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13th February
2010
written by spd
A simple lunch at Estrela de Belem (img:Sean Patrick Doyle)

A simple lunch at Estrela de Belem (img:Sean Patrick Doyle)

Belem, located a few miles west of Lisbon’s city centre, is home to a handful of tourist must-sees, among them the Torre de Belem dating back to 1515 and the lacy show-stopper Monesteiro dos Jeronimos built in 1501. The area immediately surrounding the Tejo is crowded with souvenir shops and overpriced cafes, so in an effort to find something more authentic, David and I meandered through backstreets with quaint pastel houses and took lunch at a no-fuss eatery, Estrela de Belem. We were the only out of towners in the joint, and entered just as a slew of leather-faced locals were finishing their beers. However, we were far from being the first to wander here, as it’s mentioned by both Lonely Planet and and the foodies over at Chowhound. We sipped cold Super Bock, the Lisboeta brew of choice and munched on sausages from a local butcher and grilled sardines. David proved infinitely more skilled at de-boning them! It’s worth the walk to escape the maddening crowd…

Estrela de Belém-Restaurante e Cervejaria Lda, Lisboa – Santa Maria de Belém, R Embaixador 112-r/c, Lisboa 1300-217 LISBOA

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7th February
2010
written by spd
The chic dining room at Eleven can be deceiving.  (img: Eleven)

The chic dining room at Eleven can be deceiving. (img: Eleven)

Lisbon gifted us an impressive array of culinary treasures, but Eleven was not one of them.  Every food find that I write about here is, theoretically, in the three to five star category.  However, I’ll make an exception to put of the red flag for unsuspecting visitors entertaining a meal here.

Eleven gives a nice first impression, with its sleek dining room overlooking the Park Eduardo. Until Tavares Rico stepped up its game and earned the recognition of Michelin tasters, Eleven was the sole restaurant in lisbon to boast such an honor. Indeed, this is just what the eleven partners were aiming for; Chef Joachim Koerper’s resume boasts Girasol in Alicante (two Michelin stars), L’Ambroisie in Paris (three Michelin stars), Moulin de Mougins (three Michelin stars), Guy Savoy in Paris (two Michelin stars), Hostelerie du Cerf in Marlenheim (two Michelin stars), and Au Chapon Fin in Thoissey (two Michelin stars). So I ask you, WHAT HAPPENED?

When we were seated, we were hounded by the juvenile sommelier several times before we ever saw our waiter. The 15 minute mark hit, and we still didn’t have menus, though we were expected to order wine blindly. When the waiter finally arrived, I found his hurried attempt to get us to order the truffle or lobster menu annoying. We decided on the menu digestion, and prepared to restart our engines when the food arrived. A pricy but well deserved feast was coming our way after so many anniversaries apart this year!

The 12 courses rolled out at a strange pace, and each was so heavy I found myself dreading the next. The only dish with any brightness or acid in it was a Seared Scallop with Curry Foam over a Lemon Risotto.  It was lovely, but even so, the garnishes were very bizarre. The centerpiece of another dish was a beautifully cooked fillet of John Dory slathered in a heavy, nondescript sauce.   Scattered around the dish were beautiful, pillowy chestnut gnocchi, so I was still slightly intrigued.  However, the meat course says it all; David and I ordered the Lamb and the Duck, respectively, and both came out over potatoes and overcooked vegetables with the exact same indecipherable brown sauce. With endless possibilities waiting to be unearthed in the food world, a Michelin-starred chef phones in the meat course?   I don’t buy it.  And that’s how I came to the conclusion that Chef Koerper has been in absentia for quite some time, leaving the kitchen in the hands of a novice chef de cuisine. It doesn’t help that the sommelier was out of his mind.  Not only did both of our wines taste like someone had poured sugar in them, the champagne he doused our intermezzo sorbet with made the concoction taste like glass cleaner.

At well over 100 Euros per person, it’s upsetting admit that the dishes were so forgettable, I can only vividly remember elements of three. While the dinner ended with some lovely confections courtesy of a very capable pastry chef, it didn’t rectify my opinion. As far as dollar value for quality is concerned, it was the most disappointing meal of my adult life.

