Friday, March 1, 2013

I've Moved! Check Me Out On My New An American In Portugal Tours!

Delicious Portuguese chouriço that you can taste on my tours!
Photo by my fantastic photographer friend Rochelle Ramos
I am finally ready and at your service!  After spending over a year planning, outlining and working on a new site, I am proud to announce my new An American In Portugal Tours, offering guided food and wine tour services in Portugal!  You can still read about my life as well as all of my tasty Portuguese food and drink experiences, many included in my tours, on my blog here at An American In Portugal Tours.   You can also still find me writing about Portuguese food, wine and travel on Catavino.

Check it out and I hope you continue to enjoy reading and perhaps I will see you on my next tour!


Monday, December 3, 2012

Luxury, Art and Design Weekend At Martinhal: A 5-Star Event and Resort That's Worth Your Trip

*Interested in learning more about Portuguese food and wine with me? Check out my An American In Portugal Tours, and my blog's new home!*

There is something so nice when people make you feel special, the feeling that not just your presence matters, but your happiness and satisfaction as well.   This was the feeling I had two weeks ago when I spent a fabulous weekend at the 5-star Martinhal Beach Resort in Sagres, specifically for their first-ever "Luxury, Art and Design Weekend".  This was a special event featuring presentations from several artists and designers, a champagne label and perfume launch, gourmet dinners paired with high end Portuguese wines and catered by renowned Portuguese chefs and the chance to test drive a Porsche.   When I first heard the details of this event, the "ritzy-ness" was enough to make my head spin.....I had worked in 5-star hotels before but had never been a guest in one so I was hesitant to go thinking I would feel completely out of place....but the thought of enjoying some gourmet food and wine was enough to convince me.   And thankfully not only did I end up doing just that but both the hotel and the entire event showed me luxury, art and design without ever making me feel like I didn't belong there.

With so many fantastic things that I wanted to say about my weekend here, I had to break them down into separately titled paragraphs below, check them out and discover all the little details about why I loved this place so much!

Luxuriously Natural Location
To start with, the location of this resort is perfect, right on the beach and in a part of Algarve that is completely different from the Algarve most people know.  One must understand that almost every Portuguese resident (and British tourist) vacation in the southern region of Algarve every summer, with most people having their own place, including my boyfriend's family.  That said, Algarve tends to have a reputation of being crowded and touristy, especially in the major cities.   However, this is not the case with Sagres.  Located on the southwestern-most tip of the country, the area surrounding the small fishing town of Sagres and Martinhal resort is a protected natural park, part of the greater Parque Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vincentina  and is a stunningly beautiful expanse of unique Mediterranean-climate tundra, filled with hundreds of rare plants and species - the perfect place to get away from it all and be one with nature!

And surprisingly, summer in Sagres is not necessarily the most ideal time to go there even though it's the most popular with vacationers.  Summer high season also means more crowded and more expensive as well as July also happens to be the windiest month in here.  Instead, try checking out the Sagres in October or April and May, when the weather is still warm and mild enough for the beach without as much wind.  This also allows one to take advantage of more room availability and low season prices at Martinhal, including special price package events like the one I attended.

Ecological and Artfully Designed Accommodation
You can easily feel the sense of peace and quiet with nature while staying in one of Hotel Martinhal's beach rooms.  These beachfront rooms are situated in the resort's handful of ecologically designed "bungalows", all with a large balcony or terrace facing the ocean.   And what's great is that these are staggered so that guests next door can not see one another, allowing you to enjoy your ocean view in ultimate privacy.  Inside, the spacious bedroom and bathroom are styled in a casual but refined manner, incorporating natural Portuguese materials such as cork into the furniture and traditional stone tiling in the bathroom and in fact, Martinhal tries to use as much local Portuguese products and designs to style the entire resort.  The room amenities are also plentiful, including an assortment of natural seaweed bath products, a complimentary liter of bottled water and 3 complimentary cafés from the personal Nespresso machine.

