Category Archives: My Life

A Summer Dinner At Home for a Good Cause and Guests We Don’t Know

Early in my wife Christina’s career she was the Managing Director of The Philadelphia Theater Company and worked alongside then and now Artistic Director Sara Garonzik. We donated a Dinner for Six in our home to their annual auction to support their continued efforts to produce, develop and present “entertaining and imaginative contemporary theater focused on the American experience that ignites the intellect and touches the soul.” (From PTC’s Artistic Mission Statement.)  Tonight  six folks we have never met are coming to dinner.

It is pleasure for me to cook for others — especially so when I am able to live by what I preach… plan ahead and spread your tasks over time. So two weeks ago after my regular Saturday stroll through the Rittenhouse Square Farmer’s Market, I came up with my initial menu plan. I think of it as seasonal and smart.  Seasonal of course. Smart because I want to enjoy my guests as well as cook for my guests. My goal in planning tonight’s menu is to serve a ridiculously elaborate and beautifully seasonal dinner and minimize what I had to do when guests were at the table. I also wanted a menu that allowed me to maximize what I could do well in advance and especially what I had to do the day of the dinner. I was going for not just one relaxed hour before guests arrive — what I believe all hosts deserve, but the better part of a reasonably relaxed and enjoyable day.

Here’s the final menu that I printed for our guests.

The Philadelphia Theater Company
Auction Dinner
Hors d’oeuvres
Squash blossoms stuffed with Hillacres Pride ricotta
Blini with crème fraiche & California hackleback caviar
Grilled Renaissance sausage with garlic scape pesto
Fire-roasted sweet peppers & white anchovy crostini
Jersey tomatoes & fresh chickpeas with crabmeat
Chinon “La Cravantine” Domaine Gasnier

Dinner
Ceviche of Barnegat scallops
Orange essence & pink peppercorns
Z Food Farm pickled beets & chilled ginger-beet soup
Arneis “Bricco delle Ciliegie” Giovanni Almondo 2011

Seared  Atlantic tuna taco
Sesame-cucumber relish
Shiso aioli
Nahe Riesling “Lenz” Weingut Emrich-Schönleber 2011

Charcoal-grilled Griggstown Farm quail
Lemongrass & coriander
Green papaya salad
“Becco Rosso” Corte Gardoni 2010

Braised veal cheeks
Ratatouille & corn cake
Morgon “Côte de Puy” Domaine de Robert

Local artisanal cheeses
Birchrun Hills Fat Cat (Chester Springs, PA)
Birchrun Hills Blue (Chester Springs, PA)
De Glae Lanchego (Lancaster, PA)
Valley Sheperd Crontin de Chevre  (Long Valley, NJ)
Shellbark Hollow Sharp Chevre (West Chester, PA)
Local honey • Apricot butter • Candied walnuts
Metropolitan Bakery breads
Terres de Fagayra Maury Blanc 2009

Cardamom-poached Three Springs Fruit Farm Peaches
Biddle Woods lavender ice cream
Gooseberries & blackberries

French Press Espresso
Saturday, July 14, 2014

What follows is a kind of home entertaining case study. I am not suggesting that you attempt to replicate this exact menu in your home. I have been doing this professionally and recreationally for more than forty years. But I do suggest that you use this as a model of planning ahead and spreading tasks over time so that you too can have at least one relaxed our before guests arrive.

Early Saturday Morning
It’s about ten hours until guests arrive. All is well. I began planning and preparation two full weeks in advance by planning the menu, scheduling my shopping and food preparation tasks. My very first task was pickling the beets that I bought two weeks ago from my friend, farmer Dave at his Z Food Farm stand in Rittenhouse Square. Z Food Farm is located in Lawrenceville, NJ. On my stroll through the market that Saturday, in addition to pink Chioggia and golden beets, I noted garlic scapes, squash blossoms, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, summer squash, early corn, the first apricots of the season, and beautiful scallops and tuna. So, my menu plan began with essentially a list of seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. Since shopping in a farmer’s market is a pleasure, I looked forward to this morning’s trip to pick-up “day of” ingredients as well as flowers.

Why is it that it’s hot and sunny all week without quenching rain to water thirsty crops and on Saturday when farmers have a single day to sell the fruit and vegetables of their labors, it rains? Why in the wealthiest country in the history of civilization do 43 million people not have health insurance? These and other questions about life will be left to ponder. (Actually for more on the one about health insurance see the postscript at the end of this post.)

Suffice it to say that the best laid plans of spontaneity cooking oft go astray. No golden raspberries so I switch to blackberries. Renaissance Sausage’s stand re-emerged after a few weeks absence with no fennel-pork sausage. But the tuna is gorgeous, the scallops plump and the flowers spectacular.

Dave’s first crop of exotic cucumbers appeared today even though Dave did not. Dave left the stand to his mom and dad as he tended a fresh crop of field volunteers. That’s Dave’s stand and his mom and dad.

Late Saturday Morning
There are now about eight hours to guests. My primary tasks are to do the things I could not do days ahead — prepare the  corn cakes, the cucumber relish, the squash blossoms, slice the scallops and the various herb leaves I plan to use to garnish courses. I also make a few made a few minor revisions to the menu.

The first order of business was doing the flowers. I have been arranging flowers since 1972 when I was a busboy at La Panetiere. The late proprietor Peter von Starck, who prior to my arrival did all of La Panetiere’s arrangements, gradually taught me the art of flower arranging and so began my love affair with flowers.

Soaking wet from the Saturday down-pour, I arrived home armed — literally — with flowers. The Rittenhouse Square Farmer’s Market includes two flower stands including one with farm fresh flowers from an Amish farm in Lancaster.

We were given a wonderful wedding gift some years ago — about twenty-four narrow tubes, flexibly joined together a bit like a snake so that you can shape your arrangement many different ways. The tubes hold the flower stems erect and make for very easy arranging. We were using a round table for our dinner instead of our standard rectangular dining room table. A round arrangement was in order — low so people could easily see and talk over it. Since Christina wanted candles on the table, first I tried placing the candle holders and candles in the hollow center. But I didn’t want the candles too high either. The right height candles were too low to work in the center. That’s when I had the bright idea of putting votive candles in the hollow center so that they would candlelight would shine through the glass tubes. This worked to magnificent affect.

Sometimes flower arrangements are meant to be looked at from only one direction so you can make the arrangement looking at it from that direction. But often arrangements are meant to be looked at from all around including the centerpiece for our table. Here was my second bright idea. As long as I have been arranging flowers, it never occurred to me place the evolving arrangement on to a revolving platform.  There are cake decorating stands that rotate. Our bakers use them all the time to decorate cakes in the round. In preparation of making as much empty counter space as possible for dinner turn-out, I had done some re-arranging. This resulted in an empty Lazy Susan sitting on the counter. Suddenly it occurred to me to pick-up my vase and plop it on the the Lazy Susan. Viola!

So at the tender age of 65+ and feeling like a reasonably smart fellow, I discover that I’m not so smart after all. For how many years have I been walking around my flower arrangements to get an all around view or carefully turning the vase occasionally to get a different vantage point? Now, with my arrangement smartly placed on my Lazy Susan, a simple spin enabled me to simply and constantly look at my developing arrangement in the round. I assume “real florists.” like real bakers have been doing this for years. Who knew?

The finished arrangement placed on the set table.

Here are a collection of arrangements I made for the dining room breakfront, the coffee table and the bathroom. In total the flowers cost just under $50 and I thoroughly enjoyed making the arrangements.

Friday Evening
Entertaining at home is a team sport and Christina and I make-up the team. She handles, in restaurant parlance, the “front of the house” while I handle the back of the house…aka, the kitchen. Early in the week Christina began “de-cluttering” as she calls it. A ‘de-cluttered’ apartment turns out to be a residual benifit of home entertaining. People who are familiar with my At Home blog and book — At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining — know that I utilize repositionable address labels for organizing my tasks. This is something I developed many years ago for Frog Commissary Catering. So when time comes for Christina to get to work, I give her a sheet of these labels on which I have indicated everything that we will need for each course. She uses these to pull what we need and the label gets affixed. So, for instance, we needed a platter for the crostini hors d’oeuvres. Christina knows that from the label. She picks the platter and places it in the kitchen with its label so I know what it’s for. Organization is the foundation of enjoyable home entertaining and the more organized the hosts, the more enjoyable it is for both hosts and guests.

By Friday evening the table was set and plates, flatware and glassware organized for our six-course dinner.

Friday Afternoon
Shopping is certainly a big part of home entertaining, but if you don’t feel rushed, shopping can be a pleasure and not a chore. My Friday afternoon shopping objectives included picking up the wine from Moore Brothers, trying to track down a better small container for the first course’s cold gingered-beet soup than the ceramic sake cups that we had, buying the green papaya at my favorite Asian market and the fresh-made corn tortillas from Tortilleria San Roman.

Earlier in the week I had emailed the menu to Greg Moore – a Moore brother — with the request to pick a sparkling wine for cocktails and pair wines for dinner. I gave Greg a budget range of no more that $20-$25 a bottle. An email a few days later included Greg’s recommendations. While I knew of none of the wines, I knew that Greg and Moore Brothers have a deep knowledge of the wines they carefully select for their stores.

I had looked online for small glasses with a base that would fit into the cut-out in the little plate I planned to use for the first course. It was there that I discovered  Gourmet of Old City right here at 26 North 3rd Street in Philadelphia. The shop had exactly what I needed — a clear glass sake cup with a small foot.

After swinging by San Roman at 9th & Carpenter to get the best of Philly (at least I think so) fresh corn tortillas,  it was off to Hung Vuong Asian Market on the 1100 block of Washington Avenue. It is in the same shopping center as our favorite Vietnamese restaurant — Nam Phuong. (My second date with Christina some seven years ago was dinner at Nam Phuong and a tour of Hung Voung! Tres romatic.) Hung Voung carries the green papaya I needed for the green papaya slaw that would  accompany the quail and they have it and carrots pre-shredded that makes preparing this salad a snap. I shop at Hung Voung regularly and a week earlier I picked up kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass that I needed for marinating the quail. (Restaurant alert: The grilled quail that I planned to serve was inspired by the roasted quail that Nam Phuong serves.)

Friday Morning
My stroll through the farmer’s market nearly two weeks ago inspired me to serve ratatouille with the veal cheeks. Last Saturday I purchased the requisite ingredients — zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes (I decided to use little orange Sungolds), onion and garlic. They sat quietly in my refrigerator. I didn’t want to make the ratatouille too far in advance, but Friday morning seemed perfectly fine.

I also removed the quail from the marinade and carefully scraped off the kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. I dried the quail and stored them between paper towels to remove any residual moisture.