Phew, now that that’s over, I can get back to relaying all of Lisbon’s incredible eats! Meals that cost (quite literally) a tenth of our dinner at Eleven and lingered in our minds for days afterwards!

Restaurant Eleven. Av. Marquês da Fronteira Jardim Amália Rodrigues, 1070 Lisboa, Portugal. ph 213 862 211

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3rd February
2010
written by spd
While walking through the winding streets of Alfama to Graca and Santa Clara, this pattern-on-pattern scene caught my eye.  I couldn't stop looking up the entire time we were in Lisbon.  These stunning azulejos (hand painted, tin-glazed ceramic tiles) adorn virtually every building, from churches and train stations to ordinary homes... and the hanging laundry only adds to the charm. (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

While walking through the winding streets of Alfama to Graca and Santa Clara, this pattern-on-pattern scene caught my eye. I couldn't stop looking up the entire time we were in Lisbon! The stunning azulejos (hand painted, tin-glazed ceramic tiles) adorn virtually every building, from churches and train stations to ordinary homes... and the hanging laundry only adds to the charm. (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

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3rd February
2010
written by spd
Our feast of split chicken piri-piri at Bomjardin (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

Our feast of split chicken piri-piri at Bomjardin! When we returned for the second time, the weather was so fine that we dined outside and people watched on Rua de Sao Jose. (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

Our first meal in Lisbon just happened to be our favorite, and one that we recreated dish per dish later in the week. Bomjardin, a Chowhound favorite that’s just as loved by locals, serves the best Frango Assado (Chicken Piri-Piri) in the Baixa. Judging from the throngs of Lisboetas occupying it’s dining room and its annex across the street, perhaps the best in Lisbon!

There are no frills here, just fantastic food. A dismal window aquarium possesses the world’s saddest lobster, his criss-crossed claws bound for probably a decade, since the only plates exiting the kitchen carry split chicken. The frango is irresistibly juicy, and it’s crisp flavorful skin packs a punch of flavor. For extra spice, a tiny clay jar with a basting brush is available for extra piri piri. Unsanitary? Perhaps… but when in Lisboa… With a half bottle of the vinho tinto de casa, esparregado (spinich, not asparagus), batata frita (french fries), agua com gas, and the usual accompaniments of bread and queijinho sec (a simple, but delicious cheese), the meal comes to just over 20 Euro. We feel as if we’ve just robbed someone, and leaved stuffed and very, very happy!

Bomjardin, Travessa de Santo Antão 12, 1150 LISBOA Lisboa, Portugal. ph. 213 427 424

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3rd February
2010
written by spd
The first round of a generous tasting at ViniPortugal (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

The first round of a generous tasting at ViniPortugal (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

I can’t speak highly enough about this incredible initiative to promote Portuguese wines! Grazed over in my guidebook, I wouldn’t know to make a visit to ViniPortugal had it not been for the incessant chatter on Chowhound. Located on the western side of Praca do Comercio, this vaulted showroom gives an incredibly informative introduction to this country’s wines with a four-glass tasting, free of charge! It’s competent staff cannot help you choose specific wines, as all of the vineyards help to fund the initiative, but they guide you by educating you in the three regions that are the current stars of their rotating showcase. David and I fell in love with Lagos, a complex vihno tinto from the surprising region of Algarve. We also sampled the caramely Muscetals of the Setubal region.

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1st February
2010
written by spd

Largo de Sao Domingos is a sight to behold at dusk, and at the center of it all, stands this tiny shoe-box of a bar. Red-faced old men, young couples, and north Africans in colorful garb all stand on this pedestrian street sipping ginjinha com fruto (brandy with fermented sour cherries). A somber portrait of Espinheira, the friar who invented the drink in the 1840s, keeps watch over the locals at Lisbon’s first bar to serve the drink. You’ll either love the stuff, or walk away scraping your tongue, but the event itself is worth taking part in!

The crowds outside of A Ginjinha at dusk (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

The crowds outside of A Ginjinha at dusk (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

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1st February
2010
written by spd
This was the view of the Baixa from our bedroom window in

This was the view of the Rossio and the Baixa from our bedroom window in Lisbon. It took my breath away every morning of our trip. Click for a larger view!