I slept like a baby in the luxuriously soft king-size bed both of the nights I was at the resort, lulled to sleep by the gentle lapping of the ocean waves against the shore outside my room.  On the first morning, I got lucky when I woke up to catch this gorgeous view of the sunrise from my balcony:

Family-Friendly Resort Designed For Everyone
Boasting to be "Europe's Finest Luxury Family Resort" the Martinhal project was started by Chitra Stern, a mother of 4 originally from Singapore who used her own family experience to create a place where both parents and children could relax.   Because of this, they offer a variety of family-friendly accommodation along with an unlimited amount of children's activities and services to keep the kids entertained while the parents get some alone time.  And basically every area of the resort has some sort of children's playground or corner where kids can entertain themselves within eyesight of the parents as well as watched over by a hotel employee.   There is also a calendar of daily activities for adults, kids and families to sign up for so guests are never at a loss for things to do!  Now I've said in the past that normally I try to stay away from family hotels because of the usual chaos but here at Martinhal I hardly even noticed that there were children around because they were always happily playing in one of the children's areas.   This experience proved to me that a family-friendly hotel could also be everyone - friendly!

Luxury Dining From Dawn to Dusk
Breakfast at Martinhal on the deck of the Terraço restaurant with a blissful view of the ocean was something to remember (See first photo above).   Not only did they offer a wide variety of food but the hotel also had by far the healthiest selection of breakfasts I've seen at a hotel.   Normally in Portugal I'm used to seeing a ton of sweet Portuguese cakes and jams for breakfast (which I do enjoy a lot don't get me wrong) but here I loved how they provided several choices of raw nuts like almonds and walnuts as well as both dried and fresh fruit that you could add to your cereal or yogurt.  And they actually have cold milk for your cereal! (this is hard to get in Portugal).  Another lovely surprise was that the waiters already had a french press coffee pot and creamer of hot milk waiting on the table when you got back with your food, nice!   And if you still wanted to be a little indulgent they also had sparkling wine just for that special touch, it almost felt more like brunch then!

Lunch at Martinhal's As Dunas seafood restaurant exemplified the freshness and flavor of Portuguese fish.  On the first day we enjoyed platters of steamed mexilhões (mussels) and fried gambas (prawns)  mixed with garlic, cilantro and piri-piri washed down with a crisp Algarvian white wine from Quinta do Barranco Longo followed by a rich massada do peixe (seafood stew with pasta).  On the second day, we slurped down a bowl of Cataplana de Marisco (Portuguese fish and seafood stew) cooked in the biggest cataplana pot I've ever seen!  And man was it tasty!  All of this seafood while dining outside by the sun-drenched beach, amazing.


       For dinner, I spent both evenings of the Luxury, Art and Design Weekend enjoying Elyx Vodka cocktails, Piper Heidsick's new label champagne and two, 4-course gourmet dinners.   The first was by Martinhal's Terraço Restaurant chef Micael Valentim and the second by guest chef Igor Martinho, a current contestant on "Portugal's Top Chef".  Both of the dinners we had were absolutely delicious with equally delicious Portuguese wines from two Dão region wineries, Vinhos Darei who provided the whites and Quinta do Lemos with the reds.

For Chef Valentim's dinner we started with Vinhos Darei's 2011 Lagar Darei Colheita, made from a blend of native Encruzado, Bical, Cerceal and Malvasia Fina varietals and paired with seared scallops with a cauliflower purée and olive oil lentil salsa then sea bass filet with beetroot risotto, one of my favorites.  Then we had a 2007 Quinta do Lemos Rótulo Violeta Jaen, made from 100% of the native Jaen varietal paired with a seared duck breast, spinach purée and arugula salad with sun dried tomato pesto oil (pictured right).

