off this classic seafood spot that has been open since the 1950s, but it’s damn special. I wandered in there in the midafternoon, and very luckily only had to wait 20 minutes for a seat at a table. I was sandwiched in with couples, families, lots of locals, and some happy tourists, the paper tablecloths quickly covered in crumbs from the buttery bread in front of every guest.
Luckily I could order smaller portions of seafood (by the kg) and proceeded to have my dream lady feast of percebes (finally got to try these dinosaur paw-looking barnacles, and the host was kind enough to show me the best technique for eating them), stunning deepwater shrimp (gambas do Algarve) in rock salt, and sweet langoustines. (Even with my bottle of vinho verde, my entire check came to €46, amazing.) As you can gather by the name, most people are drinking beers, which will go well with your “prego” at the end: a garlicky steak sandwich that is traditional to eat at the end of your meal. I know, what? I was too full to even attempt it. This place was full of soul—so many locals and regulars, and they treat everyone like family. Warm fuzzies.
Cervejaria do Bairro For a more modern and sleek take on a cervejaria, check out this newer spot in the Bairro Alto neighborhood. There was an array of fresh seafood, like razor clams, clams in white wine, Algarve prawns, and percebes—all elegantly displayed on ice—plus plenty of small plates like croquettes and gorgeously sliced pata negra de Bellota to round out your meal. There’s a bar as well (good for solo diners), but this place is great with a group.
Cantinho do Avillez During the wine portion of my trip, we were hosted for dinner at this restaurant in Chiado, a relaxed bistro from chef José Avillez (of two Michelin starred Belcanto fame). We started with some mighty tasty appetizers (fried green beans, baked “Nisa” cheese with honey), although for some reason they chose to serve us their prego (steak sandwich) for our main course, so I can’t comment on the larger dishes, but the menu looked really appealing (and affordable). It’s one I’ll come back to, as well as his newly launched Mini Bar, serving serious snacks and canapés.
A Baiúca (Rua da Barroca No. 86) My first night, I wandered to a nearby spot a friend recommended (Tagide), but sadly they were closed for a private function. But the host steered me to this homey and no-frills place in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, with the walls covered in art and years of memories (a mother and daughter have run the place for 40 years). The guy from Tagide had even called ahead to give them a heads up that I was arriving (which was revealed to me later). Adorable. My swishy server Isidro melted me with his sassy charm while I got my Lisbon home cooking groove on with bacalhau roasted with cream, potatoes, and onions. (There are a bunch of bars and fado spots nearby that you can visit when you’re done with dinner.)
Time Out Mercado da Ribeira Oh dear lord, this place was a glutton’s dream food court. Time Out magazine helped to reinvigorate this old food market in 2014, which now features 35 kiosks with everything from Portuguese cheeses (try the buttery Azeitão and Ilha) to cured presuntos (hams) and charcuterie, croquettes, Santini ice cream, chocolates, and classic dishes. Some top restaurateurs have stands selling affordable dishes, like Alexandre Silva and Vítor Claro. One stand even serves the famous francesinha/”frenchie”—which isn’t from Lisbon, it’s from Porto—but I was so happy to be able to try the insane hangover-curing sandwich stuffed with sliced and roasted meats covered in melted cheese and a tomato and beer sauce, what the hell!
You’ll find beers, wine, and be sure to swing by the Garrafeira Nacional wine shop if you want a bottle of Madeira from your birth year. A great souvenir are the tins of sardines, mackerel, and more in colorful packaging from Conserveira de Lisboa. The mercado has a modern look to it, with plenty of communal seating—but note that it gets really busy on the weekend. Come hungry and with friends so you can share and eat your faces off.
Sea Me This casual place was recommended to me by a tablehopper reader, a modern-sushi/fusiony seafood spot, which came in handy while I was waiting for a table at Taberna da Rua das Flores around the corner (in Chiado). The menu has sushi and sashimi, which is not what I came to Lisbon to try, but I really enjoyed their smoked sardine nigiri while I was at the bar, and the cuttlefish tempura with squid ink.
Taberna da Rua das Flores This cozy little tavern is full of vintage flair, with tiny tables and rickety stools and old tiled floors, with an eclectic menu that they will bring over to your table on a blackboard. The cooking from chef André Magalhães was soulful and playful (you’ll find some international ingredients and references), and even though I really wished I was on a date in that atmospheric and candlelit room, I kind of had the best date with myself possible. The rotating menu features dishes like a tiradito of corvina, veal ribs, and other flavor-packed small plates. No reservations, so expect a wait, but fortunately you can drink some wine on the street until your table is ready.
One funny thing about the restaurants here: some of them will put out a bunch of little plates, ranging from olives to cheese to bread and butter to ham, which you will pay for as part of a cover/couvert fee, ranging from a couple of euros to a cuttlefish salad that was placed before me for €6. You can politely decline the ones you don’t want and they’ll whisk the dishes away, no problem.