Thursday Afternoon
I had a long-scheduled meeting at Reading Terminal Market on Thursday afternoon so I knew that I could pick-up cheeses from the Fair Food Farm Stand’s. Fair Food is a pioneer in championing the growing bounty of locally-sourced farm products. The prior Sunday I had picked up at the Head House Farmer’s Market a Fat Cat from Birchrun Hills. That was a start, but I had my eye on a selection of five cheese. If you have not yet discovered the world-class quality of local cheeses, Fair Food is the place to start as well as at farmer’s markets throughout the Delaware Valley.

Thursday morning
I skimmed off the fat from the veal cheek braising liquid and reduced the liquid by about two thirds until it was very concentrated. Yum.

Wednesday
I trimmed the quail and marinated them. I removed the braised veal cheeks from their braising liquid and strained the liquid and refrigerated.

Tuesday
I chopped the kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass for the quail and made the marinade. I made the dressing – essentially the same as the marinade —  for the green papaya salad.

I removed the veal cheeks from their white wine marinade, patted them dry, lightly floured and carefully browned. I divided the cheeks between two pans over a layer of chopped carrots, celery and onion, peeled garlic cloves and  parsley, rosemary and thyme. I added the wine marinade and some additional wine. Next I covered the pans with foil, poked some holes in the foil so the cheeks would braise and not steam and placed in a 250 degree oven. When finished six hours later, the cheeks had shrunk to a little more than half their former size and plumped up. After they cooled in the braising liquid, I transferred the cheeks to a smaller refrigerator-friendly container and strained the braising liquid and refrigerated.

Monday
I chopped the kaffir lime leaves and lemongraas for the quail, made the gingered-beet soup, roasted. peeled, julienned and marinated the sweet peppers for the crostini, chopped the onions, carrot and celery and peeled the garlic for braising the veal cheeks.

The Prior Weekend
I bought the peaches several days ago so that they could ripen. By Saturday weekend they were ripe. I peeled the peaches. As these were the first crop of summer peaches, they are what are called “cling” meaning that the peach flesh clings to the pit. Later in the summer “freestones” arrive. Because these were cling peaches, I had to take particular care  freeing them from their pits without bruising by cutting small wedges and nudging them. Once freed from the pits the peaches were poached in a cardamom-infused syrup. I removed the peaches when they were not quite done as they would continue to cook and I did not want them to become too soft. Once the peaches and liquid had cooled combined and refrigerated.

Sunday began with a trip to the Head House Farmer’s Market where I purchased frozen Griggstown quail. I would have preferred fresh, but practicality took hold as fresh would have required a two plus hour round trip to the Griggstown Farm above Princeton. I picked up the fresh ricotta from Hillacres Pride and found shiso leaves.

The Week Before
Of the six dinner courses, only two curses were hot and only one required actual last-minute cooking. The other could be prepared entirely in advance and just reheated. Before planning the menu I had checked with our dinner guests as to whether there were any food issues. Veal cheeks fit the in advance bill. I first prepared braised veal cheeks some three and a half years ago when I was working on the menu for Christina’s and my wedding at The Franklin Institute.

Unfortunately it is not easy to find veal cheeks. Calling around, I located them at Esposito’s on 9th Street — across from San Roman on Carpenter. Though veal checks are small, I needed only one per person as all the courses in the multi-course meal were meant to be small. The problem is that Esposito’s only sold veal cheeks by the 10-pound case — about 32 veal cheeks for $129. I was mentally committed so I purchased the case, reasoning that I would braise them all and freeze what I did not need for another time.

Preparing veal cheeks is a simple process. The most difficult part is trimming away the “silver skin” that covers the entire of the top side and some of bottom. It takes a very sharp knife, patience and about an hour.  with that accomplished, I rubbed the cheeks with a mixture of toasted crushed fennel and coriander seed and let it sit for two days. Next I added a white Rhone — a viognier — and let them sit another two days.  Veal cheeks are typically marinated and braised in red wine. But I wanted a light summer version. At this point I had been “working on” my veal cheeks for four days, but only about an hour and a half.

One Relaxed Hour
I enjoyed my Saturday. Inevitably there was more to do than I had anticipated but at no point did I feel hassled, out of control and resentful — all feelings that I have known when I have entertained at home without adequate planning and spreading tasks over time. Paul, our wonderful Frog Commissary waiter had arrived. Christina went over the plan for the evening, the wines and I reviewed the menu and the plating plan. By 5:30 I was taking a nap.

A Half Hour Before Guests Arrive
About a half hour before guests arrived I arranged the cold hors d’oeuvre platters, pulled things from the refrigerator, reviewed my course labels and set the charcoal in the grill. Christina appeared in the kitchen with a glass of sparkling wine to get the evening started. Shortly after seven the guests arrived. Christina and I were looking forward to an enjoyable evening.

Hors d’oeuvres and Cocktails
I have two principal dictums for guests. One is do not arrive early. Despite my pleas to plan ahead and spread tasks over time, there are still last minute things for hosts to do so one thing they don’t need to do is to begin entertaining you before the appointed hour. My second dictum is for guests to stay out of the kitchen unless invited.

Our evening began in our living room with the coffee table was invitingly set with champagne glasses, small plates, cocktail napkins and a few cold hors d’oeuvres. As guests arrived we poured the Chinon La Cravantine Vignoble Gasnier Non-vintage, a sparkling French wine (it was Bastille Day) from the Loire with a slightly pink cast. (Note: The two red velvet covered chairs in the photo background come from the Orchestra Boxes of the Academy of Music — a fundraising benefit in return for a contribution Christina made to the Academy some time ago.)

Roasted sweet peppers, marinated in olive oil and garlic on top of a small crostini cut from a ficelle (essentially a small baguette) and topped with white anchovies. White anchovies are available in specialty food stores such as DiBruno’s and online. A little sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley added some color.

Squash blossoms are a beautiful and edible by-product of growing zucchini and other summer squash. Here they are stuffed with a mix of Hillacres Pride ricotta that I picked up at the Head House Farmers Market and mascarpone with some chopped basil, mint, salt and pepper. I used a pastry bag to stuff the flowers.


Last Sunday at Head House I bought a pint of fresh chickpeas. These have a very short local season. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them and they just sat in my refrigerator. I was uninspired. As the dinner approached it was now or never. I blanched the chickpeas and removed them from their pods. This is a slow and tedious process and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert help get this done. I peeled two ripe red tomatoes, seeded and removed the juice and diced. I threw a little olive oil and garlic into a pan, lightly browned the garlic, added the chickpeas and Allepo pepper, cooking until the tomatoes broke down and thickened. I served this cold with a little fresh crab meat and some cooked tomato on top. It sits on a platter on a bed of dried beans to stabilize the little porcelain spoons.

This hors d’oeuvres’s origin was my love of the early summer arrival of garlic scapes — the long green shoots that emanate from hardneck Rocombole garlic. Garlic scapes appear for about a month beginning in late Spring. Usually I just grill them  – sometimes blanching first. But garlic scapes also lend themselves to garlic scape pesto. Ah, but what to put the pesto on? I am a big fan of our local Renaissance Sausage. I was first introduced to them when they operated a truck at Head House where their Breakfast Sausage Sandwich was a Sunday highlight for scores of Society Hill and Queen Village shoppers. I had trouble tracking down the sausage — only able to find vegetarian sausage at Green Aisle Grocery in South Philadelphia. They often have a retail stand in the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market but they had been AWOL for the past several weeks. I sent an email to them and learned that they would indeed return on Saturday as they did. But they had no Italian style pork sausage. I had to settle for their Country Pork Sausage, laden with herbs that were going to compete with my basil-infused garlic scape pesto. Not ideal, but good enough.

Caviar is always a treat. Here I serve it on blini that I had in the freezer — leftover from a Frog Commissary catered event and creme fraiche. The caviar is a California Hackelback — the best barely affordable domestic caviar. With mostly cold hors d’oeuvres, my kitchen time was kept to a minimum. We also had Paul, a wonderful Frog Commissary waiter to help with service. I fully understand that you likely will not have a waiter for your dinner for eight, but the principles of do ahead and lots of room temperature items stand. Having a waiter enabled Christina to hold down the fort with our guests while I was in the kitchen. If were were serving dinner to friends and family Christina would be more able to help serve as would friends and family!

Dinner is served
Shortly before calling guests to dinner I retreated to the kitchen where the elements of each course — what is called mis en place in kitchen parlance — were carefully arranged on an otherwise clear counter. Affixed to the cabinet above the mis en place was a little label that reminded me what went with what. My experience is that the more I have written down the less I have to remember and the more likely I am  do what I planned. (My otherwise marvelously capable late mother was known to find the salad she had prepared for guests still in the refrigerator long after the last guest departed. I am sure had she written down “serve salad she would have avoided this sad outcome.) I started the fire in the little Japanese grill that sits on our fire escape so the charcoal would be ready to grill the quail about an hour into the dinner. I removed the quail from the refrigerator. I dressed the green papaya salad. Removed the cheese from the refrigerator to temper. Placed the veal cheeks and ratatouille in a 300 degree oven to slowly warm. I quickly seared and sliced the tuna for the taco.

Our first course — preset and on the table as guests sat — was inspired by a recent trip to Berlin where at a restaurant named Bandol we had a wonderful dinner and encountered the plate pictured above. (Not that exact plate!) It is hard to understand scale in the photo. The plate, which looks like slate but is actually porcelain, is only slightly bigger than a 3 x 5 card. Upon returning home I tracked them down online at Chef’s Arsenal and ordered ten. This was my first chance to use them. The course included little wedges of pickled — the predominant pickling flavor being star anise – thin-sliced pristine sea scallops that sat for a few hours in fresh orange juice. I dressed the scallops with a little lime juice, a drizzle of peppery olive oil, fresh chives, a crunchy pink sea salt and a few pink peppercorns. The soup was a gingered red beet puree with a tiny chive blossom. All pretty as a picture.

Our wine was a 2011 Roero Arneis “Bricco delle Ciliegie” Giovanni Almonde. From the Piedmont area of Italy, it paired perfectly with the little study in beets and scallops.

I have come to love little tacos. This one was inspired by the shiso leaves that I found at Head House last Sunday. The taco is cut to about a 3 3/4″ size with a circle cutter and lightly warmed in a dry pan to soften. Next a large shiso leaf. Next a relish of two types of cucumbers from Z Food Farm dressed with rice vinegar, a little olive oil and soy sauce. On top of that was the Atlantic tuna that had been cut into 3/4″ square logs and very quickly seared, sliced and arranged on a platter into eight portions. The tuna was topped with a shiso aioli — essentially a garlicky mayonnaise with lots of crushed shiso leaves and finally topped with a  chiffonade of  and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. I know this sounds fabulously complicated but everything was prepared ahead and it took maybe two minutes to assemble these on to waiting plates.