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25th January
2010
written by spd
(img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

(img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

This was the view as we descended into Calgary’s airport for my final week with Fiddler on the Roof. Looks promising doesn’t it? Just an ominous opening to a pretty dismal final week.   I’ve spent the last week in Portugal, shaking off the tour blues with my hunny.  I’m looking out our bedroom window onto Rossio, catching up on emails and Skyping family back home, and I thought it might be nice to officially cap off the tour with a final entry.  My next entries will divulge all of the yummy adventures we are having here in Lisbon. And at 60 degrees F, there’s not a flake of snow to be found! :)

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23rd January
2010
written by spd

St. Lawrence Market exterior (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

St. Lawrence Market exterior (img: Sean Patrick Doyle)

When I think of Toronto, I’ll first think of St. Lawrence Market.  Voted one of the World’s top 25 markets by Food & Wine, I would argue that it’s at least in the top third of those chosen few.  Not even La Boqueria in Barcelona or the Chelsea Market in New York could make me as giddy as I was the first time I walked its stalls.  Favorites included White House Meats, with an impressive assortment of game meats, and the most incredible pre-marinated butterflied chickens, and St. Lawrence Pizza & Ice Cream, whose house-made fettuccine and agnolotti filled my belly for my five week stay.

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23rd January
2010
written by spd

The dining room at Vertical.  (img: Vertical, via Open Table)

The dining room at Vertical. (img: Vertical, via Open Table)

I really slacked on dining out in Toronto.  With the St. Lawerence Market nearby, and a well-appointed kitchen, I found myself roasting chickens, shaving brussels, and browning butter to toss with orecchette most nights.  I did, however, treat myself to one very lavish dinner while David was in town.  Food and Wine made several suggestions, but 6 degree weather led me to the closest fine dining suggestion, Vertical.  Located on mezzanine level of Canada’s tallest building, First Canadian Place on King Street, the surroundings made me feel that I should have a corporate card on me.  However, we arrived late on a Monday and there were only two other dinners on a date, so it felt a bit like our own private dining room.

Our indecision is a reflection of how varied the menu is, and instead of making up our minds, we just ordered an insane amount of food. We started with Grilled Zucchini, cut into scallop-like discs, topped with speck, golden raisins, and mint. The seasoning was deeply eastern, and really surprising, with the mint making a definitive mark on the plate. It’s a not a dish I would think to make, though I’m glad they did! Our other starter didn’t move mountains but was flawless and simple, and because of that, my favorite of the night. Grilled Boneless Sardines with Grilled Crostini, pungent Morrocan Olive Tapenade, and Lemon. The skin was perfectly crisp, and the dish had just the right amount of acid. Sardines are a staple of Portuguese cuisine, and this dish made me so excited about our upcoming trip to Lisbon… I want to sip Vinho Verde in the Alfama over grilled sardines, but for now a New Zealand Sav Blanc will do.

Our pasta course arrives and they have made a mistake. The Papardelle has been confused with the Tagliatelle. I return mine, eager to try their twelve hour braised wild boar ragu, but David is content with his, and picks out pieces of Lobster and Scallop from his lightly dressed mound of house-made pasta. The correction is made, though I would think the boar would be more tender after 12 hours. Still, it’s a dish that warms me to the bone, as we gaze on the snow-dusted streets outside.

We finished with an Orata, presented whole at the table, then taken away and de-boned. Served atop a mixture of cauliflower, stewed tomatoes, olives, and caper berries, the fish wasn’t grilled, but braised, making it’s firm flesh so tender and moist. I missed the crispness that would have come from grilling but David was happy with the milky skin, which still had it’s thin under layer of fat. By now, I was bursting at the seams and had given up on my portion, when the waitress brought out some olive bread to sop up the incredibly flavorful tomato-based broth. I could have had had that broth for soup as a starter and been content. David was eying desserts, and we ordered something I can no longer remember, which is telling. He rolled me into a cab, and I stayed uncomfortably full for hours! Haha!

Vertical is certainly not a cheap destination, and the location might make some feel that they’ve just just exited their office and taken the elevator a few floors down, but the food stands on it’s own. It’s simple, straight-forward cuisine that’s not nearly as stuffy as it’s surroundings that makes Vertical worth a visit.

Vertical Restaurant and Bar.  100 King Street West. Toronto, ON M5X 1K7, Canada. ph (416) 214-2252

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