Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Porto Part I: Presuntisco

I recently (ok, now about two weeks ago) went to Porto, Portugal for the weekend. It was a beautiful town that was heavy on tourists, which was fine since I was there as one and had no intention of posing as a Porto local. Our first dinner was at a place called Presuntisco. It was right along the river, meaning the atmosphere and setting was absolutely perfect for a couple embarking on their first ever trip together.

Apparently the custom in Portugal is for the servers to set a plate of starters down in front of you and if you want to eat it you can, but if you do, you pay for it. We had a plate of three things set in front of us: cheese (akin to feta) in olive oil, some sort of mashed tuna salad, and some olives. We chose to eat only the cheese, which was actually not bad. The chili flakes sprinkled in the oil gave the cheese a nice subtle kick that paired well with the saltiness.

Complete with an aperitif of a local Port wine 

We then ordered the dates wrapped in ham, fried sardines, grilled octopus and grilled cod. We figured since we were in a place that is known for its seafood we should just go for it. The ham wrapped dates were delicious. The smokiness and saltiness from the ham cut the sweetness of the dates perfectly. My only complaint is that I would have liked the dates to be a little softer in texture since they were somewhat toothsome (best word I could use to describe it).

Nothing ham doesn't make better

The fried sardines were nice even if there was a crunch of grit from the parts that had not been cleaned properly. They could have been a little crispier since they were simply dredged in flour then fried in a pan. Tempura style or something similar definitely would have been the way to go.

Wish they had left the heads on...

The best thing we had was the grilled octopus. It was amazingly tender and tasted like...well...octopus, but really good octopus. It wasn't in the slightest bit fishy. It had the perfect amount of char to it and the crunchy little suckers on the tentacle itself were fantastic.

Big meaty tentacles of octopus, delish.

Easily the worst dish of the night and trip. The cod. Perhaps it was bacalao (salt cod) that had simply not been re-hydrated properly, or maybe it was just overdone (and I mean WAY overdone) on the grill. Regardless it was bad. It was dry, not flakey and tender as good bacalao or regular cod should be. I was pulling strings of the dry cod out of my teeth for the rest of the trip. Only saving grace were the silky smooth roasted red peppers and the deliciously bitter broccoli rabe.

Everything was sprinkled with paprika, but even that couldn't save this dish

Final Grade: B+, 69,00 for two, not cheap, but not overly expensive especially considering where we were eating (tourist central, right on river). Besides the disastrous cod dish, everything was quite tasty.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ruffle Chips

I deviate from regular posts about restaurants and real food and instead divert my attention to the wonders of the Spanish vending machine. In it I discovered a bag of chips, standard. But it was flavored with....jamon!! I had to try them since this blog does have ham in the title and this bag of chips seemed to walk the line between fake (spam) and real (ham). 

Not Spam, But Jamon....flavored chips

The first bite I took was crunchy as Ruffles should be. I then got hit with the unmistakeable flavor of jamon, not great jamon, but it captured the most basic essence. However it dissolved into a fake bacon flavor, which then lead to a combination bacon/fake barbeque taste that was somewhat bizarre. It was smokey, yet tasted a little meaty. 

Final Grade: C+, for the price (€0,90) it was a better than average bag of chips, but let's face it the novelty factor made it taste a little better.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Casa Lucio - Go here, but you might need a reservation

I've been lacking in posts recently and I apologize. I've stopped doing reviews of everywhere I'm eating since most of the meals have been average. Unless one of these small places has something extraordinary or is completely awful, I probably will not review it. However this is definitely a place worth reviewing.

Casa Lucio. My girlfriend and I were actually looking for another restaurant, Taberna Bilbao, but I had copied down the wrong address thanks to Google maps so we ended up nowhere close to it. Fortunately we went down Cava Alta, a street in the neighborhood called La Latina, and I felt myself pulled by the hand, barging through people left and right. My girlfriend recognized where we were and had been talking up one dish that was served at Casa Lucio for a good week and a half. We walked into the restaurant through a nondescript door (all the doors out front look the same, very confusing) and we emerged onto a tapas bar to our left and a few tables in front of us. We stood around for a few minutes until a waiter came up to us, I stumbled through my Spanish and he got the idea that we had no reservation. He told us to wait and he'd be right back.

He passed by us a couple times, not looking at us, but taking down the names of other patrons who were also arriving without a reservation on a long list. I was getting a little nervous since he hadn't written down our names, but a hug and some long looks at the leg of jamon reassured me. The waiter came up to us about 10 minutes later and told us to follow him. He led us into a crowded room and sat us down at a table. Well it was more like half a table. Our knees were touching and we were right next to the table where they served the food from (it was bigger than ours.) But we were among all the locals who come in and we had a table. It was clear that they had just thrown this table together in the ten minutes that I was waiting.

You can see the tray behind our table where they served food from

We got a menu and immediately knew two things we were getting: huevos estrellados and jamon iberico de bellota (the real stuff). We were undecided about a third dish, but settled on the suckling pig. The ham came out first and was exactly how I pictured it, thin pieces of ham, glistening with fat. It was a beautiful sight. The first bite was not actually the best bite of the ham plate, the taste seemed to evolve as the night went on. At first it tasted like an amazing piece of ham, don't get me wrong, it was delicious, but as I ate more of it the taste changed. After a few more bites the ham was sweet, not in an overpowering way, but in a way that made me want to eat more and more, and that I did. You could also really taste the nuttiness of the ham, made possible by those famous acorns that true jamon iberico (de bellota) pigs feed on their entire lives. It was truly spectacular.

Look at how shiny it is. Sign of a good ham.

The huevos estrellados was next. Talk about a dish that was delicious yet incredibly simple. Good eggs, perfectly fried potatoes, runny yolks. Sounds like paradise to me. It was. The yolks made the dish as the potatoes were bathed in a delicious sauce of golden egg yolk. Really, nothing is better than a runny egg. This was no exception. I can't say much more about it without ruining it.



Suckling pig was next up, and thank the lord I've finally had my suckling pig. After going on a program trip to Segovia which by the way is KNOWN FOR suckling pig, we got roast chicken for lunch. What? Roast chicken? Albeit a very good roast chicken, but still, we were in the home of the suckling pig and we were served the other, other, other white meat? I think not. But I got mine. It was fatty, crispy skin, tender meat, I even got to gnaw on the tiny little leg and got a deliciously sticky and gelatinous [tiny] pig tendon out of the deal. Even my girlfriend who says ixnay to the atfay, had a piece of the crispy, fatty skin and while she might not have explicitly said that it was one of the best things the world has ever created, the big grin on her face said it all. The sauce underneath it was a salty pig broth, a little too salty for me, which let's face it, is saying a lot, but had it been a little less salty I would have slurped it all up with a straw.

Why do the Spaniards serve everything with fries?

Final Grade: A. Ham and eggs with a side of bacon, that was essentially our meal, just deconstructed and a little more elegant. For 63,00 it was not a cheap meal, but it was worth every euro-penny.
Definitely worth a trip for anyone.