Greg Moore suggested a Nahe Riesling “Lenz” Weingut Emrich-Schönleber 2011. In Germany we came to appreciate Reislings and loved that Greg introduced one for our dinner.

On to the Griggstown Farm quail. As noted above, these had been marinated for two days in a marinade of chopped kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, rice vinegar, palm sugar, fish sauce and a little chili garlic sauce. The green papaya slaw was dressed and ready to go. I just had to grill the quail which took about three minutes. I brush the quail with a little olive oil. In grilling I had to be careful with the quail because the sugar from the marinade which helps color the skin when it caramelizes over the coals, can easily go too far and burn. The cilantro leaves had been picked during the afternoon. To assemble a small mound of green papaya slaw went down on the plate, topped with some crushed peanuts, then the quail and a few cilantro leaves. One hot item and a simple plate.

For the quail Greg suggested a Bardolino, a light fowl-friendly Italian red  — “Becco Rosso” Corte Gardoni 2010

Here are the veal cheeks, set on a small bed of ratatouille with a little corn cake. When I served the quail I had popped the corn cakes into a 350 degree toaster oven. The veal cheeks and ratatouille were hot and sitting happily in a 200 degree oven. I had a very concentrated reduction of the braising liquid that went into the microwave for a minute just before serving. I small spoon of that glazed the veal cheeks just before serving. A few flat leaf parsley leaves — pre-picked from their stems and stored between two damp layers of paper towel — added a touch of color. The veal cheeks were meltingly soft and carried the flavor of the coriander and fennel seed rub beautifully. The plate was 12″ in diameter and had a little “belly” for the food to sit. Nice.

In keeping with the light preparation of the veal cheeks, we served a light French cru BeaujolaisMorgon “Côte de Puy” Domaine de Robert. Perfect.

Our guests loved the cheeses, all produced within fifty miles of where we were sitting. Accompanying the cheeses were Metropolitan Bakery breads, lightly toasted, candied walnuts, a few flatbreads from DiBruno’s and a wonderful apricot butter that I made from local apricots.

For a wine Greg bypassed the obvious third red in favor or a light fortified white that he suggested would work wonderfully for both the cheese and dessert course. Of course, he was right. The wine was a Terres de Fagayra Maury Blanc 2009 from the Languedoc region of southern France. It was uncanny how Greg seemed to channel the menu and select really delightful and interesting wines, perfectly complimenting the food and adding immeasurably to our dining experience.

On our very first date I made lavender ice cream for Christina and it’s always been a favorite of hers. Dessert on a triangular plate included the cardamom-poached peaches, just-picked fat and juicy blackberries from Beechwood Orchards, a gooseberry split in half and, of course, the lavender ice cream. To add a touch of chocolate, I picked up Saturday from DiBruno’s chocolate-covered figs — an unnecessary addition, but what the heck!

The Party’s Over

We certainly had lots of food and wine, but the portions were all quite small and the dinner itself paced over about three plus hours. And here’s the very best part. Having six people to your home (three couples) who you have never met is like a blind date in which you skip the part about having coffee first and go straight to a long evening with no graceful exit if the chemistry isn’t right. Well, the chemistry was as good as the food and wine. Our guests were warm, interesting and engaged. When all was said and done, six strangers who came to our home for dinner in support of a good cause left as our friends.

Election Postscript
I am devoting much of my time between now and November 6th to the Obama Campaign. I am what is called an Obama Fellow — a nice title for “very serious volunteer.” I have some time and made the decision that when I wake up on November 7th I want to feel as though I did all that I could to re-elect President Obama. While I do not agree with everything he has done, I believe the choice is simple and binary — Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Obama needs 270 electoral votes to be re-elected. Pennsylvania is one of a dozen critical battleground states that will determine the outcome of the election. With 20 votes, Pennsylvania has more electoral votes than any of the battleground states other than Florida which has 29. It is difficult to see a path to winning for Obama without winning Pennsylvania.

My focus is the area of Philadelphia called Center City West — where I have lived and worked for more than forty years. I know many blog readers live in Center City West and/or know people who do. The campaign needs volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering in Center City West or know of others, you can email me at steve@athomebysteveposes.com. Otherwise, go to barackobama.com.

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Filed under Entertaining at Home, Family and Friends, Menus, My Life, On the Table

Five Days in Lisbon: Walk. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Day Five

This is the fifth in a series of five posts.
Day One
Day  Two
Day Three
Day Four

Overview: This is the last post about our five days in Lisbon. Unlike the other posts, this will not focus on an area to walk and where to dine. Most of our walking was backtracking over familiar areas. Instead, this post will focus on Lisbon’s wall tiles and graffiti — not many words, mostly photos.

Day Five’s dining highlight was our return to 100 Maneiras, a wonderful restaurant we visited on Day One. There is not much new to say about 100 Maneiras except that of the restaurants we visited, it is the one that I would most strongly recommend to you.

Lisbon’s Wall Tiles and Graffiti
Traveling with camera in hand helps me to look at things more closely. Traveling includes so much visual data that it’s easy to lose the trees through the forest. It’s nice to come back with photo memories, and I have been making a printed book for recent travels using Apple’s iPhoto. But it is the act of seeing in the moment that is most important.

I had imaged a Lisbon of Old World charm based loosely on recollection of a visit some forty-three years ago. My impression was that Lisbon’s building facades were covered with ceramic wall tiles. I found Old World charm and  tiles. But what quickly caught my wandering eye was the graffiti that covered far more of Lisbon’s building’s surfaces than tiles. In the end, the graffiti was more compelling than the tiles.

First, the tiles.

Lisbon is justly famous for its long history and use of ceramic tiles. Ceramic tiles date from the mid-15th Century. Lisbon even boasts a National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo), located in a former convent.  Tile is generally used to cover the lower portion of a building’s wall and add wonderful visual detail to facades.

On occasion you will see large tile murals such as the one pictured above that we came across on our walk up the hill from Baixa to Alfama.

Designs range from old and traditional…

…to more contemporary designs.

Almost without exception tiles are all the same size — squares of about four inches per side.

There are a variety of color palettes.

Most tiles have geometric patterns.

It was only rarely that I found tiles that were more illustrative.

These tiles capture Lisbon’s connection to fish…

…echoed in the fish image of the festival seen on shop windows throughout Lisbon.

Occasionally tiles are infiltrated with ironic humor.

Leo & Pipo have found their way to Lisbon. According to the website The Rathaus, “Since 2008 Parisian duo Leo & Pipo have been wheat pasting nameless characters from bygone eras all over their home town. District by district, rue by rue, Leo & Pipo inject a sense of charm, humor and some historical remembrance to dreary concrete facades; hopefully transporting the viewer to another Paris through a visual time machine.”

Artfully superimposed stickers on traditional tile promote an avant garde art festival.

It was shocking how prevalent graffiti is in Lisbon. (My friend Pascal tells me it is common in cities throughout Europe.) While not every surface is covered with graffiti, you can find graffiti nearly everywhere you look. There do seem to be some unwritten rules about what surfaces are fair game for graffiti, but large, flat, blank walls are prime candidates.

When we visited Lisbon in early June, national elections had just taken place. Portugal is going through very difficult financial times. As a result, there was occasional overtly political graffiti.

More often however, as with graffiti everywhere, graffiti is form of frustrated self-expression…a need to be known..and an expression of institutional alienation.

“i am an artist even though i’m a woman.”

MUSEUMS ARE DEAD. LONG LIVE THE STREETS. In fact we visited only one museum in Lisbon. Most of our time was spent on the streets.

Images of graffiti:

I recommend Lisbon as a place to visit — without reservation — graffiti and all.

Each of our five days in Lisbon was a “bon jour.”

Dining Postscript

There is no single formula for what makes a great dining experience. Great restaurants come in many different forms. But for me, here are some of the key ingredients:

A great restaurant should be specific to a moment in time and place reflected both in its food…appropriate to the season, locale, culture…and design, that is there should be some ineffable sense that this restaurant could only exist right here.

A great restaurant should be warm and welcoming and genuinely express their appreciation that of all the places you could have chosen to dine, you chose them.

The food should be visually appealing without being precious and the flavors clear — whether simple and straightforward or layered and complex. Complexity should not exist for its own sake.

Service should be well-paced and non-intrusive…neither too fast or too slow…not too friendly or too aloof.

For me, a little sense of humor also helps as dining is just not that serious. At 100 Maneiras the meal begins with the dehydrated cod “Clothesline.” Tonight, the Roasted Red Snapper on Curried Shrimp Risotto with Kaffir Lime Foam arrived in a sardine can.

We returned to 100 Maneiras on Saturday night. As 100 Maneiras offers a single 10-course menu each evening, we had asked on our first night whether the menu would change by our last night. When we arrived we discovered that while they had not managed to change to a new menu, they still would create for us our very own menu with only modest repetition from our previous visit.

Part of the energy of 100 Maneiras is a result of each course being turned out to the entire dining room at once from the bar. Clearly the bar was not placed there with this purpose in mind. More likely the bar was there for a previous restaurant occupying the space and 100 Maneiras re-purposed. In designing restaurants, I usually find that constraints of spaces often forced me to find solutions that in the end made the space more interesting that if anything had been possible. I think that works in life as well.

Our second dinner at 100 Maneiras inevitably lacked that joy of discovery of our first Lisbon dinner. We had the misfortune of arriving as a party of twenty revelers were at the tail end of a birthday celebration. The group’s presence overwhelmed the space and interrupted that natural rhythm of service and cordiality. (Many years ago, Philadelphia food critic Jim Quinn wrote a book about restaurants titled Never Eat Out on Saturday Night.) So while our experience did not equal that of our first dinner, we still had a marvelous eating experience…our second best of our trip. In addition to “The Clothesline” and the sardine can pictured above, highlights included Potato Foam with Fois Gras Cake drizzled with Chocolate, Marinated Sardines on Basil Toast, Duck Confit Rolls with Salted Mushrooms & Sweet Chili, a Basil & Mint Sorbet in Champagne, Pork Cheeks with Celery Root & Spinach, a Strawberry Salad with Basil and a faux Strawberry “Cheesecake.” Our wine highlight was a Late Harvest Viognier from Vale D’Algares.

And so ended our final meal and last stop on a wonderful trip to a great city. We walked well. We ate well.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your At Home Coach

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Five Days in Lisbon: Walk. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Day Four

This is the fourth in a series of five posts about visiting Lisbon in early June.