For Chef Martinho's dinner we had the Lagar Darei Private Selection which paired wonderfully with the chef's bacalhau (saltcod) and chickpea salad and his scrumptious John Dory with bellpepper cream and tarragon potato rosti.  We then followed with Quinta do Lemos' 2005 Dona Santana, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen and Alfrocheiro and paired with a loin of veal with vitelote potatoes and carrots and an Algarvian orange purée.   And both wineries sent representatives to give a short presentation about the wines during our second dinner, a nice selling point. We ended the dinners with a perfectly sweet apple mille feuille, vanilla ice cream and cinnamon sauce and a traditional Portuguese toucinho do céu (almond and egg custard tart) with yummy local fig ice cream and cream cheese foam.

Luxury, Art and Design By Porsche- A Fantasy Fulfilled
Ok so maybe I never realized before that I had always wanted to drive a fast sports car but I guess Porsche awakened the dream in me.  Aside from all the gourmet food and wine during the Luxury, Art and Design Weekend this activity was definitely by far my favorite and a lot of the other guests seemed to agree!  At first I thought I wasn't even going to able to drive any of the cars because I had always believed that most sports cars came in manual shift which I never mastered but to my surprise and delight the two Porsches had  for to test-drive were in automatic, yay!  Our choices were the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the Porsche Boxster S and having no clue about cars I went with the coolest, sportiest looking one, which was the Boxster convertible of course.  As soon as I sat down on the driver's side, I saw and felt the seat, steering wheel and rear view mirrors adjust to my size, I was super-impressed already haha.  Then what I thought was going to be some dinky test drive around the hotel parking lot turned out to be an exhilarating joy ride along the open countryside around Sagres.  Porsche had specifically scouted out this perfect stretch of straight road with very little traffic to really show off the car's speed and features, according to my accompanying Porsche assistant, who was telling me about all those Top Gear-style specs about the engine and stuff that the car had while I was cruising along.

To be honest though, I told him to save all car geek info for the guys and just let me enjoy the thrill of not only getting to drive my first car in a couple of years (I sold my last car when I moved to Portugal and haven't driven any since) but a ridiculously expensive sports car that I'll probably never get to drive again!  And man the setting couldn't have been more perfect, beautiful countryside, sunny skies, top down with the wind whipping through my hair and the intensity of going almost full throttle with the gas on a long, straight and empty road, it was like being in the perfect car commercial!  I got out of that Porsche at the end with a new-found appreciation for cars.

5-Star Staff and Service Without the Pretentiousness
During my stay I had the delight of meeting and dining with owner and Board Director of Martinhal Chitra Stern as well as Managing Director Nicholas Montgomery and the event coordinators, Marketing Assistant Rosa Santos and Armando Ribeiro - all of whom were so openly warm and friendly to everyone.  Chitra told us at dinner on our first night that they wanted to make sure that all of us were relaxing and having a good time and that if we had any issues to please let them know so they could fix it right away.  I could tell how she really genuinely cared about the happiness of all her guests and it's not often that you see a hotel's higher management so visible and approachable throughout your stay, mingling with guests and talking to them like an old friend, it really makes you feel at home!  Martinhal's Food and Beverage Director Wadim Alvarez also oversaw both of the event dinners with careful precision and attention to detail, always coming around to ask what we thought of the food and quickly fulfilling any requests that we had.  And it great to see that he had trained his young serving staff to do just the same, our water and wine glasses were always full, plates came out hot and right on time and all with a smile!

Martinhal's Luxury, Art and Design Weekend gave me the opportunity to experience things I would have never thought I would enjoy, all while being in a completely relaxed and friendly ambiance.  The resort plans to make this an annual event to bring in business during the low season and I think that's a fantastic idea.  If you're going to spend a good amount of money and go out of your comfort zone, this place and especially this event will definitely make it worth your while!

Thank you Martinhal, keep up the great work and I promise I'll be back!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer Saints Parties in the Aldeias: The Traditions, The Food & The Fun!

