you had me at hola

food detective

Categories: Wine Line, Eating Out, Posted on September 1, 2018 by Sandy Bergsten

Here's the second post on my sensational trip to Portugal with my daughter. Previously I touched on the wineries we toured in the Bairrada, Douro Valley, and Alentejo wine regions. This time I’ll write of our incredible meals. Not only is the wine world on an exciting trajectory, the food scene is literally on fire.

While many flock to Portugal because of its perceived travel value. My youngest daughter and I apparently veered in another direction. Almost every day we laughed that we were on our honeymoon, which was fitting given my oldest daughter had just returned from her own. As MOH and MOB, we certainly traveled in style, from the exquisite lodgings to the sumptuous feasts. Everywhere we laid our head, picked up a fork, and raised a glass was truly something to behold. 

Obrigada! I must have said that word thirty times a day. And thankful we were. Each new venture began with hola and quickly morphed into obrigada. Turned out to be the only two Portuguese words I mastered and the only two I really needed.

After landing in Lisbon, we checked into the beautiful Ritz Four Seasons Hotel across from the Parque da Liberdade. Our room and terrace had such incredible views. Before setting out we had a light lunch in the Four Season’s Piano Bar, which would fast become one of our favorite destinations of the trip.

That evening we thought it would be fun to walk the streets and get a glass of rosé before our dinner reservation. Turned out to be a difficult task as it was Sunday and most every bar and café was closed. The one open place we found served only full bottles of wine. As we set off for another place we overheard the owner exclaim to his waiter that “we must get glasses of rosé!” As luck would have it we found an open sports bar and raised a pedestrian glass to the picturesque streets of Lisbon.

Soon we had an outstanding dinner at Tasca da Esquina. We were served aperitifs (a customary starter) of olives, a little wheel of double creme cheese, fish pate and pork croquets. Followed by an incredible cod fish carpaccio with potatoes and egg, cockles in the pan, and octopus with sweet potato and peppermint. We drank a glass of Lybra rosé and then a Curral Atlantis Preco, a dry white with high minerality.

Afterwards we went back to the four seasons and sat on the patio of the Piano Bar with fur throws and were treated with a little Patron signature cocktail and glasses of a full-bodied red under the stars. After being surprised with a plate of chocolate truffles and macaroons we went to bed to start our Portuguese adventure. Our dream had obviously already begun!

We started our second day with the fabulous breakfast buffet at the Four Seasons. Then met our driver and headed north toward the Douro Valley. Again, we are indebted to Nuno. I cannot imagine my daughter and I navigating the winding rural roads of Portugal alone.

We stopped for lunch at Pedro dos Leitoes, a restaurant famous for its Leitao Assad’s a Bairrada. 

There we dined on suckling pig, served with salad, potato chips and sparkling wine. As we found out -it’s tradition!

After lunch we had an amazing visit at the Quinta Luis Pato winery. (Please visit my previous post for the full lineup of all the wineries.) 

Satiated, we set off for the Six Senses Spa in the Douro Valley. The hotel is a renovated 19th-century manor house set high on a hill overlooking the vine covered rolling hills of the Douro Valley and the river below. The hotel is renowned for its spa, selection of rooms, suites and villas, restaurant, wine library, swimming pool and organic garden. It is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever stayed.

That night we had dinner at the famed D.O.C. on the Douro riverfront. The restaurant is named for the exclusive wines of this demarcated wine region and is literally a window over the Douro. The chef, Rui Paula, is a creative master. His dishes focus on the use of genuine regional produce. It’s a kitchen that absorbs inspiration not only from the Northeast-Douro region but the nearby sea.

We dined on a trio of aperitif- shrimp mousse on a wonton, a petite pork “burger”, and carrot purée. Then salmon carpaccio, scarlet shrimp and beetroot scallop’s carbonara. The grilled octopus with infusion of extra virgin olive oil and garlic was sensational, as was the scarlet shrimp on rice with aioli sauce. We finished our meal with a selection of Portuguese cheeses served with grapes, pumpkin jam and nuts.

On our third morning, my daughter set off for a sunrise yoga class and I did laps in the infinity pool looking over the Douro Valley.

Later we met at the Six Senses’ sumptuous breakfast buffet. Afterward we traveled the most beautiful road in Portugal to Quinta Nova. After a fabulous tour of their vineyard and winery we dined on their terrace and enjoyed their degustive tasting menu. 