Links to previous days:
Day One
Day  Two
Day Three

Overview: Train from Cais do Sodre station to seaside resort town of Cascais, bus to historic mountaintop town of Sintra, train back to Lisbon’s main train station. Lunch in Cascais at Jardim dos Frangos and dinner back in Lisbon at Sea Me.

Day Four: Walk

No, we’re not in Lisbon anymore. By Day Four — Friday — we were ready for a little outing. Two places nearby Lisbon and worth visiting are the seaside resort of Cascais and the mountaintop town of Sintra. Both are easily accessible from Lisbon in a single day.

The first order of business was to seek out Lisbon’s principal food market, Mercado da Ribeira. Lisbon is not filled with picturesque outdoor food markets. There are many neighborhood hole-in-the-wall shops stocked with vegetable basics, as well as more substantial produce stores and small supermarkets on main streets. Lisbon may well have larger supermarkets, but none that we came across. The main produce market, pictured above, is located across a wide avenue that runs adjacent to the river and across from the transportation hub of Cais do Sodre. While the Festival of St. Anthony that began in earnest on Thursday night contributed to the vibrancy of after dark street life, the national holiday that occurred on Friday resulted in a closed market. Since visiting food markets is one of my favorite activities, the inability to get inside Mercado da Ribeira was a disappointment.

Travel from Lisbon to Cascais is quick and simple. You get a comfortable commuter  train from Cais do Sodre. Trains run frequently and the ride is about forty minutes. From Cascais to Sintra was about an hour bus ride. We returned to Lisbon on the train in less that an hour.

Though only thirty kilometers from Lisbon, Cascais has the distinctive feel of the beach.

Across the street from the train station is the start of a series of compact pedestrian avenues that wind through touristy shops.

Lisbon has a unique quality of Lisbon-ness. You get a sense that this could only be Lisbon. Cascais, on the other hand, feels like it could be almost anywhere — a beach community with charming shops aimed at tourists.

Perfectly pleasant. Not much more.

Situated on the Atlantic Ocean, wide sandy beaches abound.

Cascais was once a little fishing village. Today, fishing boats share the harbor with pleasure craft.

On the point across the harbor is a fortress whose origins date to the Middle Ages.

The fortress was built as a strategic outpost to defend Lisbon.

After spending a few hours wandering through Cascais and having a pleasant lunch, we went to the bus station at the base of the small indoor shopping mall on the opposite side of the train station. Buses leave frequently and the ride to Sintra is just under an hour.

The bus makes frequent stops as it winds its way first along the coast and then up into the mountains north of Cascais. Along the way we passed an outdoor produce market along the side of the road. You are taking what is essentially a commuter bus and part of the interest of the ride, in addition to the scenic beauty, is stopping in the small towns that dot the road as folks get on and off the bus.

Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site by virtue of its 19th Century Romantic architecture.

It was late afternoon by the time we arrived and yours truly was pretty beat. The prior three days of enthusiastic walking up and down and up the hills of Lisbon and our late night fado adventure had taken a toll. So by the time we arrived in Sintra, the idea of walking up what looked like a pretty steep hill to some of Sintra’s vintage sites was more than I was willing to do. The rest of our little group did not protest. So instead of roaming Sintra, we found a stylish restaurant and enjoyed a cool beverage and sweet cake. A short walk to the train station and the forty minute trip back to Lisbon with no regrets. It was good to get out of Lisbon for the day, the seaside was pleasant, and the bus ride to Sintra scenic. As to Sintra itself? Perhaps more of it on another trip.

Unlike the scenic bus ride from Cascais to Sintra, the train from Sintra to Lisbon went through the gritty exurbs and suburbs of metropolitan Lisbon. It is true that my enthusiasm for this day was not what is was for Days One through Three. But the decision to take a day trip, the experience taking the train and bus, spending time at a seaside town and at least getting a brief glimpse of Sintra were all positive. Overall, it was a good day. If we were to do this again we would get an earlier start to the day as we ran out of steam in Sintra.

While our trip started at the Cais do Sodre train station, it ended at Rossio station at the edge of Baixa. From there we walked up the hill into Bairro Alto some R & R before dinner.

Day Four Eat

Overview: At outdoor lunch at Jardin dos Frangos in Cascais and dinner in Lisbon at Sea Me.

Jardin dos Frangos — literal translation: Garden of Chicken — is located on the edge of  “downtown Cascais,” the central tourist area.

Jardin dos Frangos’s specialty is Chicken Piri Piri. Chicken Piri Piri has African roots and comes to Portugal via Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony. Classically in making Chicken Piri Piri the chicken is marinated in a mix of herbs and crushed hot chiles and then grilled. At Jardin dos Frangos, the chicken is simply grilled au natural and the Piri Piri comes via a bottle of chile-infused oil.

Among the other items we sampled were the salt cod fritters and grilled octopus. Seated outdoors under clear blue skies and with pleasant wine and beer to accompany our meal, it added up to a totally pleasant lunch.  Lunch was $30 per person — with the works.

Here is a video of Jardim dos Frangos I found on U-Tube.

Jardim dos Frangos
Grande Guerra , 178, Cascais

Dinner at Sea Me

After after a very long day, we wanted an informal and relatively uncomplicated dinner. Staying close to home also was a dining criteria. We settled on Sea Me, a short walk from our apartment. Officially, Sea Me is at the edge of Bairro Alto, though it identifies itself as being located in the more chic Chaido neighborhood. Sea Me is a strange name for a restaurant in Lisbon that bills itself as a Peixaria Moderna — or modern seafood restaurant.

On this Friday evening of a holiday weekend, we stepped into a stylish and bustling dining room. In the rear is a sushi bar and fresh fish on ice reminiscent of Mercado do Peixe — the very traditional seafood restaurant where we had lunch on Day Two. There is also an open kitchen.

True to its billing, Sea Me’s elements and setting combine to be the very model of a modern seafood restaurant. As with all of the restaurants we visited, a menu in English is available. Star billing went to the sushi items. We began with Tuna Tataki (lightly seared) with Wasabi Ice Cream and Three Generations of Salmon Rolls — salmon eggs, raw salmon and roasted salmon. The wasabi ice cream was savory and packed a pleasant kick. Maybe the highlight of the dinner. The Three Generations of Salmon was unremarkable. If you end up using these posts as a guide, order the former and skip the latter.

As Noah is now working the tempura station at Morimoto, we wanted to try Sea Me’s tempura. Fine. Not remarkable. We also shared two Panko-crusted Deep-fried Rolls. The roll on the left is Acapulco Tuna with Peppermint & Pineapple and the one on the right will remain unidentified. In general, my preference is for more traditional, less showy sushi.

Next came a platter of Assorted Sashimi and a platter of Half-cured Codfish with House Seasonings. Both were fine if unremarkable.

We didn’t stick just to items from the sushi bar. Here are Seared Scallops with Mango & “Fleur de Sel.” Scallops and fruit are not my favorite combination, but since I was in charge of ordering for the table, I have no one to blame for this selection other than myself.

A sucker for sausage in any form, I found the Grilled Seafood Sausage to be excellent.

My guess is that you could deep-fry an old sock and I would like it. That is not to suggest that Sea Me’s Ninja Seafood Fritters has any relationship to an old sock; only that they were deep-fried and therefore, my standard of excellence was not that high. They came with a sweet-sour ponzu sauce.

We shared two desserts including a Portuguese Creme Brulle — hard to tell what made it Portuguese — and Three Ice Creams: Pumpkin, Ferre Roche (chocolate) and Sweet Rice. The playful presentation included a sprig of rosemary, a thin cookies and a fresh gooseberry.

Portuguese wines included a 2010 Alvarinho from Muros de Melagaco; a 2009 Quinta de Bacalha, a white blend of semillion, alvarinho and sauvignon blanc; and a 1998 Madeira from H.M. Borges.

Dinner at Sea Me with beer, wine and gratuity was $75US per person. So what did I think? Service was perfunctory, the food mostly very good though not extraordinary. I liked the menu variety with its mix of sushi-inspired dishes and modern seafood dishes though it added up to nothing that you would not experience in Asian-Japanese fusion restaurants across the planet. There was nothing especially Portuguese in its approach. There were restaurants that we didn’t try that I would go to before I went back to Sea Me. But that is not to say that Sea Me was disappointing. Given that I don’t know how good other interesting Lisbon restaurants are, I have no problem recommending Sea Me. While it was not trying to be 100 Maneiras or Alma, with their carefully orchestrated tasting menus, I found those restaurants distinctive and memorable in a way that Sea Me was not.  Here is a link to a NY Times article that covers several of the restaurants we visited and several that we did not. Lisbon’s Culinary Golden Age?

Sea Me Peixaria
Rua do Loreto, 21, Bairro Alto

www.peixariamoderna.com/

Coming on Day Five: Our Day Five walk was spent backtracking over some of the same neighborhoods covered on Days One through Four. There surely were other neighborhoods to visit, but we had seen enough. Instead of re-capping our Day Five walk, Day Five’s post will focus on Lisbon’s ceramic wall tiles and graffiti. It will be mostly images with not much narrative and I hope you enjoy the photos. On Day Five we had an ordinary lunch at an outdoor cafe on the wide plaza along the river in Baixa. For dinner, we returned to 100 Maneiras. I will briefly review dinner at 100 Maneiras but to do so at length would be repetitive.

Thank you for visiting,

Steve
Your At Home Coach

P.S. I was on the 10! Show last Thursday plugging Franklin Foodworks, our restaurant at The Franklin Institute and the current Mummies exhibit. Naturally enough given Mummies, I demonstrated a wrap. Here is the link.

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5 Days in Lisbon: Walk. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Day Three

This is the third in a series of five posts.
Day One
Day  Two

Overview: On our third day we explored Chaido, a neighborhood that is adjacent to Bairro Alto. Lunch was at a traditional Portuguese restaurant two blocks from our apartment. An early dinner at the highly regarded Alma. A late night stroll through Alfama to discover fado.

We had perfect weather during our five-day June visit to Lisbon. Each day the skies were clear and blue with occasional wisps of clouds. Temperatures were warm and humidity low. Perfect walking weather. Day Three was the midway point in our five-day trip. By Day Three we were beginning to feel at home. We loved our street and our neighborhood. We were comfortable in our apartment.  The path to and from was now familiar. Day Three was our sweet spot. Day Four – the day before we have to leave — will likely be filled with anticipatory sadness of that accompanies endings.