*Interested in learning more about Portuguese food and wine with me? Check out my An American In Portugal Tours, and my blog's new home!*

It's been a busy but fun summer for me!  I know I've been gone for a bit but it's because I have been working on launching a new business, which I hope to debut very soon on here!  I've also started writing again for Catavino  and you can check out my latest posts there on the link, but I still plan to continue posting on my own blog, which will soon be on a new interface :)  Until then, I wanted to share some of the things I've experienced during the summer, so enjoy!

Three adorable little children from a neighboring village all dressed up and ready to do their march
Back in June, I spent another weekend in the country with my friend Rita and her family at their home in the little aldeia of Avecasta, in the Ribatejo.  That weekend happened to be their village's festival for São João or Saint John, who is celebrated among numerous little villages in Northern Portugal as well as the very large party for him in June in the city of Porto.     These festas populares or popular parties, are held in basically every locale throughout the summer months.  They typically consist of 2-3 days of celebration with food and drinks and dancing to silly pimba music (the Portuguese version of polka) that include a religious procession with the hailed saint and the Nossa Senhora (Virgin Mary) and marchas populares (popular marches), where the villagers or neighborhood  residents dress up in colorful costumes and parade down the main avenue to do a little sing and dance to a popular Portuguese march played by a small band for the audience.   Lisbon has their popular parties in June as well but for Santo Antonio (Saint Anthony), which you can read my Catavino post  I did on it awhile back.  

Since Lisbon's parties are some of the biggest and craziest in the country, they therefore tend to be too chaotic for my enjoyment, but in the little village of Avecasta, they are much more traditional and friendly and I really had a wonderful time!   It's amazing to see all the hard work this tiny village puts in to making their festas populares great, they make their own costumes and props for the marches and put in a lot of practice for the dances, they do all the decorations, some of them handmade, they make all of the food for the parties and work the drinks and food stands all weekend and the neighboring villages come from all around to enjoy the parties and participate in the marches.  And for Rita and her family, they contribute quite a bit to all of these things!  I even got a chance to help them on Saturday morning rolling out and baking the traditional ferraduras used for saints' days, which is a very firm but tasty, horseshoe-shaped bread flavored with erva doce (anise) and canela (cinnamon) and is used in both decoration and on sale for people to buy at the festival.  It was a lot of work but fun to do and we baked them in the family's outdoor brick oven mmm :)

Below is a medley of photos I took throughout the weekend there, showing us making the bread, preparing and conducting the religious procession through the village, the colorful marchas populares and of course some shots of the nighttime dances and festivities.  I highly recommend anyone visiting Portugal in the summer then to visit one of these aldeias or towns during their festas populares, it's a Portuguese party you don't want to miss! 
Interested in making ferraduras?  Check out this recipe on "Pot On The Stove"s Blog.

Getting started on rolling out the bread, that's a very big container of dough!

Here I am hard at work on the bread!  You grab a hunk of dough and a dab of  homemade extra virgin olive oil to knead in and then roll out :)
Brushing the dough with egg wash

Ferraduras ready to be baked!
Just imagine the wonderful aroma of anis and cinnamon that was coming from that oven :)  The olive branch in front is supposed to help prevent them from burning.

Taking a quick break from bread baking to show off the large bucket of fresh alperces (apricots)  that Rita's uncle brought over from their tree, yum!

The women decorating the Nossa Senhora
The statue of São João all decorated by the men of the village

The village's little chapel all lit up for the festival

Everyone having fun at the party!

Lots of singing and dancing, I was spun around so much I almost fell! :p

The ferraduras all decorated with handmade flowers to be carried during the religious procession

More of the decorated ferraduras and flowers :)

Getting ready for the procession

Here they come!

Rita's mother and sister holding up the back end of one of the bread and flower structures

Even the old abandoned stone houses were decorated for the occasion! :)

The march from a neighboring village ready to go!

And another village march :)
One of the props for Avecasta's march, a replica of one of the traditional houses :)

Rita, her mother and the villagers of Avecasta performing their march!  

