Monday, February 11, 2008

Manuel: A Taste of Portugal in Tokyo

A few months ago I was reading a book titled "World Food: Portugal", a favorite series of mine that's published by Lonely Planet. And a little before that, Mikako and I were walking around my work neighborhood of Shibuya (after a large hot spring and spa center exploded) and as we were walking around the area, we happened to stumble upon this cute little yellow building that seems to be out of place in Tokyo. On taking a closer look at it, I found it to be a Portuguese restaurant. I told Mikako we'll have to come by here and check this place out when it's open. I kept making plans but they kept getting postponed. Finally, after about two months I invited a couple of friends of mine for dinner here and we were not disappointed. Joining us for dinner was our friend Tetsu, who had just bought himself a new mansion (which doesn't have the same meaning in English when you're in Japan). It just means he bought himself a new place of living. Not really an apartment but also not a condo. Also joining us for dinner was my friend Anzai and his girlfriend Chu. With five of us, we figured we could order a variety of items from the menu and try a bit of everything. It was a Sunday night and fortunately I had made reservations. We reserved a table for five at 7:45pm. The place was already crowded before we got there. It seems quite a few other people are aware of the existence of this little place. Before ordering the main course, we ordered three appetizers. We toasted with Portuguese beer and then ate.

The first item to be devoured by us was an assortment of meats - featuring chicken, beef, and pork. Also included was what appeared to be some mini onions. It was all quite delicious. One of the waiters recommended to us a dish called pasteis de Bacalhau which is a croquette made with salted cod. Also delicious. And one other dish we ordered from the appetizer menu was something called miscaros parados - a tempura of maitake mushrooms with coriander sauce. Also for you trivia buffs who thought tempura was a staple of the Japanese diet and that it originated from there might be surprised to know that it was the Portuguese who introduced tempura to Japanese cuisine. Amazing but true you know. But our main dish was yet to
come. The main staple of Portugal is what's called bacalhau - and there seems to be a number of ways to make it too. This is what I was really looking forward to eating. Of course I was enjoying the appetizers and beer as well. I intended to order
myself a glass of vino verde too. This translates to green wine but what it's not really green. It's very young white wine. The beer was refreshing too. Not too strong and had a great flavor. And here we have the featured product, bacalhau no tacho, a stew of salted cod and vegetables.

Doesn't that just make your mouth water? Most of you know me as a meat-lovin' carnivore but I was enjoying this feast of salted cod. My mother would be happy to know that I'm eating more seafood than ever before. With five of us, one item after another was soon consumed and so we ordered three more entrees. Here we have bacalhau c natas, alcatra, and carne de porco a Alentejana which is salted cod au gratin, beef marinated in red wine with mushrooms over potatoes and sauteed pork with clams, an unusual but excellent combination.

We were getting pretty full after consuming all the above, but my main reason for bringing Mikako here was for the risotto. Mikako loves risotto and I had checked the menu previously and knew that this restaurant served three or four different kins of rissotto.

This evening we ordered the arroz de marisco which is a seafood rissotto. Of course, this wasn't exactly my image of rissotto, I pictured more of a creamy rice dish, this was more like a soup, delicious though it was. And to cap off the evening, we ordered an assortment of desserts. We just couldn't pass up the baba de camel which translates to "camel drool". Sound pretty disgusting, but what it's actually a caramel flavored mousse. It was very sweet too. Also on the dessert menu was biscuit with condensed milk. We thought that doesn't sound like much of a dessert but we just had to order to satisfy our curiosity. I mean, how delicious can a few biscuits covered with condensed milk be? But you will notice on the plate that it was more like pudding than anything. Not too sweet and I think it was the best dessert out of the three we ordered. The third dessert was a coconut cake. My father would probably like this one best in my opinion. I did have that glass of wine too and it also was very light and fruity. I'm not a big wine fan but I can see myself ordering a bottle of this.

And just so you are not confused, the desserts starting from the top and going clockwise are the "Camel's Drool", the biscuit with condensed milk, and the coconut cake. Our entire bill for the five of us came out to a little over 32,000yen, which would make it about USD$60.00 per person. This is actually quite a reasonable price for Tokyo. Mikako and I are looking forward to coming here again. Perhaps it will be just the two of us next time. Of course, I suggested to Anzai that we revive our shokuji-kai that we used to do every couple of months or so, an dinner event, where we would usually choose an ethnic cuisine and invite a bunch of our friends for a night of good food and drink. In the past we had a shokuji-kai at a Thai restaurant, a Turkish restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, a Hungarian restaurant, and a Tunisian restaurant. I've also found a nice Romanian restaurant, a Lebanese restaurant, and an Israeli restaurant. However, we may go simple next time and do Italian. Anzai showed us pictures of some of what's on the menu at a favorite restaurant of his and the crab rissotto looks like something to die for!! Next time I shall have to remember to take a picture of the menu so I can remember the original names of the dishes. I didn't do too bad this time around and my friends all loved this restaurant!

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