By Day Three we were also clear that we enjoyed one an others traveling company. From an early age Noah and I had traveled extensively together from Bangkok to London, Jamaica and the Virgin Islands to Boston, LA and Seattle. And then there was Las Vegas — Noah’s favorite place  — where we visited many times including celebrating his twenty-first birthday. Christina traveled the world in her capacity as Managing Director of White Oak Dance Company. But our world travel together was limited. Because of my weight and the difficulty I had walking for hours on end, my mobility was more limited than either of us would have wished on our travels together. The loss of seventy pounds since Thanksgiving, coupled with five day-a-week travels to the gym has transformed my traveling life as it has so many other things. So the three of us were reasonably in sync with our walk, eat, sleep, repeat routine. Life is good.

Day Three Walk: Chaido

Our Day Three walk was mildly informed by some shopping goals. I say mildly because mostly what we wanted was a few destination to define our path rather than any compelling need for more stuff. Lisbon is more a walker’s paradise than a shopper’s paradise. Noah wanted a Portuguese cookbook — but not in Portuguese. I noted a shop that carried cutlery. Christina’s shopping interests included linens, china/silver and gloves. Using my iPad, I plotted a “shopping route” through Chaido and off we went.

Largo de Camoes (Camoes Square) is the transition point between our neighborhood of Bairro Alto and Chaido, the adjacent neighborhood.

Across Largo Square on Rua Garrett, a pedestrian only thoroughfare, are several cafes with outdoor seating. Rua Garrett is Chaido’s main street.

Among the cafes is A Brasileira, one of Lisbon’s oldest. This was were Christina and Noah had their late morning coffee. Rua Garrett crosses Rua do Alcecim, the street that leads down to the river to the Cais do Sodre transportation hub and the Ribeira Food Market that is across the street from Cais do Sodre.

Chaido is noted in guidebooks as Lisbon’s most chic neighborhood. “Most chic” is a relative term. One of the things I like most about Lisbon is its general lack of pretense. While there are places that would qualify as chic nearly anywhere such as Largo, last night’s restaurant, in general I would not characterize Lisbon, including Chaido, as chic.

Flower stalls do not line Lisbon’s sidewalks, but here is a lovely flower shop.

Ourivesaria Alianca is a fine jewelry shop on Rua Garrett that called out to Christina.

Many shop windows displayed the signature “sardine” of the Festival of Lisbon

Walking a new city is a process of exploration and discovery. What’s over this hill?

And what awaits around the corner?

Or up those stairs?

Chaido runs from high on a hill…

…down to the waterfront and Cais do Sodre, an important transportation hub. The hills add immeasurably to Lisbon’s interest.

This building is not typical. Most of the buildings are far simpler with mostly stucco facades painted in neutral colors.

Occasionally you see buildings painted with vivid colors.

When I began walking with my camera’s eye, I thought I would focus on Lisbon’s wall tiles. I did this, but I began to be visually intrigued by the ubiquitous graffiti. Day Five’s post will focus on Lisbon’s wall tiles and graffiti.

Our walk down through Chaida lead us down to the edge of Baixa.

Returning to Chaido on the way back to our apartment in Bairro Alto, we came upon this cafe dramatically positioned in a courtyard. You just can’t do it all, so after a brief peek, we headed home to rest for dinner. As for our shopping goals, not too successful, but that hardly mattered.

Day Two Eat: Lunch at 1 de Maio, a traditional neighborhood restaurant in Bairro Alto and dinner at Alma, a high style in the Santos neighborhood.

The rhythm of our days and evenings placed walking in the afternoon. Mornings were about sleeping…at least for some of us. It was rare we made it out of our apartment before late morning. Breakfast was mostly just coffee and maybe some fruit so we could have lunch early enough in the day to have a big block of time to walk and explore.

On our third day we wanted a light, local and inexpensive lunch. We settled on 1 de Maio, a few blocks from our apartment. Bairro Alto’s back streets are filled with small restaurants, bars and fado clubs.

1 de Maio offers simple, traditional Portuguese fare and was exactly what we had in mind.

Part of the joy of dining is sampling wines unlikely to be available in your own neighborhood restaurant. Here we enjoyed an inexpensive Portuguese red blend with the curious name of .com. The wine’s producer is Tiago Cabaco, from Estremoz, in the Alentejo region. Its principal grape is the local Touriga Nacional. Just right for lunch.

1 de Maio, Rua da Atalia, 8, Bairro Alto

Dinner at ALMA
Lisbon has no shortage of restaurant choices. We had narrowed our focus to non-traditional, high style restaurants offering modern interpretations of Portuguese food. That still left us with more options than our five-day schedule allowed and since we had decided to return to 100 Maneiras on our final evening, we were down to two dinners. As we had not made a decision before starting our day, it was not until we returned from our afternoon walk that we began to identify our dinner destination. We settled on Alma, on most lists of “Best Restaurants.” When we called for a reservation, we learned that the only time available was relatively early in the evening. After our fairly light lunch and long walk, early seemed OK. As it turned out, early also enabled us to have a post-dinner fado adventure.

Alma’s chef-owner is Henrique Sa Pessoa, one of a small band of young Lisbon chef’s who have updated Lisbon’s traditional restaurant scene. Trip Advisor ranks Alma #9 of 584 restaurants. (100 Maneiras is ranked #2.) It is one of a handful of restaurants that gets mentioned in multiple Lisbon guides and articles. We sat directly under the cloud in the photo — the cloud slowly rotates. Alma is sleek, but combined the best qualities of chic that we experienced the previous evening in Largo, with more of the intimacy of 100 Maneiras.

While 100 Maneiras served their excellent bread in a homey burlap satchel, Alma’s bread service was more elegant and elaborate and included salt-dusted flatbreads, herb-topped focaccia and a crusty white bread along with an excellent olive oil. Alma offers two prix fixe menus. One is a “traditional” menu by Almas standards — a sort of “best of” menu — and the other more avant-garde. Christina and I opted for the former and Noah the latter. At dinner’s end, we all agreed we preferred the more traditional Alma menu.

Everyone began with an amuse bouche of seared scallop, cauliflower puree and salmon roe. An amuse bouche — literally “amuses or entertains the mouth” – is a small sort of pre-dinner course, plated and more substantial than an hors d’oeuvre and less substantial than a “first course.” Our amuse-bouche set the tone for the artful and delicious meal that followed. It did occur to me that as lovely and delicious as this was, I think of cauliflower as a distinctively winter vegetable though here we were in early June. To me, serving food that is in sync with the season is fundamental to fine dining.

With our amuse bouche we greatly enjoyed a crisp Filipa Pato 3B Sparkling Rose. Filipa Pato is a premium Portuguese wine maker. The 3B stands for Barraida, the region the wine is produced that sits just south of the famous Douro region and the mix of Bical white grapes and Barga red grapes that make up the wine. It was an elegant start to an elegant meal.

I loved our first course. A small piece of pan-seared cod filet was nestled on a chickpeas puree, spinach and roasted tomato and surrounded by chickpeas with just the barest amount of broth at the bottom of the pool. Partly what made this dish so enjoyable was that the chickpeas puree, spinach and roasted tomato are hidden by the cod filet and you only discover them once you have started eating. Food can be fun when not everything is revealed from the beginning.

I know very little about Portuguese wine. I simply asked the wine waiter to pick local wines for us that were neither the least or most expensive and that worked with what we ordered. With this course we had a 2010Reisling from Qunita de Sant’Ana, Marfa. 

Sous-vide cooking is all the rage in the exalted world of gastronomy. Sous-vide translates in French to “under vacuum.” The food to be cooked is vacuum sealed in a plastic bag. It is then submerged in a temperature controlled water bath at relatively low constant temperature for a long period. The goal is to evenly cook the food throughout while retaining all the food’s essential moisture and flavor. The pork loin was held at 154 degrees Farenheit for 24 hours. Before serving it was quickly finished in 400 degree oven to create a slight crust. The result was a tender piece of meat uniformly pink throughout but for its dark outer robe. Our pork loin, served on slate, was accompanied by sweet potato puree complete with dramatic sweep, bok choy, orange segments and roasted squash. All very good. Not great.

The wine was a red blend: 2007 Lima Mayer Red Blend from Alentejano  includes Syrah, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon

The highlight of Noah more avant-garde entrée was a stylish take on stuffed rigatoni, standing guard around a beef filet. There is an aspect of fine dining for me that is scouting for ideas. I loved how they served the rigatoni and made a mental note to try to use it or some upcoming Frog Commissary catered event.

Following our “entrée,” we were served a tangerine sorbet with fresh tangerine segments in bottom.

Our choice of dessert was a warm pear tart with goat cheese ice cream, raspberry, blueberry sliced in half, micro purple and green mint. The pear tart was perfectly executed, though seemed more appropriate for fall or winter. As an at-home ice cream maker, I was thrilled with the goat cheese ice cream.

But the detail I loved most was the severed blueberry that leaned against the raspberry. Yes, a bit precious, but it worked for me. I never thought to cut a blueberry in half to serve it. Something else to remember.

Dinner ended with chocolate truffles and a tiny chocolate cake. Overall it was a wonderful dinner. The second best we had during our Lisbon holiday. It was not quite up to the calvalcade of flavors we experienced at 100 Manieras, nor did it have the same warmth and slightly frantic enthusiasm. In fairness, that was not Alma’s goal. 100 Maneiras provides a 10 course tasting menu and several of the course had multiple tastes. Because it was all well-paced and the food at a uniform high level, the experience was not overwhelming. Alma provided refined dining in a comfortably elegant setting.

Alma
Calcada Marques de Abrantes, 92, Phone: 213 96 3527

What do Lisbon restaurants cost?
You can eat inexpensively in Lisbon. That was not our objective. Christina and Noah enjoy and appreciate great food.  Of course, so do I. It is a core pleasure of traveling. When we dine out we do not focus on price — except when it comes to wine. I suspect that expensive dining in Lisbon is less expensive than comparable restaurants in other European capitals or New York and comparable to Philadelphia. Certainly a part of the cost is the US Dollar to Euro exchange rate at about $1.40US to the Euro. Thanks to Christina’s careful record keeping, here are the per person prices of our Lisbon dinners. Remember, much of this is a result of prodigious amounts of food and wine and we tip well. You can dine at any of these places for less. And I would say that 100 Maneiras 10 course tasting menu (the only menu they offer) was a bargain at 35 Euros — about $50.

Per person with all amounts in US dollars. Day One: 100 Maneiras $142 Day Two: Mercado do Peixe $72 and Largo $78 Day Three: Alma $91 Day 4: SeMe $76 Day Five: 100 Maneiras $120

A Fado Adventure

Fado is to Lisbon’s music what sardines are to Lisbon’s food. Fado, which dates back to the early 1800’s, is a traditional form of music linked to the Portuguese word saudade which is a feeling of loss. Its lyrics and melodies are mournful. Throughout Bairro Alto and Alfama are fado clubs and bars. Some of the larger venues incorporate full restaurants and you can make an evening of fado and dinner. These tend to be more directed to tourists though may feature leading fado performers. We opted for something more authentic.