Avecasta was the best of the marches!  And what a fun party they throw! :)

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Friday, June 1, 2012

5 "Strange" Portuguese Foods that I've Grown to Love (And Think You Should Try Too)

Percebes (Gooseneck Barnacles)

*Interested in learning more about Portuguese food and wine with me? Check out my An American In Portugal Tours, and my blog's new home!*

I wouldn't say there are many "strange" things in Portuguese cuisine.  And by strange, I mean something that isn't normally found or eaten in your own native country.  In general, I actually find Portuguese cuisine to be one of the most "likeable" cuisines, because just as in the much-loved Italian cuisine, they use a lot of simple, fresh, locally sourced ingredients.  And for the most part, every dish that has been put in front of me during my time in Portugal has looked delicious and made me instantly want to eat it.   

However, there have been a small handful of Portuguese foods and dishes that I definitely found, and still think are strange.  And it's even more difficult for someone like me with a culinary background to get weirded out by something.  But these were foods that I either never knew existed or the combination did not look appetizing.  Though ironically, they are some of the most nationally known and loved foods in Portugal!  But since my parents raised me with the good manners of eating everything on my plate, even if I didn't like it, I knew I had to try these things regardless of what I thought.  

Though now I'm glad I did, because then I understood why these foods are so popular here- they are indeed, really tasty!  Granted, the soft texture of these foods in particular was not very appealing to me at first, but once I stopped focusing on that and more on how delicious they tasted, I was able to let go and truly enjoy and appreciate what I was eating.  

It's true, we're all programmed to turn up our nose at things that look strange or unappetizing to us, it's natural.  Would you believe that most Portuguese I've asked have never even heard of the classic American peanut-butter and jelly sandwich?  And even funnier is that after I explained what it is, most of them still found it strange and and wouldn't want to try it! :)  The same way they found it funny and surprising when they heard my reaction to their beloved foods.   So bottom line, if we get over these cultural or personal hangups, as I eventually did, we'll be able to enjoy so many more things that one would have never imagined to be delicious! 

Below are five popular Portuguese foods and dishes that I found very strange in the beginning but now love.  I've ordered them on a scale of "least to most strange" :)  So, on your next trip here, I encourage you all to give these foods a chance and try them like I did, as you never know just what might become your next favorite food!

Açorda (Alentejana)- "Bread Soup":

Açorda Alentejana (Bread Soup) Photo by As Minhas Receitas

Açorda de Gambas (Shrimp) Photo by: Sabores da Alma

The only bread I normally associate with soup are the croutons you sprinkle on top, so when I found out that bread was the main ingredient of this traditional Portuguese main dish, my first question was "why?"  Well, with the historically poor background of rural areas, one had to make sure you never wasted anything, so this was a way to use up old, stale bread.  Traditionally, the bread is soaked to some degree of softness, then either broken up and/or cooked with chopped garlic and fresh cilantro.  

There are two main versions of açorda. In the greater Lisbon and northern regions, they make Açorda de Gambas, where the bread is heavily soaked and mushed up, then cooked with shrimp Despite its great flavor, I'm not a big fan of this version (pictured second) because the look and texture reminds me too much .  But I do love the Açorda Alentejana version (pictured first), which resembles more of a soup without cooking the bread.  Only a hot broth of garlic, olive oil and tons of fresh cilantro is poured over it and topped with a poached egg.  Many people also add bacalhau (saltcod) or other fish to it for a heartier meal.   Açorda Alentejana is so popular here that it was nominated as one of the 7 Maravilhas da Gastronomia (7 Wonders of Gastronomy-hmm a future post?) and even though it didn't win, you don't want miss out on trying this!