We began with an aperitif of suckling pig (it’s tradition) and shrimp mouse. Followed by octopus carpaccio, braised sea bream with beetroot puree and a selection of Portuguese cheeses. We had a bottle of their renowned Mirabilis Grande Reserva White. 

Afterwards we made our way down the steep hillside toward Quinta do Vallado for yet another inspirational tour of one of the region’s wineries. We returned late afternoon for saunas and steams at Six Senses.

That evening we had drinks on their terrace. Then dinner at the restaurant where all of the vegetables and herbs are grown on the resort’s estate, assuring ultimate freshness and flavor. Al fresco we dined on salmon crudo, mushroom tagliatelle, salt cod with grilled vegetables and frittes, and finished dinner with a rich chocolate mousse.

On our fourth day we fully embraced all that the Six Senses had to offer. Honestly, we could have stayed a full week there with its beauty and myriad of activities.

To begin the day, we had morning massages overlooking the picturesque gardens. Then a late breakfast on the terrace.

We spent the day lounging at the pool with stunning views.

Before departing, we had flatbread pizza and glasses of rosé as an afternoon snack. We blissfully traveled to Porto, on the north bank of the Douro River.

In Porto we checked into the Intercontinental Hotel. Our room had a direct view of Aliados Square with its stature of Pedro IV, considered the great liberator who became the first ruler of the empire of Brazil.

Later that afternoon we took an Uber to the other bank of the Douro River, home to all of the Port Houses. We had dinner at the Restaurant Barão Fladgate on the roof of the Taylor Port House.  We dined on a typical Portuguese meal of shrimp bisque, tempura fried octopus, and monkfish with shrimp risotto. After dinner we walked up the hill to have drinks at the legendary Yeatman Hotel

The Yeatman is located in the historic heart of Vila Nova de Gaia next to the ancient “lodges” where Port houses have aged their wines for over three centuries. The views were breathtaking and the piano enchanting.

Day five was filled with Porto sightseeing. We began at Livraria Lello, considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world and featured in several Harry Potter movies. The Igreja do Carmo, a baroque church, is well-known for its tiled facade. And the Clérigos Tower sits on top of a Baroque church, its 75-meter bell tower a symbol of Porto.

We walked toward the river down the fragrant R das Floras to the Palácio da Bolsa. The Stock Exchange Palace was built in the 19th century in Neoclassical style. The Estatua Infante D. Henrique commemorates the prince of Portugal who used Lagos as a launching pad for his many commissioned expeditions. The Church of São Francisco, was built in the 12th century. Famous for its baroque main chapel, cloisters with 18th-century blue and white tiles, and Bones Chapel.

We walked through the 19th-century Sao. Bento Train Station noted for its atrium, covered with over 20,000 blue and white tiles and scenes depicting Portuguese life.

Around the corner we had lunch at Tapabento, a tapas bar and where we enjoyed a mixed salad, mushroom tapas, a plate of fresh mussels, and glasses of rosé- of course.

Before dinner we walked along the Douro River and had drinks at a cafe and watched the boats go by.

We had a fabulous dinner at Cantinho do Avillez, an urban bistro known for its seafood. The chef José Avillez is considered a northern innovative culinary force. We started with sautéed shrimp in a white wine sauce. Then had the king prawns with jasmine rice and the sautéed scallops with mushroom risotto.

The next morning from Porto we drove back to Lisbon to the Four Seasons Hotel. There we had a wonderful lunch of prawn Caesar and caprese salads and a delightful dry rosé on our favorite Portuguese terrace.

After lunch we met our guide for a four-hour private walking tour of Lisbon. We learned much about the city’s rich history, including how an earthquake and tsunami in 1755 completely destroyed Lisbon. We walked through Eduardo VII Park down Liberty Boulevard to Restoration Square. Old funiculars still carry people up the hills near the Avenida hotel, the oldest hotel in the city.

Old Town fascinated with King Philip IV Square, also known as Inquisition Square, the Igreja de Sao Domingos which almost burnt to the ground in 1959, and the Castle of São Jorge sitting high above the city and ever-present from almost any vantage point.

Passing through the magnificent white arch into the trade square we stood on the edge of the ocean along with the stature of King Joseph the First, who ruled during the earthquake.

We visited the new Time Out Market featuring culinary treasures from around the city, afterwards we stopped into an old-world cod market. On our way back up we passed the Pink Street, Literary Square, and visited Saint Rock Church with its opulent Chapel for Saint John the Baptist.

That night we dined at Restaurant Quorum, Michelin star Chef Rui Silvestre’s contemporary restaurant with vertical gardens on its walls. We had a delicious Encruzado white wine from Quinta dos Carvalhais. 