Because we had to make an early dinner reserevation, the night was still reasonably young when we departed Alma. And since fado does not really heat up until round 11 PM, the time was right. We had asked at 1 de Miao where to find fado, explaining that we did not want a large, touristy venue. He suggested a small fado bar in Bairro Alto named A Tasca do Chico. (I had previously reported that this advice came from 100 Maneiras, but looking at my notes suggests otherwise. You probably don’t care about this correction but I like to keep the record straight.) A tasca is an inexpensive bar. So we took a cab from the Santos neighborhood of Alma back to Bairro Alto to hunt for Tasca do Chico. When we found a nearly empty tasca, we discovered that they offer fado on Monday and Wednesday evenings. And since this was Thursday evening, no fado. They did suggest we visit their “sister” establishment in Alfama where there was Thursday night fado.

We took a cab to the lower reaches of Alfama. It turned out that the Feast of St. Anthony celebration began in earnest this evening — Thursday. As we drove along the river through Baixa and into Alfama, we passed expanses of amusement rides and the other trappings of celebration. The cab suggested we get out at a small square at the base of Alfama that included a series of food stands as driving up into Alfama is difficult.

This is the view as we walked past the square and began the trek up the narrow streets of Alfama in search of fado.

Wherever you turned, people were celebrating.

Naturally, grilled sardines featured prominently.

A ten minute walk brought us to Alfama’s Tasca do Chico. It was a small, dark, packed and friendly bar. We arrived around 10:30 PM. Apparently there are different levels of fado singers ranging from highly regarded and well-paid professionals who work in the large fado venues to less established professionals and serious amateurs. Fado bars like the one we were in had several of whom we assume were the less established professionals. It turned out they also provided a sort of “open mike” for amateurs.

Sharing tables is apparently a fado ethic. We found three seats at a table in the rear across from the service bar. Our table mates were a dad, mom and 13-year-old daughter — spending a night out with her parents because Friday was a national holiday. And thus began our fado adventure. Dad was especially friendly and though he spoke little to no English and we spoke little to no Portuguese (despite my Peace Corps training in Brazil some 43 years ago), he engaged us — and especially Christina in long and animated conversation. First, he loved fado. He grew up in Alfama and though he no longer lives here, he returns often…for fado. His wife was no less friendly, but was less willing to engage in the succession of words and hand signals that were the basis of his conversation with Christina. They invited us to share their food – delicious fresh cooked spicy sausage. We bought them drinks. We learned of his life, that his wife’s name was also Christina,and about his grown children. Our conversation took place between fado sets. Though the photo above is not great, perhaps you can make out the gentleman standing in the center. He was both the emcee and prime singer. For us, the most exciting part of the evening was when our table mate and new friend arose and took center stage and sang. You just never know what’s going to happen when you walk into a fado bar.

Tasca do Chico
Rua dos Remedios, 83, Alfama
Also, Rua do Diario de Notecias, 39, Bairro Alto

By day, our Bairro Alto neighborhood was sleepy. Night was quite another story. And especially Thursday night at the start of the Festival of St. Anthony. Upon returning home around 12:30AM, I stood on our small second floor balcony overlooking the narrow street and watched a continuous wave of mostly young people pour into Bairro Alto — attracted by the one another and the neighborhood’s bars, restaurants. On our block alone there were more than a thousand people. It was interesting to get up in the morning, return to the balcony to see the street littered with abundant debris from the night’s revelry and then the efficient crew of blue-clad street cleaners sweep and wash down the street. By mid-morning Rua do Norte was returned to its quiet and tidy self.

Coming on Day Four: A trip to Cascais and Sintra and dinner at Sea Me.

Thank you visiting,

Steve
Your At Home Coach

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5 Days in Lisbon: Walk. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Day Two.

This is the second of five posts. View Day One.

Overview: After a good night’s sleep, lunch at Mercado do Peixe, a traditional Portuguese fish restaurant, a long walk through Baixa and Alfma and dinner at Largo, a modern Portuguese restaurant in Chaido.

We arrived in Lisbon Tuesday morning after our overnight flight from Philadelphia. Day 1 was active, but “close to home” and ended with a wonderful dinner a few blocks from our apartment. By 11PM — that’s 4AM Philadelphia time, we were ready for a good night’s sleep. Wednesday morning — Day 2 — greeted our rested trio with bright blue skies and mild temperatures. The earliest riser, I made myself coffee in the apartment. On a chair that straddled our living room and the narrow balcony that overlooked the street, I alternately read the New York Times on my iPad and watched the neighborhood wake from slumber.

Sleepy heads Noah and Christina held out for their late morning repast at a local bar. All coffee comes from the espresso machine and espresso is the default coffee. What Americans consider “regular coffee” is an Americano — a double espresso diluted with hot water. Here Noah goes for a straight double espresso.

Day 2 Walk: Baixa and Alfama

We set out on Day 2 to conquer the Citadel that overlooks Lisbon across the lower city from Bairro Alto — and stroll through Alfama, the neighborhood that sits stretched from the base of the citadel down to the waterfront. St. George’s Castle was the Moor’s fortress until conquered by the Second Crusade in 1147.

Despite a long gaze by Noah, Christina and myself, we were confounded by how this street performer — one of many — stayed suspended in the air. We began our post-lunch march through Baixa or the lower city — a flat area that sits between the hilltop neighborhoods of Bairro Alto and Alfama. Baixa is Lisbon’s commercial “downtown” shopping district and includes a mix of offices, shops, restaurants, some residential. It also is the principal transportation hub. Baixa is the area of the highest concentration of tourists.

The central avenue — Rua Augusta — is for pedestrians only and leads down to the river. It is paved with patterned black and white stones that often give a distinctive feel to Lisbon’s walkways.

As in cities around the world, streets are shared with pigeons.

The terminus of Rua da Prata is punctuated by massive arches that lead to a wide plaza and the river beyond. A left turn headed us up a long hill toward Alfama.

As we climbed ever higher glimpses of the the wide river on which Lisbon sits peak between buildings.

We wound our way up narrow and winding streets. Here we came across a small neighborhood plaza where we rested with cold beverages at a neighborhood watering hole..

Looking down from the massive walls of the Castle of St. George to Baixa, where we began our walk, we had a sense of how high we traveled and could imagine the sense of domination felt by 12th Century rulers of Lisbon in the Middle Ages.

Admission to The Castle is 5 Euro (about $7 US). The above photo taken within The Castle…priceless. There is a white tablecloth restaurant housed within the walls of the castle that would make for a nice lunch — though better would be to have lunch at one of the restaurants that dot the streets of Alfama.

At the foot of The Castle sits the core of Alfama — Lisbon’s oldest and most picturesque neighborhood. It was historically home to fisherman and the poor. In 1755, Lisbon experienced one of the most destructive earthquakes in world history. The quake was followed by a tsunami and fire claiming the lives of nearly 900,000 people. Much of Alfama was spared. As a result, Alfama retains its character of compact winding streets punctuated by small public squares.

What is most wonderful about neighborhoods like Bairro Alto and Alfama is that they are extraordinarily lively by virtue of the people who live there and not the people who visit there. Unlike lots of tourist-centric areas where it feels like a show is being created for tourists, here you feel that you a bearing witness to the day-to-day life of people who live here. And they are perfectly happy to share.

Our visit to Lisbon coincided with the annual July festival of St. Anthony. This festival sits in the middle of a two month-long Festas de Lisboa. For that festival, the sardine was embraced as its symbol.

Throughout the city were a series of sardine-inspired images created by local artists.

A small convenience market is nestled beneath apartments.

The Alfama neighborhood is the heart of the St. Anthony’s festival that begins in earnest on Thursday evening and runs through the weekend.

Lisbon wears its patina of age with grace. It was the general lack of glitz that I enjoyed most about Lisbon.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My eye found this all quite beautiful.

After nearly four hours of walking from Baixa, up a long hill to The Castle and up and down the hilltop of Alfama, we opted for public transport home. The No. 28 tram — shared by residents and tourists — connects Alfama on the north, down the hill through the edge of Baixa and back up the hill to Chaido and Bairro Alto and neighborhoods beyond. Note the “sardines” on the front of the tram.

We got off in Bairro Alto and walked a few short block to our Lisbon home. Above is the balcony of our second floor apartment. Time to rest before dinner.

A note about our apartment rental
As mentioned in Day 1’s post, I identified the apartment and rented it entirely over the internet including paying a small deposit. The few questions that I had were promptly answered via email. Upon our arrival at the airport in Lisbon we called a number and spoke to the person who would later meet us at the address, provide access to the apartment as well as a brief orientation to the neighborhood and Lisbon. The balance of our rent was due and payable in cash. A security deposit was accepted on a credit card. This person was also our contact should we have any questions or problems. While linens were included, we called our contact to inquire how to secure more towels without a response. We didn’t try very hard as it was not an urgent problem, but it was of some concern that we did not get a response. There was adequate kitchen paraphernalia and we could have cooked, but we choose not to. Overall, we loved our apartment. While an apartment does not come with the same level of daily making the bed and bed-turn down that a hotel would offer — no mints on the pillow, its benefits including cost far outweighed the sybaritic pleasures of a hotel.

Day 2 Eat: Mercado do Peixe and Largo
Our daily plan was a light breakfast, a modest lunch and then dinner as the evening’s entertainment. But my life’s motto is: Have a plan and be flexible. Since we wanted to “save” our dinners for modern Portuguese restaurants, in order to accommodate a recommended traditional restaurant we “upgraded” Day 2’s lunch plan. Our lunch turned out to be the culinary highlight of our day.

Mercado do Peixe
We had asked our friendly waitress at 100 Maneiras for her suggestions as to where to dine and where to listen to Fado, the traditional Portuguese songs of melancholy. (More about Fado in Day 4’s post.)  One of the places she suggested was Mercado do Peixe for traditionally prepared seafood. Mercado do Peixe translates as Market of Fish.

Our expectation was an informal place set in a fish market. After a long cab ride (about $15 US) we were surprised to find a somewhat formal though unpretentious restaurant. The restaurant is located adjacent to a forest area call Monsanto, located on the outskirts of central Lisbon. A comfortable dining room was half filled with customers who appeared to be local business folks — mostly male. The windows that line the dining room look out on to the parking lot. So, the view outdoors isn’t so great.

The view was all about the fish. While it was not the informal fish market with stalls, fresh fish and seafood on ice were the centerpiece. Lunch began with a casual walk-by of the day’s catch.