Sapateira Recheada-Stuffed Stone Crab:
Sapateira Recheada-(Stuffed Stone Crab) Photo by Papo Cheio

Let's get this straight- I love stone crab, in fact I loved it even before I moved to Portugal.  But I never had anything more than the claws, which can sometimes cost you a small fortune to get in the US.  Here in Portugal though, on the coast, sapateira is about as common and readily available as any regular fish, and much more affordable!  But get ready to eat the whole thing, which includes the shell of the body stuffed with its roe and insides.  Yes I know what you're thinking, that really doesn't sound lovely, and I made a face too when I saw it the first time.....but oh my god is it delicious!!!  This has become my favorite part of the stone crab now, because the flavor is so rich compared to the claws and legs, and when spread over some warm toasted bread and butter it's just heavenly :)  Personally I prefer this stone crab stuffing plain, but most people mix it with a variation of the typical ingredients found in a classic potato salad, like mustard, mayo, pickles, egg, onion, parsley etc, even beer!

You can find sapateira recheada on the menu of any marisqueira-seafood restaurant, all along the coast, but note: it's a common belief here that stone crab and most shellfish are only best eaten "in the months with an 'r'" (September-April) so try to save this for a treat in the colder months.  And if you're a seafood lover in general and want to know more about sapateira and other shellfish as well as one of my favorite spots to eat them, check out my past Catavino article- "Sesimbra: A Seafood Lover's Paradise in Portugal"

Ovas-Fish egg sacs:
Salada de Ovas (Fish Egg Roe)- Photo by Cinco Quartos de Laranja,-also available in English
These not-so-luxurious fish eggs typically come from pescada (hake) or bacalhau (saltcod) and honestly, if you saw these whole- raw or cooked, they look absolutely disgusting.  But when sliced up and made into a cold salad mixed with onion, tomato, bell peppers, olive oil, vinegar and fresh cilantro (as pictured above), they are much more pleasing to the eye and very tasty.  Many Portuguese also recommend eating plain, boiled ovas when you're sick, particularly if you have tummy problems, because they are mild and easy to digest.  You can find salada de ovas served at many fish and seafood restaurants as an entrada-appetizer.

Caracois- Portuguese Snails:
Caracois (Snails)
Snails, either you love em' or hate em', but most Portuguese absolutely love this seasonal late spring/summertime bar munchie.  Unlike the French escargots, caracois à portuguesa are much smaller- normally about the size of a dime and are slow-cooked in a delicious broth of olive oil, garlic, onion, oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper and sometimes a pinch of piri-piri for a slight kick.  They are best enjoyed with a cold glass of Portuguese draft beer and a basket of bread to mop up all of that finger-licking broth mmmm :)  You can read all about my first experience with caracois and more on the Catavino Article I did about them- "Suck it Up and do What the Portuguese do, Eat Caracois!"

Percebes- Gooseneck Barnacles:
Percebes (Gooseneck Barnacles)
Utterly strange, not even edible looking and more expensive than most seafood....who in their right mind would want to eat these things??  Yup, exactly what I said at first, but plenty of people eat them here, including me now!  Goose or goose-neck barnacles can be found growing on the rocky cliffs all along the northwest Atlantic coast but are most appreciated in Spain and Portugal.   Due to the dangerous area they grow in, they are a lot of trouble to collect- hence the hefty price.  Just a tiny appetizer plate of them at your local marisqueira here can cost around €8-10.  And they're not that easy to eat either, since you have to take off the rubbery outer layer first, which can get a bit messy as you might get squirted by their red juice if you're not too careful!  You can check out exactly how percebes are harvested and eaten in the video below from Gordon Ramsay's show The F Word, when he went to Galicia, Spain (just above the northern border of Portugal) and you'll see that he agrees with me that although percebes look totally unappetizing, they really are delicious.  In my opinion, I would describe them as having the cleanest, most pure, unadulterated flavor of the ocean- refreshing! 