For our meal we began with cod “acordia”, a codfish broth with cod cheek, fried bread, egg yolk and coriander. Followed by ravioli filled with squid carbonara and mushrooms and a parmesan emulsion. Then their unique creamy fish rice. The roasted octopus with white beans, chorizo and smoked paprika was superb. 

After a delicious Quinta Carvalhaaia Encruzado, we finished the meal with a glass of Alambre Moscatel de Setubal and an unusual but intriguing talassa, a red wine vinegar sorbet with sheep’s milk cottage cheese and pumpkin jam.

The next morning, we set off toward Cuba to tour Herdade do Rocim and have lunch at their winery. Our visit there was unbelievable. Their wines were simply the best of our trip. And our traditional Alentejo meal in their winery was beyond incredible. It certainly was worth the trip from Lisbon.

We started with plates of local sausages and cheeses. Then a delicious bean and pork stew. Braised oxtail and risotto cake with a watercress salad. We finished the meal with a marmalade of oranges.

Their wines produced in a sustainable manner, with minimal intervention, and an emphasis on the local terroir make you feel as though you are drinking the essence of the Alentejo. Satiated and floating on a cloud, we traveled to the nearby ancient city of Évora, the capital of Portugal's south-central region. 

In the city's historic center stands the ancient Roman Temple of Diana, regarded as the best-preserved Roman structure on the Iberian Peninsula.

Whitewashed houses surround the Cathedral of Évora, a massive Gothic structure begun in the 12th century.

The Igreja de São Francisco features Gothic and baroque architecture along with the skeleton-adorned Chapel of Bones. 

Back at the Four Seasons we washed off the ancient dust.

Then had an outstanding dinner at the Restaurant Iiimpar, a new concept kitchen in the Rato area of Lisbon. A modern take on classic Portuguese dishes.

We began with the Portuguese cheese and charcuterie selection, followed by their crunchy shrimp dumplings, bulhão style croaker, and a delicious bottle of Antão Vaz from Rocim.

On our last full day in Portugal we set out for Sintra, a resort town and longtime sanctuary for royalty in the foothills of Portugal’s Sintra Mountains.

The Moorish- and Manueline-style Sintra National Palace is distinguished by dramatic twin chimneys and elaborate tile work. 

The 19th-century Pena National Palace perched on a hilltop is known for a whimsical design and sweeping views. It’s the most amazing combination of architectural styles, colors and shapes one will find in Portugal.

We walked through the old city center, many of its old houses now converted into shops and traditional pastry shops. The Portuguese adore their custardy pastéis de nata.

We ventured to Cabo da Roca, the most western point of mainland Portugal with its beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and cape and waved to our love ones back in the States.

Afterward we had an outstanding lunch at Restaurant Furnas do Guincho. Their amazing Mediterranean cuisine rivaling the views of the Atlantic Ocean

We were greeted with a plate of boiled shrimp and local cheese with olives. We toasted the beautiful coastline with a bottle of vinho verde, the legendary summer green wine. 

Our freshly caught golden bream (literally just caught on the rocky shore) was baked in salt in their oven and served tableside.  It truly was a spectacular feast, and a dish that shouldn’t be missed.

After lunch we set off to Cascais and Estoril, the royal resort towns along the shore of the Atlantic.

We walked the streets of Cascais, King’s and Queen’s Beach and drove along the Estoril coast with its famous casino that many will remember from the first James Bond film.

We took the scenic Marginal Road back toward Lisbon, passing the Geronimos Monastery and Belem Tower.

For our last night in Portugal we had dinner under the stars, wrapped in blankets on the terrace of the Four Seasons Piano Bar. We toasted our incredible mother-daughter trip with a special bottle of clay-aged Rocim wine that we had brought back from the winery.

Before heading back to the states, we had one last breakfast on the scenic terrace of the Four Seasons.

I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have experienced this treasured corner of the world. And what a gift to do so with my daughter… sharing beds, meals, and endless glasses of wine. It is something I will forever cherish.

This trip illuminated the importance of seizing the day and taking every opportunity to adventure with those we love. These special moments are truly the ones that become the memories of a lifetime.

A very special thanks to Huffman Travel and Tours for You for making this trip a reality. And to my sweet daughter- thank you for the nudge. Down deep you knew I really wanted to go on a journey with just my baby girl. How silly to think we are too busy to take a beat to spend precious time with those we love most.  Perhaps these one-on-one trips should become tradition. Let’s raise a glass to that!

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