The food in Portugal is undeniably good, but in big cities like Porto (and especially in Lisboa), it seemed a little more difficult to find the good restaurants amongst the tourist destinations. In Porto, we found two that are worth mentioning: Cafeína and ODE Porto Wine House.
We went to Cafeína after our wonderful day exploring the Foz do Douro. Cafeína is in a residential area walking distance from 4Rooms. The dining area has a cool, dark interior. We felt like locals, cozy at our table, listening to Portuguese all around us. I ordered the filet mignon de porco preto (filet of black pork) and TDL chose the tranche de robalo (sea bass). YUM. The food was fantastic and the service was even better. When our server saw me enjoying the bolinhos de bacalhau (cod fritters) that came with TDL’s dish, she brought us a couple more, no charge. After we finished our glasses of wine, she kept topping us off. My only complaint was the smoking, but when we mentioned it to the server, she sent the owner over to apologize and he promptly turned on the air filter. It was a great meal and we enjoyed our walk home through the dark, narrow cobblestone streets.
The next night was our last night in Porto, and our big night out. ODE Porto Wine House is a cute little restaurant along the Douro River in the Ribeira district. We were escaping a lovely winebar across the street (“escaping” because there we were being unwillingly befriended by a group of falling-off-their-chairs-drunk Austrians), so we arrived a couple minutes early for our reservation. We were greeted by the owner, Cristóvão, who kind of looked at us funny and inquired how we had found his restaurant. I think he was just being humble in the typical Portuguese manner. Like, “how did you possibly come across my tiny, no-name restaurant?” even though said restaurant is very highly rated and usually fully booked. He explained his concept of slow food: nearly everything is local and from his farm or farmers he knows himself, it is not a restaurant, it is a home, everything is fresh and prepared there, and if you are in a hurry, this is not the place for you.
We assured him we were on-board and excited for the experience. It begins downstairs, at a communal table next to the open kitchen. At the table with us were a couple from France and a couple from Coimbra, the home of the oldest university in Portugal. We immediately began chatting with our tablemates. The communal table was a highlight for us- especially hearing four languages being spoken between six people (the French couple spoke a little Spanish, which helped with our lack of French vocabulary). We really hit it off with the Portuguese couple. She was a nurse, just like TDL, and they told amazing stories of the traditions at Coimbra University, where they had met.
In the midst of all our chatting, we did manage to eat and drink a bit. TDL and I were excited to look at the wine list and discover a Portuguese Pinot Noir! We lived in Oregon for a couple years and the Pinot grape is one of our favorites. It was fantastic- probably our favorite wine of the trip.
The dining experience begins with the couvert. This is not your typical couvert. Well, it kind of is, but WAY better. When Cristóvão brought the couvert out, he also brought out a map of Portugal and proceeded to tell us where everything we were eating came from. I nearly died from joy. Some highlights of the couvert were the creamy shaved butter (drooling a little right now) and the Boroa de Avintes: a tradition Portuguese slow food rye/corn bread that was so. damn. good.
Next, we had alheira, a homemade sausage that, in this case, was wrapped in fresh mango. *swoon*
After the appetizers, Cristóvão brought us upstairs to our private tables for the meal. TDL ordered the grass-fed steak, which was fantastic. My entree, the pork, was less memorable. It wasn’t bad, it was just simple and traditional. I can’t remember what we had for dessert, but the port was really nice…
After dessert and more chatting with Cristóvão, we had been in the restaurant for four hours. Truly slow food, but it didn’t feel drawn out or boring. The time flew by with the great company and fantastic food and drinks.
(In case you are wondering, our “big night out” in Portugal at ODE was 99€. I miss Portugal.)