Happy Adventurous Eating in Portugal! :)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Peixe em Lisboa "Lisbon Fish & Flavors"-A Portuguese Gastronomic Event That Deserves More

Red Fish w/ lemony green rissotto from 100 Maneiras
-photo by Rochelle Ramos
*Interested in learning more about Portuguese food and wine with me? Check out my An American In Portugal Tours, and my blog's new home!*

Last Saturday, I spent the afternoon at the 4th annual Peixe em Lisboa or "Lisbon Fish & Flavors", which claims to be the "Most Significant Annual Gastronomic Event in Portugal", predominately showcasing the abundant fish and seafood of Portugal's coastline.  The 10-day event organized by Turismo de Lisboa was held inside the elegant Pátio da Galé, within the grandiose Praça do Comércio in downtown, right on the river.  Inside, they had a dining area featuring ten of some of the most popular fine-dining restaurants and chefs in Lisbon and the greater Lisbon area, serving up their own, fish-themed mini-menus as well as doing specialty show cooking and demos throughout the week.   Along with this, an adjacent room had several local gourmet vendors and wineries offering small tastings of their products available for purchase. 

Peixe em Lisboa through the eyes of a
Moscatel Roxo Rosé from José Maria da Fonseca
I have to be honest, I wasn't planning on going to this event in the beginning.  For the past 4 years, I have gone to several Portuguese food and wine expositions around Lisbon and Porto and have left quite disappointed by their poor presentation and disorganization and I figured this one would be no different.  But after my fellow "Expat Reporterette" and Lisbon tour guide, Mary Harrison Goudie convinced me and our "Fabulous Food Photographer" expat Rochelle Ramos that this was worth our time, we decided to arm ourselves with our cameras, microphones and social media and hit Peixe em Lisboa ready for some serious wining, dining and picture snapping. 

Thankfully, Mary ended up being right in many aspects.  The quality of food and wine we tasted at the event was amazing, and definitely made me wish that I had come on other days to experience all the different tastings and demos they had to offer.  We managed to try around 3 plates each from 3 of the participating restaurants, with either the chef or one of the cooks surprisingly agreeing to step away from their kitchen for an interview with us to talk about their restaurant and each of the plates we were trying.  

Bacalhau á Bras with Exploding Olives from José Avillez
-photo by Rochelle Ramos
Our first and I think by far, our "fan favorite" was José Avillez, whose simple, straightforward dishes were truly delicious.  I absolutely loved his richer, creamier version of the traditional Portuguese dish, Bacalhau á Bras -shredded saltcod mixed with potatoes, onions and garnished with olives, which in this case, happened to be green olives filled with tart olive juice that "exploded" in your mouth, a nice twist!  José Avillez was also one of the friendliest chefs I've ever met, he came right up to us to say hello from the very beginning and after the interview he returned several times to ask us what we thought of the dishes.  And not only was he friendly with us, but we watched him stand in front of his kitchen greeting and talking to guests waiting in line, always with a smile on his face.  Later on, when my sweet tooth got the best of me, Chef Avillez suggested we try his favorite dessert creation, Avelã or Hazelnut, which was hazelnut gelatto encased in fluffy whipped hazelnut mousse topped with Portuguese fleur de sal.  I have one word for it: divine :)

Seared Azorean tuna from José Avillez
-photo by Rochelle Ramos
Sapateira (stone crab) "sliders" from José Avillez
-photo by Rochelle Ramos
Chef José Avillez chilling out and telling us about his dishes 
Another restaurant we enjoyed was 100 Maneiras, whose fried shrimp "lollipop" and red fish with lemony green rissotto pictured at the top were a hit among us.  And their passion fruit panna cotta with almonds for was a perfectly layered harmony of flavor and texture in my mouth, definitely giving Avillez's Avelã dessert a run for the money! 