There is a hierarchy of waiters. The guys in blue take the orders and the guys in white bring the food. The guys in blue speak English.

A large tank hold live spiny lobsters was not just for show.

We quickly abandoned our light lunch plan and since we had totally skipped breakfast, this beginning was a sort of breakfast for us. We started with a local cured ham. Noah went for a local beer and Christina went of the wine. I was holding off on my “alcohol calories” until dinner…but for a glass of port at the end of lunch.

The ham sat in the traditional stand and sliced paper-thin by hand.

We also went for the Amanteigado, a local semi-soft raw sheep’s milk cheese. To eat the Amanteigado, you pry off the top “crust” and dig in. It is accompanied by excellent rolls.

This is not fancy food. There is nothing stacked high on slate or on gigantic plates with lots of white space. Mercado do Piexe simply offers fresh seafood. Nearly everything is grilled over charcoal — a touch of olive oil, salt and peppers and an optional squeeze of lemon.

To get started we shared a plate of small local butter-poached u-peel shrimp. Then we got down to serious eating with langoustine.

Onward to platter after platter — grilled sardines, squid, octopus and a local cousin to red snapper pictured above. Yes, of course we would like a mixed salad with tomatoes and onion. Christina and Noah often feign displeasure at the quantity of food I order for us…and then dig in leaving nary a morsel.

The real show is the central grill with all male cooks. Off to the side is the “prep kitchen” — apparently a women’s place.

Portugal is famous for its pastries and the main streets are lined with pastry shops. We ended our meal at Mercado do Peixe with a Pastel de Nata, a traditional Portuguese pastry that is offered in pastry shops and coffee bars throughout Lisbon. The Pastel de Nata is a small baked tart made with a flaky dough resembling puff pastry and filled with an egg custard. It traces its origins to the late 18th Century and Catholic nuns in Belem, a Lisbon neighborhood .

Mercado do Peixe
Estrada Prado Teixeira, 78

21.361.60.70

We are what you might call “food troopers.” Despite a prodigious lunch, after our long walk and rest, we were ready for dinner! But where to eat? Included on our list of internet and guidebook generated restaurant possibilities was Largo. It is located in Chaido. Chaido is a neighborhood that shares the hill occupied by Bairro Alto and about a five-minute walk from our apartment. Its proximity moved it to the top of our list as our daily quota of walking was nearly full.  Chaido is considered Lisbon’s most chic neighborhood. We can handle a little chic. We called to see if we could get a table in 15 minutes and were told yes so off we went.

Largo occupies a former cloister. By any standard, it’s chic in that sort of international language of chic-dom. The space is architecturally dramatic — more so than any of the other restaurants we visited. Largo’s food was fine. The experience not unpleasant. But it is interesting to contrast our experience in this chic Chaido boite with the prior night’s experience at 100 Maneiras.

The two spaces could not have been more different. 100 Maneiras is pictured above. The modesty of 100 Maneiras contributed to its warmth and intimacy. By contrast, instead of warmth, Largo provided a cool elegance. At 100 Maneiras, the diner is central and the setting a pleasant backdrop. At Largo, the setting is central. My first restaurant job was in 1971 for Peter von Starck at La Panetiere, an elegant French restaurant here in Philadelphia. It was forty years ago and I was the busboy. Peter loved his restaurant most before the guests arrived. He loved the large crystal chandelier that dominated the center of his dining room. He loved that the walls were painted with subtle variations of greys and taupes. He loved the abundant flowers (Peter taught me to arrange the flowers) and the sparkling silverware and glassware (both of which I polished) and the fine china. Customers…not so much. The heart and soul of the restaurant business is hospitality by which I mean creating a sense of welcome and warmth. Yes, in fine dining style counts…artful design to compliment artful food. But in the careful balancing act of fashioning a restaurant, the sizzle can overwhelm the steak. For me, such was the case with Largo.

Sitting at my desk in Philadelphia some weeks after visiting Lisbon it is of note that I seem to not have any photographs of Largo including the food. The image of the restaurant I took from their website.

Largo
Rua Serpa Pinto 10, Chaido
21.347.7225

Coming on Day 3: Walk: Chaido. Eat: Lunch at 1 de Maio, a modest traditional Portuguese restaurant in Bairro Alto and dinner at Alma, an excellent modern Portuguese restaurant. Fado in Alfama.

Thank you for visiting,

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach (and occasional travel advisor)

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5 Days in Lisbon: Walk. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Day One.

This is the first post in a series of five.

World travel is among life’s great joys. In early June, Christina, my son Noah and I spent five wonderful days in Lisbon. I visited Lisbon some forty plus years ago with vague fond memories deep in the recesses of my mind. Christina had been there far more recently and identified it as an “under-rated,”  friendly and accessible city that provided relative travel value despite its Euro-based currency.

I consider myself a “good enough” traveler. I like to cover a fair amount of ground, but am not obsessive about it. I am more interested in getting a walking sense of place and people than in site-hopping. I prefer doing too little to too much. I understand that there is always one more site to see, neighborhood to visit, meal to enjoy. And naturally, my primary way to understand a place and people is through food. Eating is central to my travels.

My early interest in cooking was kindled by the remarkable Time-Life Foods of the World series published in the late 1960’s. Far more than just cookbooks, this series placed a people’s food in the context of place and culture. The books were carefully curated including recipes developed by some of the world’s great chef-journalists. You subscribed to the series and every now and then a new volume would arrive and with it, a ticket to another country. Well, not an actual ticket but you get my point. Before I ever got on to a plane, this is how I traveled. Though long out of print, the series can be found in used book stores and online. I strongly recommend these books.

In advance of our Lisbon trip I bought four Lisbon guidebooks and began internet research. My information goal was to just get a general lay of the land… and identify where to eat. The problem with guidebooks is that they tend to be too comprehensive for me. Though they compensate for this with “Top 10’s” and “Best of’s,” I still find them overwhelming. Trip Advisor leads the internet and is useful in separating the wheat from the chaff. However, the internet’s “the wisdom of crowds” can become mob rule. Who is it that writes these individual reviews? And as you peel deeper into the opinion-laden internet you often find contradictory “reviews.” The New York Times travel section includes a recent 36 Hours in Lisbon and we found that useful…though 36 hours represented just 30% of our total trip. What I ideally want are well-curated choices from a friend whose taste I trust who has been there and done that. That’s what I hope the these posts about visiting Lisbon accomplishes.

Naturally, this series will be most interesting to folks planning a Lisbon trip. If that’s not you, I hope you pass it along to others you know who may be planning a trip. The posts will be a series of five, one for each day.

Day 1

Overview: Settling into our apartment in Bairro Alto, walking through our “home neighborhood” and an unexpectedly great dinner at 100 Maneiras.

An overnight flight from Philadelphia landed us at Lisbon’s Portela Airport in the morning. The airport is fairly close to central Lisbon and after a customs crawl, a 15 minute cab ride delivered us near our apartment in Bairro Alto. I say near our apartment because Bairro Alto is an old neighborhood of narrow streets — many of which provide only limited access to vehicles including our cab. Because there were three of us, a hotel would have required two rooms with the associated cost. An apartment was less expensive, more comfortable and much more “family-friendly” with its living room and kitchen.

This is the front door of our building. There are a number of internet-based apartment rental sites. My guidebook research helped me identify our “ideal neighborhood” and the sites provide search by neighborhood as well as cost, number of bedrooms and amenities. We booked online through www.rent4days.com/Lisbon-apartments.

By the time we got through customs, collected our bags, arrived at our apartment and got settled, it was late morning. After a long flight though five time zones, first days can be a challenge. I got only a few hours sleep on the plane so the temptation is to sleep first. Seasoned travel advisors suggest this is a mistake and set as the goal switching to life on local time as quickly as possible…when in Lisbon, sleep when the Lisboetas sleep! Fortunately, the excitement of arrival offsets the fatigue of travel. I was the first of our group to venture out to a nearby produce shop for some fruit for  breakfast — pictured above in our spacious and comfortable living room.

Walk — Day One
On our first day’s walk prudence and fatigue lead us to stay close to home. Fortunately, home was the lively neighborhood of Bairro Alto.  Bairro is the Portuguese word for neighborhood and alto refers to high. Lisbon is built on a series of serious hills.

Here is the panorama from from a small park at the edge of Bairro Alto — essentially a cliff overlooking Baixa with a view of hills across the way and “The Castle” perched on the distant hill. Baixa — Lower — refers to the neighborhood that sits at the center of central Lisbon — a sort of flat basin between hills that leads down to the River Tejo. Lisbon’s hills and valleys serve to create a series of distinctive neighborhoods and provide central Lisbon its particular urban street character. The primary areas we encountered over our five days included Bairro Alto, Chaido, Baixa and Alfama. We also took a day trip to seaside town of Cascais and hilltop town of Sintra.

Chaido is a modestly chic shopping district adjacent to Bairro Alto. Chaido starts high up on a hill and leads down to Baixa and the river. Baixa is the broad expanse of “downtown” Lisbon. Alfama is the old neighborhood of narrow streets that sits at the base of the ancient Moorish castle. While it takes some serious endurance, you can stroll from Barrio Alto, down to Baixa and up to Alfama in a few hours.

These hills are so steep that neighborhoods are connected by elevators and trams though the intrepid walk.

We mostly were intrepid. We walked for hours each day and though we ate very well, I actually lost a pound during our trip.

Lisbon, the capital of Portugal is a city of about a half million people within Lisbon proper. The streets and neighborhoods of Lisbon are incredibly vibrant. It has an old world, low-rise character with only the rare building more than four or five stories.

For a short time in my life I spoke Portuguese. In the late 60’s I trained for a Peace Corps assignment to Brazil in Brattleboro, Vermont and in Brazil.  I learned to speak in three months of training through total immersion in Brattleboro at Peace Corps “camp” and with my Brazilian “family” in Fierra de Santana, a small city not far from Salvador, the capital of Bahia. Deciding to pass on the Peace Corps at the end of training in favor of returning to the U.S. and working in the anti-war movement, I forgot my Portuguese nearly as quickly as I learned it. What’s more, Portuguese as it is spoken in Brazil sounds quite different than Portuguese in Portugal. The few phases of Portuguese that I retained was just enough to get me in trouble when I uttered them as people assumed that I actually could speak Portuguese. Fortunately, many Portuguese speak English  and getting around was not a problem.

Lisbon is a decidedly unpretentious place and has a very lived-in character.

I walk with camera in hand. I find that “looking for photographs” helps me to focus on what’s around me.  My camera is a pocket-friendly point-and-shoot Canon.

Frequently building’s are festooned with tiles.