At some point you should pay a visit to the Jerónimos Monastery, an enormous structure in a Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style in the parish of Belém, which has the tomb of Vasco da Gama. While you’re there, you can thank the monks for creating pastel de Belém (pastel de nata), that utterly exquisite egg custard tart that has made its way around the world (the wonders of colonialism). It ends up the monks and nuns were using a lot of egg whites to starch their clothes and needed to figure out a use for the leftover egg yolks. Presto: the pastel de nata.
Once you’re done checking out the monastery, like everyone and their mother, you have to walk over to the famous Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, which has been making pastéis de nata since 1837. While I was in Lisbon, I was admittedly trying pastéis de nata every day (yes, the plural form), but not one came close to the construction and flavor of these flaky and custardy beauties from the mother ship. Don’t worry about the line (well, unless you want to get them boxed to go). Just go hover for a table, eat a couple of these still-warm beauties with your coffee (be sure to sprinkle them with cinnamon), and go to heaven. (Check out this fascinating article for more about this treasured item, which they reportedly sell 50,000 of on Sundays.)
It was a bummer it was just too cold and rainy for some of the city’s awesome rooftop bars I heard about, this is what happens when you travel in November, but I can imagine places like Park are so fab on a summer night.
On the last night of our wine trip, we literally stumbled into one of the most amazing bars of my life, Pavilhão Chinês (Rua Dom Pedro, V 89). I have never seen anything like it, and it will be the first place I return to so I can make sure it was real. What started as a grocery store at the turn of the century was transformed into an antique shop, and soon thereafter the owner turned it into a bar. You’ll encounter a warren of rooms, each one filled with treasures in floor-to-ceiling vintage shelves and cabinets. There are little tables where you can sit, served by waiters in brightly colored vests, and then there’s the pool room in the back. You won’t even believe the room overflowing with old soldier memorabilia and war toys. There are details in every corner and square inch—even the ceiling is something to behold. One of the most magical places ever, and I’m so glad it was the last place on my trip, what a send-off.
One of the best things I did on this trip was hire a guide, and fortunately I had a recommendation from a friend to hire Pedro Ferreira of We Are Lisbon Tours, who took me around for a couple of days. I was able to cover so much more ground, and with his background in art history, I learned a bunch about all the beautiful buildings and artwork and history of the city, and Pedro also took me to see some really amazing street art.
Bonus: he was as happy to go to the flea market as I was, and like a good Portuguese, was obsessed with good food, so he took me to some cool local spots for coffee, pregos, pastries, and more. He was also able to give me some real talk about the economy, the difficulties in the local job market (and why so many young people move away), and we had a blast talking about music and nightlife. My two days with him made my trip—it was like hanging out with a friend.
Even if you don’t hire Pedro to take you around Lisbon, you really should consider hiring him for a day trip to Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is about 20 miles outside Lisbon. You simply have to visit this dreamy and almost unbelievable place, full of palaces from the 20th century and earlier. My favorites were the Pena National Palace (a summer residence of the monarchs of Portugal during the 18th and 19th centuries) and the utterly mystical Palácio e Quinta da Regaleira, which the Freemasons used in the 20th century (this place is such a head trip, and do not miss the underground staircase!).
While you’re in Sintra, be sure to visit the Piriquita Café, famous for their travesseiro pastry (its name means “pillow,” which gives you a clue to its shape), with almond pastry cream inside. You can also try their queijadas, which are much less sweet (and easy to take to go).
Back in Lisbon, if you love tiles and find yourself getting more and more obsessed with the azulejos around town (it happened to me), pay a visit to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum).
Don’t miss the opportunity to be fitted for the most fantastic handmade leather gloves at Luvaria Ulisses, a total jewel box. The entire visit is such an experience. Since 1925.
It was pure luck that I was walking around the Praça do Comércio at dusk on a rare sunny moment when there was a break in the storm. The magic hour light was incredible, it actually brought tears to my eyes. It wasn’t until later on that I learned Lisbon is referred to as “the luminous city” and “the white city.” Indeed.
Be sure to check out my photo album on Flickr—the beauty of Lisbon will blow your mind.
Ramen Flinging, Oysterpalooza, Happier Hours in Napa, Valley of the Moon Pop-Up, Charlie Palmer's Big Year
RAMEN GAIJIN chef Matthew Williams isn’t quite sure why his Sebastopol noodlery recently got called “white guy ramen” by the notoriously opinionated Richie Nakano of SF’s late Hapa Ramen. So, okay, Williams and co-owner Moishe Hahn-Schuman are white guys, and their restaurant is called Ramen Gaijin (the Japanese term gaijin refers to a non-Japanese person, or foreigner), but when you’re cranking out some of the best ramen in the Bay Area, well, people tend to take potshots regardless of how good your food is.
