Saturday, July 31, 2010

Porto, Portugal

I have been lax in my blogging about our trip to Portugal. You all know most of the photos I take are of the food we eat, but here I took some pictures of the area.  This is still a work in progress but I wanted to get it up so you could see some of the photos.

Portugal and specifically the city of Porto is right on the Atlantic Ocean.  New York City is literally across the ocean, just on the other side!!!! Most of the buildings are very old and have the typical mosaic tile covering the fromt.

We began our trip in London and then flew to Portugal for three days well 4 if you count the day wasted in the Porto airport because they didn't have a crew for our flight.  Ohhhh, don't ask,  just take my word and when someone tells you what TAP airlines stands for "Take Another Plane", trust me, they aren't joking.

Our trip to Portugal was based on a Vino Verde (Verde is prounced Veard the e at the end is silent) my friend O had 1 drank several months ago from a wine producer called Casa de Mouraz. They use a ladybug symbol on their labels that signifies their wines are biodynamic.  The wine was so unlike a typical Vino Verde in that the grapes tasted like Riesling.  We were so enamoured of this wine not only did we want to get more we wanted to meet the wine makers.  After some difficult investigating O finally found them.  This trip was about meeting the wine makers and visiting their vineyards with the hope of bringing back some of their wine.

My friend O also has an American friend living in Porto for almost 20 years, she plays Violin in the local orchestra so it was also a great excuse to visit her. She is amazing, a plethra of information about the city and the best tour guide ever.  She is fluent in Portugese and told us all about the history past, present and possible future of the city.

Porto is a very poor city and every where you go you can see the remnants of history in the local ruins (which are mostly old homes with mosaic tile covering the front and in some cases sides as well).  The people of Porto and maybe most of Portugal are very laid back and don't seem to realize it, they are also very friendly.

Along the Atlantic coast of Porto is a beach lined with a few cafes and restaurants.  Each restaurant has a deck where you can look out on the ocean or view it from the dinning room.  These restaurants seem to be a little on the pricey side for the locals but for visitors they are reasonable.  The food isn't spectacular but it's good. One of the restaurants Shis has a view of the beach and gives the impression of being on a boat.  We had a delicious meal of Duck with black pepper and vanilla.   The best meal we had in Porto was at the restaurant Cafeina.  They also have a wine bar up the block on the corner where a glass of wine runs about $2.50 a $3.00 glass is considered expensive.  Almost everyone you come across speaks English and they love the chance to practice. By the time we got to the restaurant I must have been more inebriated than I realized.  Looking back on my notes I only noted 3 things.  The first was an outstanding smoked duck and chestnut soup. Then we had an appetizer a Bacalou Carpaccio with arugula and parmesan cheese.  This was served with chickpeas and I've never known I could like baccalou before.  (No matter how it's been prepared for me in the past I've never liked it.  It's always much too fishy for me.) This dish was delicious. I don't know what I ordered as an entre but it might have been  Nero Pasta with Shrimp, Octopus and tomato.  And then my notes just end just like that.  All I know is that the wine we ordered something from the Beiras area went well with everything.  Apparently from my notes it had a full fruity nose with a sort of buttery finish but not much in the mid range.  Sorry I can't add more to that.  Unfortunately the lighting was very low in the restaurant and I didn't want to rudely use my flash so none of the photos came out either.

The morning after we arrived in Porto we met the wine makers, Sara & Antonio, at a local restaurant in Porto I think the name was En Casa- but not to worry if you're going to visit there are some better restaurants to try. Though I enjoyed this meal it was on the expensive side and the food was very Mom & Pop mostly fried and served with 3 different rice dishes and mediocre bread.  I don't remember most of the food except the fried squid and some other local fried fish were very tasty.  During lunch we tasted Sara & Antonio's wines.  Of course the one we were looking forward to was the Vino Verde.  I'm going to say upfront that Sara & Antonio know how to make wine and many of their wines taste like they will need some aging though even young I enjoyed most of the reds. I preferred the Vino Verde.  If you get a chance look for the Casa de Mouriz label.  They are small producers so each year their wine can be significantly different.  Their current Vino Verde doesn't taste anything like the Vino Verde we had from them.  Of all the wines we drank I think I preferred their Vino Verde above the others.

Sara and Antonio are lovely people who took us to lunch and to dinner and spent 2 days driving us around the Duoro area of Portugal where the hills and mountains are composed solely of vineyards with a sparse few trees here and there. They use 3 vineyards- the story of which I don't fully remember but it's shared land.The hills of the Duoro also contain the vineyards of the worlds top Port Wine vineyards.  In my opinion the wines of Portugal though they may work with the local foods are not as sophisticated as the wines of say Italy or France.  The Portugese wine makers have some refining to do.  Though they have many hidden gems Grape and Apple juice for two.  Unlike any you have ever had.  They should be exporting the juice which is not your kids apple or grape.  These juices are great, unfortunately they are not exported to the U.S. but luckily in Portugal they can be found in local supermarkets.

The view driving through the Duoro is magnificent as the  river flows through the vineyard clad mountains.One place to stop overnight is the Hotel Folgosa Duoro right across the street, literally, from a fantastic local, modern, delicious Portugese restaurant (which at first it looks out of place in mountain side town but at the same time it fits perfectly nestled along the river) Rui Paula which by the way has two locations the other being in Porto. The chefs expression of local cuisine is taken to a new level and for the discerning traveling palate this is one of the places to go in Porto. On of the dishes we had here was a sausage called Alheira. It's a traditional dish we saw in many restaurants.  The sausage is made of various poultry and smoked to imitate the flavor of pork and you'd never know it wasn't.  The smoked meat was wrapped in a filo type pastry served with a port reduction and mushrooms.  The smoked flavor was outstanding.

All in all I am happy I visited Portugal the highways are pristine mainly because they are new and almost no one uses them- the tolls are very expensive.  I would like to return but I may visit Spain first.  My experience in the airport still reminds me that I lost 24 hours I could have spent in Paris eating and drinking amazing food and wine.  And yes that can happen anywhere but for me it happened in Portugal so don't fly TAP.

We will definitely return to this area and spend some time in Spain as well as continuing to explore the food and wine or Portugal.