João Simões, Executive Chef of Grupo 100 Maneiras holding 
his shrimp "lollipop"
Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with Almonds from 100 Maneiras
-photo by Rochelle Ramos
José Maria da Fonseca was the winery sponsor for the event and couldn't have done a better job from what I saw.  They had what looked to be almost all of their large selection of wines available to taste at their stand in the dining room, as well as offering specialty wine tastings and wine pairings with the cooking classes throughout the day.  All of their employees pouring the wines at the stand were very warm and friendly and happily answered any questions we had.  JMF winemaker Domingo Soares Franco was also great in leading the specialty tastings.    

We enjoyed two of their fish-friendly rosé wine recommendations to pair with our food tastings, the dry Periquita Rosé and uniquely fruitier Moscatel Roxo Rosé.  We then followed with their white DSF (Domingos Soares Franco) Colleção Privada Verdelho and finished with their fortified DSF Colleção Privada Moscatel de Setúbal for dessert.  At the DSF specialty tasting, I tried another 6 of their reds, 1 white and 3 more Moscatels, which all of them I liked but I have to say my two favorites were the 2008 Pasamados white, a nutty-buttery blend of Viognier with native Arinto, Esgana and Visozinho varietals and the 2008 José de Sousa Mayor red, a smooth, richly fruity blend of Trincadeira, Aragonez and Grand Noir.
Periquita Rosé from José Maria da Fonseca
-photo by Rochelle Ramos
Overall, my experience at Peixe em Lisboa led me to believe that this is an event worth keeping around.  But this is also an event that's worth more than the still somewhat lackadaisical organization and marketing that I saw there.  After reading Celia Pedroso's review of the event, I agree that for something organized by Turismo de Lisboa, having only 8% of the attendees being tourists is a shame, they definitely need to market more to them!  And the dining area definitely needs to be bigger, investing in those handy mini-trays that hold your wine glass and food would also be a good idea in case you have to stand.  The location was perfect for tourists, except for the fact that they made the entrance on the side street instead of facing the plaza, where the exit was does this make any sense?  And the official website's half-decent English translation (I'd be happy to help with this!), had no icon on the homepage to access the English version, so that could have deterred foreigners from coming as well.

But the biggest issue I had with Peixe em Lisboa was the ticket pricing and offering.  It was the typical European "á la carte" pricing, one of the things that had always annoyed me at previous food and wine expositions here.  You pay a moderate price to enter, but get limited access to most of the event and the rest is extra.  Tell me, isn't an exposition supposed to be about exposing and gaining awareness of your product or service to new clients rather than just trying to make money off of them?  This year, Peixe em Lisboa charged €15 per person for a 1-day ticket, which entitled you to a wine glass and just one "€5 food tasting" and one "€1.50 drink tasting", which I don't even know what that one was for since no one seemed to be charging for wine.  However, if you went during the weekday lunch hour from 12-3pm, your ticket got you two instead of one, which is still not much and most working people can't go at that time.   And even if you wanted to buy more, there was of course no convenient ATM in or around the venue to get cash.   I must say, all of this can sour a guest's mood quite quickly!

Let me put it this way, I come from the land of package deals, where you pay one price up front to access everything, which in my opinion has always been the more desirable option.  How about offer a ticket then that includes three food tastings instead of one, so guests can try an appetizer, main and dessert, then they can get the equivalent of a full meal if they're coming at a mealtime.  The ticket should also include access to the majority of the showcase events throughout the day (and provide more seating for these), only a couple of things should be reserved to purchase at an extra cost.  For all of this, you could charge around €25-30 instead of €15 and I would be happy to pay more up front if  that gave me access to the majority of the event.  You could even offer a discounted a multi-day ticket, to come for 2 or 3 days instead of one, which I would have loved since there were so many different events held each day throughout the 10-day exposition. 

So, Peixe em Lisboa, here's my suggestion for next year:  Give your guests more.  More options.  And then they'll realize you're worth it!

*Check out the rest of Rochelle's and Mary's photos of the event on our Pinterest Boards Peixe em Lisboa and Portuguese Food

Avelã (Hazelnut) dessert from José Avillez
-photo by Rochelle Ramos