That’s unfortunate, because Williams and Hahn-Schuman are ramen savants, meticulous in every detail of this exceedingly complex noodle soup. In fact, the two just bought Nakano’s (allegedly) $60,000 Japanese noodle maker for their own Sebastopol shop, cutting their backbreaking six- to eight-hour in-house noodle-making process to mere minutes.
Additionally, Ramen Gaijin sources their vast lineup of ingredients from small local farmers and coastal fishmongers and craft everything from karaage to their signature shoyu ramen with patient hands. This ain’t no assembly-line ramen.
So what’s with the swipe? Meh. The guys take it in stride, saying that they stand behind every single bowl they serve as being as true to its regional inspiration as possible. Frankly, I’d be willing to bathe in every single rich, umami-laden, pork belly-filled bowl. Because I’m loyal like that. 6948 Sebastopol Ave. (near Main), Sebastopol, 707-827-3609.
Crack open Memorial Day weekend with a rocking and slurping good time at ROCKER OYSTERFELLER’S annual Oysterpalooza. With more than a hint of NOLA in its soul, this celebration of the bivalve features five bands on two stages along with a mollusk-heavy menu of barbecued oysters, fried oyster po’boys, red beans and rice, barbecued brisket, Hurricanes, and more surprises. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and kids 6-12 are $10. Tickets and details online. 14415 Shoreline Highway, Valley Ford, 707-876-1983.
Raise a glass to downtown Napa, which just got twice as happy with new happy hour menus. TORC’S daily happy hour from 5-6:30pm features $5 bites, including the “Face Melter” quesadilla with short ribs, Bengali sweet potato pakora, deviled eggs with pickled onions and bacon, and $6 cocktails like the Midlife Crisis (vodka, Dimmi, lemon, peach, and elderflower). 1140 Main St. (near Pearl), Napa, 707-252-3292.
FAGIANI’S has a new Land and Sea happy hour Tuesday through Friday from 4:30pm-6pm, featuring $1 oysters; $6 plates of charcuterie, steak tartare, or Scotch egg; and weekly martini selections. 813 Main St. (near Third St.), Napa, 707-226-7821.
Eat for Nepal: Santa Rosa newcomer YETI RESTAURANT serves up a special prix-fixe meal on Tuesday May 19th to benefit earthquake relief efforts in Nepal. The cost of the dinner is $29.99 per person and half the proceeds will go to NEWAH, a nonprofit focused on providing access to clean water in Nepal. Call 707-521-9608 for reservations. 190 Farmers Lane, Santa Rosa.
What do you call a pop-up dinner where you have to bring your own food, wine, and table decor? Hand Made Events, based in Sonoma, calls it a party. After sellout events in SF, LA, and Brooklyn, the company is bringing their unique concept to Wine Country on Saturday May 23rd. What makes the experience so much fun? It’s an exercise in creativity and community. Groups of guests are guided to a secret location (in this case somewhere in the Sonoma Valley) a few hours before the start of the event. Wearing chic all-white ensembles, friends collaborate on the menu, the table decor, and the drink list, with just two hours to set up before the 7pm dinner. The whole evening ends with entertainment and dancing.
“We are so happy to bring PopUp Dinner back to our hometown.” said Nicole Benjamin, co-founder of Hand Made Events. “Sonoma is a place known for its exceptional beauty, food, and wine, so it truly is the perfect location.” Tickets are $38 per person (remember, you bring all your own food and drink) for a night with hundreds of new (and old) friends under the stars of the Valley of the Moon. After the event, you get to truck out all your own stuff as well, leaving no trace behind. Details and tickets online.
It’s been a busy year for Charlie Palmer. First he installed Andrew Wilson as the new chef at DRY CREEK KITCHEN in Healdsburg (which btw is going swimmingly). Next it was the spring release of his new cookbook, Charlie Palmer’s American Fare, and yesterday, the opening of his second Wine Country restaurant, HARVEST TABLE in St. Helena.
So far, the buzz is hot for exec chef Levi Mezick’s take on Wine Country cuisine, with dishes like roasted carrots with buttermilk, vadouvan, and granola; the Harvest Table burger with fontina cheese; and whole roasted truffled chicken with Parmesan polenta and morel mushrooms. Pastry chef Andrew DiClementi, most recently of Dry Creek Kitchen, is turning out his signature chocolate peanut butter bar with dark chocolate marquise. Hours are lunch Wed-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm; dinner Tue-Thu, Sun 5:30pm-9:30pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-10pm; and brunch Sat-Sun 11am-2:30pm. 1 Main St. (near Sulphur Springs), St. Helena, 707-967-4695.