Graffiti is also ubiquitous. Throughout our five days my camera sought out wall surfaces — traditional tiles and very modern graffiti.

Heading home after a few hours stroll, we passed the restaurant 100 Maneiras a few blocks from our apartment. I recalled that it was on our list of possibilities. By now it was 6:30 PM which meant it was 11:30 PM for our tired selves. We checked out the posted menu and decided this was a good place for our first dinner. But it seemed closed. We opened the door into the small restaurant and encountered a friendly and English-speaking fellow in the empty dining room who turned out to be the chef.  We confirmed that the restaurant was indeed open, but not until later as no one eats at 6:30. We made a reservation to return at 8:30 and returned home for a well deserved rest.

Eat — Day One.
100 Maneiras
100 Maneiras offers one very reasonably-priced 10 course tasting menu each night for about 35 Euros — about $50 US. That’s it. No a la carte dining. I know 10 courses sound like a lot of food, but the course are all small and well-paced. We had among our best and most memorable dining experiences here, not just in Lisbon, but anywhere.

On our initial walk we had become familiar with the clothes lines that hang from apartments throughout the streets and alleys of Bairro Alto. Our first course — Estendal do Bairro or Cod fish clothesline was an homage to Lisbon. It featured crisp dehydrated salted cod – aka bacalao, stretched along wires secured with tiny clothes pins and served with a spicy mayonnaise seasoned with Piri Piri, a traditional Lisbon condiment. It provided a perfect welcome to 100 Maneiras’s.

Before getting into the balance of the dining experience at 100 Maneiras, I want to be clear that as wonderfully artful as the food was, the restaurant was utterly devoid of pretense. The food and wine was served with a professional enthusiasm and warmth in a comfortable setting conducive to conversation – the hallmarks of great hospitality. The lighting was subdued, but adequate to clearly see the food.

Small warm rolls were presented in a burlap pouch accompanied by a shallow bowl of olive oil with a few leaves of thyme. The bread was good enough to be enjoyed without being so good that you felt compelled to consume vast quantities.

Rather than order a bottle of wine, we opted to let the wine waiter select wines by the glass for us that flowed with the courses — at total of six wines including a late-harvest dessert wine and a port. In recent years Portugal’s Vinho Verde has found its way to world wine shelves — housed with other inexpensive white imports. But the best of these notoriously “light and refreshing” wines are excellent white wines that are light and refreshing but contain a richness and complexity that makes them distinctive of the genre. The best are made from the local Alvarihno grape. Ours was produced by Soalheiro — a bottle of which we brought home.

The nightly menu is printed in both Portuguese and English. With each course the staff further explains in English what they have brought. Our next course was a Potato foam with corn bread crumble and herb oil, skewered bread, Nisa cheese and smoked ham. The warm earthy thick-thin potato was perfectly set-off by the sweet crunchy crumble of “bruleed” cornbread. But it was the skwered bread that turned out the be the best “grilled cheese” I ever had. So good, in fact, that I re-created and served it at a small Frog Commissary event two days after returning home.

This was followed by Sauteed and marinated scallop, pea puree and ham crunch. The scallop was sauced with a honey-bacon reduction and the strip of bacon to the right was crisp by virtue of dehydration. This “course” — as with several others — actually included a medley of small, distinct flavor vignettes.

With this course we switch to an Aneto white wine from the Douro region made with a variety of local grapes. It was appropriately drier and more complex that our first white wine.

This next course — Tuna with foie gras caramelized apple in molasses and wakame salad — combined an extraordinary set of flavors and textures  that had us wetting the tips of our fingers so that we could pick-up the wasabi sesame seeds that dotted the black slate “plate.” The restaurant is small — maybe fifty seats. White table linen and a mix of modernist white china, black slate keep the focus firmly on the food.

In preparation for our next course, our wine waiter poured a white Palpite from Alentejo.

Tartar with quail egg — finely chopped beef seasoned with Dijon mustard — was topped with a quail egg yolk that we blended into the tartar along with the hazelnut “dust” that sat on the wide rim of the plate. As I have eating pretty carefully lately, I rarely have red meat. The beef had a deep, rich flavor and was fantastic.

The pace of the courses was leisurely with time between treats to sip wine, talk and savor the lingering taste of the course gone by. Above is Sauteed pamplo with lime rice and salmon roe topped with a wisp of kaffir-lime foam. Pamplo is a cousin of snapper. Luscious, tart, salty and ethereal — all at once.

A palette cleanser followed: Coriander and ginger sorbet with champagne foam.This is coriander as in cilantro and not the spice coriander.

Our next wine was Palpite Alentejo 2006 — another fine and fruity red with 70% cabernet sauvignon. This was served with a Black pork entrecote with carrot puree, crispy Parmesan and mackerel mousse.  The entrecote was actually a pork belly. It was a unexpected combination of flavors that worked perfectly on heir own and also as companions. The mackerel mousse was smoked mackerel nestled in a boat-shaped Parmesan tuille. Regretfully we all finished this dish before I remembered to stop for a photo. Likewise the Foie-gras ice cream with roasted almonds and chocolate. You read that correctly — fois-gras ice cream. Who would have thought? One word: great. Somewhere in here we began sipping a Late Harvest Aneto made from semillion grapes. Luscious.

Our final offering was a Fake framboise cheesecake And since we were in Portugal, it seemed only right to finish this culinary tour de force with a port — a Nieport 2007 Vintage. It was an unexpected and incredibly fine dinner – a gastronomic tour de force.

Here is Noah talking to the chef after dinner. Noah is currently manning the tempura station at Morimoto. He wears the burns that line his forearm proudly. The bar counter is used by the restaurants staff to turn out each course as it is relayed to the counter from the adjoining kitchen. Everyone in the dining room is served each course more or less at the same time. We were so enthralled with our opening night’s dinner that after checking that the menu would change by Saturday, we reserved to return on our closing night. We also resolved to more or less pass on “traditional Portuguese food” in favor of seeking out each night Lisbon’s most interesting contemporary dining experiences.

100 Maneiras
Rua do Teixeira, 35
Bairro Alto
21 099 04 75

A post-dinner walk of a few short blocks returned us home to our apartment. An apartment feels like home in a way that a hotel never does. Our Bairro Alto neighborhood, while pleasantly sleepy by day, is lined with restaurants, bars and clubs and bursts with activity into the night.

Coming on Day Two. Walk: Baixa, Alfama and St. George’s Caste. Eat: Mercado de Peixe and Largo.

Thank you for visiting,

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

Postscript
On June 30th, to celebrate my 70th pound of weight loss, I walked from my home on Rittenhouse Square to Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phillies. When I began this weight-loss journey around Thanksgiving, I had to think twice about walking to my local CVS at 19th & Chestnut — two blocks from my home.

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Spring Awakening

This is my first post since wishing you a Happy New Year as 2010 ticked into 2011. No, I have not been hibernating. I have been busy. Just not busy writing posts.

For me 2010 was an interesting year that included the death of my mother, my beloved dog Izzy and Christina’s dear friend Stuart. During the year I produced about one hundred At Home posts — nearly all requiring hours of travel, recipe development and writing. I loved doing my farm stand and farmers’ market series. But as the holiday season approached I found that I had run out of the energy and inspiration to again produce posts about holiday entertaining that I found entertaining to produce. For a variety of reasons including feeling a bit of blog burn-out, as the year came to an end I found myself doing some long-overdue reflection.

One very important issue for me has been finally dealing with my life-long struggle with weight. I decided it was time to re-focus my energy on my health and seek a new balance between my love of food and cooking and my desire to live a long and healthy life. A serial dieter, I had come to understand that getting healthier was not a matter of will power. I have lost weight before. As with most people who struggle with weight, weight loss was followed by weight gain. I came to believe unless I dealt with the underlying reasons for eating too much, I would never keep it off.

I spent time developing a personal support system that began with excellent and on-going therapy to better understand the emotional role food played for me. Though weight was an underlying issue and weight loss a key goal, I understood there were more fundamental things I had to deal with if I was going to be successful with weight loss. Being overweight is a symptom of other issues.

After expressing despair one day about how much weight I had to lose, I was counseled to make a plan that focused on what I was going to do to get started rather than on some end point. (There really is no end point.) I wrote a plan for myself. On the plan was an appointment with a nutritionist. That  lead to a date certain to get on the scale and face how much I really weighed. It was worse than I thought, but it felt good to finally confront how much I weighed. That was just before Thanksgiving. As of this morning, I have lost 46 pounds. I go to the gym five to six times a week including once a week with my nutritionist/trainer. Many weeks my son Noah tortures me at his gym. (Last Friday I took a careless step off a treadmill and in breaking my fall I broke a bone in my hand. With a cast on my hand, no dumbbells for a while — though I bought a heavy pair of ankle weights to strap on my wrists.) I cook well most nights for Christina and myself — moderate protein, unlimited fruits and vegetables, maximum 3-4 tablespoons oil daily. We occasionally dine out and I always manage fine. I eat well and am rarely hungry. I weigh less and feel better than I have for years. I have lots more weight to lose and I need to eat differently than I had forever. But that’s fine.

I am still figuring out my relationship with food and cooking and not entirely clear about how that will effect my At Home blog. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I offer a recipe from At Home for a spring fruit salad of roasted rhubarb and strawberries and links to past blogs about Passover and Easter that I hope you re-visit and enjoy — including Mr. T’s Balls! As always, the illustrations are by my friend, Pascal Lemaitre from At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

Some previous posts about Passover & Easter:

Plan to Entertain At Home – Passover & Easter
Chopped Chicken Livers & Mock Chicken Livers
Matzo Brei
Asparagus with Mustard Butter
Mr. T’s Balls
Sephardic Charoset
Matzo Toffee Crunch

Spring Fruit Salad: Roasted Rhubarb & Strawberries
Robins. Cherry Blossoms. Rhubarb. Each is a harbinger of spring. Rhubarb is one of those greatly under-used items. I recently served it at a Frog Commissary catering event on top of pan-seared fois gras on a parsnip crisp. Here is a recipe from At Home that is part of The Four Seasons of Fruit Salad. You can add some grated fresh ginger for some extra kick.

do ahead Roasted fruit may be fully made up to three days ahead and
refrigerated.
2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 2-inch lengths
3 pints strawberries, hulled and halved
zest and juice of 1 orange (preferably a blood orange, if available)
1⁄2 cup sugar

1 Preheat oven to 325°.
2 Place rhubarb and strawberries in large, ovenproof baking dish. Toss with
orange zest and juice and spread into a single layer. Sprinkle sugar on top.
Bake until rhubarb is tender, but not collapsed, about 30 minutes. Allow
rhubarb to cool.
serves 6

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