Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Restaurante As Salgadeiras, Lisbon, Portugal

During my time in Lisbon, I organized a few large group dinners.  None were great, but, Lisbon isn't exactly a culinary mecca, and large group dining is never a strong point of a restaurant.
Mediocre Meal.
For this meal, I managed to have a smaller group ... only 10!  So, we were able to pick a small restaurant, As Salgadeiras.  It was certainly not a tourist destination, and certainly not used to hosting huge groups.  It was a lovely setting, really quite charming, but, the food was mediocre, and the entire dining experience felt like pulling teeth to progress to the next phase.  I wouldn't return.


As Salgadeiras is located in Bairro Alto, a historic neighborhood, down a maze of streets that are most certainly not a grid.  While it might have been a bit hard to find, once inside, it had a ridiculous amount of charm, and was unlike any other restaurant I visited in Portugal.  It was the most authentic, and least touristy location I dined.
Back Alley.
To reach the restaurant, you walk down a narrow alley, filled with both foot and car traffic.  This seemed like a place where "real" people lived, as I watched locals walk by with groceries on their way home.
Barely Noticeable Entrance.
It was really easy to miss the front entrance, as it blended right in with the rest of the residential doors on the street.  I walked right by it initially, as did my colleagues.
Menu Display.
Right inside the door was a stand with an old fashioned, leather bound menu, with one side in Portuguese, and one in English.
Dining ROom.
I was surprised by how small the restaurant was.  One main room, set with two tables of 10 (one for us, and, amusingly, one for Emil and 9 others who had a later reservation time, totally unplanned), plus only 3 other tables.  There was also one small side room, under another arch, with about 3 more tables in it.  Not a large place at all.

There was no bar area, no waiting area, really, no extra space.  It felt cozy though, not cramped.  The decor helped with the feeling of cozy, with dark wood floors, brick arches, and real burning candles on the tables and along the walls.

The chairs were black leather, and really quite comfortable.
Place Setting.
Tables were set with white cloth table cloth, woven chargers, bread plates and knives, and white cloth napkins.

The glasses were huge, stunning chalices. I enjoyed drinking out of such a ridiculous thing.
Elegant Bathroom.
Even the bathroom was adorable, with real cloth washcloths to dry your hands, a marble countertop, and shiny basin.  The soap and lotion seemed to be quite high quality.
Tiny Kitchen.
The kitchen was tiny, and, at least when I walked by to use the bathroom, staffed by a single older lady.  How did she pump out dishes for a party of 10 all on her own!  I mean, the meal took forever and was crazy slow, but, it didn't seem like the food preparation was actually the slow part.  More on that soon.

Food and Drinks

Once we were seated, we were offered water.   Those who wanted sparkling water were given a green coaster to put under the base of the goblet, so that the staff would know what type of water to pour in.  I'm really not sure I've ever seen that technique used before, and it made plenty of sense.  

After we got our initial round of water though, uh, nothing happened.  No menus were brought.  No wine list.  Nothing.  After 20 minutes, yes, 20, I asked for the menus.  So we got the menus ... 10 minutes later.  This theme would continue throughout the meal.  We had to ask for everything, and every time it took forever, and I felt like we needed to be aggressive in order to get anything.  Water was never refilled without our asking.   The meal, that we thought would be maybe an hour and a half or so, stretched from 7:30pm (time of seating), to 8pm (time of menus), to 8:30pm (time of first appetizers), to 9pm (first main hit the table), to 10pm (dessert menu delivery), to 10:30pm (dessert), to 11:30pm (! finally getting the bill and port).  4 hours, and it only felt like things progressed because we kept asking for them.

That said, I don't think the service was *bad*, this seemed by design.  I'd say it must be Portuguese culture, but, we didn't experience this anywhere else.
Bound Menu.
The menu matched the decor, leather bound, it looked like wood.  They use the same menus for Portuguese and English, but, put English inserts into the cover on top of the Portuguese ones.
Page 1: Couvert, Appetizers.
The first page of the menu is the "Couvert" and Appetizers.

I'm still not sure what "Couvert" means, but, this was the list of breads, cheeses, olives, and spreads that always show up on your table in Portugal.  But, unlike as you might expect, this is not like bread and oil in an Italian restaurant, or chips and salsa in a Mexican restaurant, you will be charged for these items based on consumption.  If you don't touch it, they'll take it away, serve it to someone else, and you won't be charged.  Even though it has been on someone else's table, and they totally could have ... sneezed all over it.

The Appetizers are mostly soup, salad, and cold Portuguese classics.  The only hot items are sautéed mussels and pan fried prawns.
Page 2: Codfish, Fish, Meat, Steaks, Desserts.
The signature item, here and at many Portuguese restaurants, is codfish.  The menu has an entire section devoted to codfish, in addition to the normal fish menu.  There were 7 codfish dishes, all of which had names like “Bairro Alto”, “à Braz”, “à Zé do Pipo”, etc styles, with no descriptions.  The server didn't offer to explain them, but once we asked, he rattled off the ingredients in each.

The fish menu has other items like octopus, squid, grouper, sole, and shrimp.  Meats include pork, lamb, goat, and bull (!), plus a separate section for steaks (5 different versions of fillet mignon).

I was thrilled to see the dessert menu listed on the main menu, so I could plan my feast accordingly.  I was delighted to see that they offered 12 desserts.  I had much to look forward to ... hours later.
Once we finally ordered, when we asked to order, the Couvert showed up immediately.  It was ready the whole time we were just sitting there.

We received a number of baskets with assorted breads (mixed cereal bread, corn bread, and rolls, (0.50€) each), and a tray with garlic butter (1.50€), tuna mousse (1.50€), Azeitão cheese(6.50€), and black olives (1.50€).

I tried the thin, slightly yellow bread on top that I believe was the cornbread, although not American style.  It was a bit gritty (not in a bad way, in a cornmeal way), and slightly sweet.

I quickly learned on this trip that I don't really like Azeitão cheese. It was served to us, always in the rind and with a little spoon like this, nearly everywhere.  It isn't a super soft runny cheese, but it isn't a hard cheese either.  It didn't have much flavor, and was kinda squeaky.

The tuna mousse sounded more exciting than it was.  It really was just like very mushy tuna salad, lots of mayo.  It tasted no different to me than canned tuna salad.

The garlic butter was great though, lots of flavor and herbs, tons of garlic.

I really liked the garlic butter, and slathered on the corn bread it was a winner, the highlight of the meal for me.  Had I known that of course I would have had more, but I tried to limit myself to just one slice, which proved hard given how slow service was.

They were eager to refill these, but also eager to take them away.  It was the only action the staff ever seemed eager to do was fill or take away our bread and spreads.
Appetizer: Octopus Tartare. 8.15€.
I was the only person in the group who wanted an appetizer, as the others were happy with breads and spreads.  But, I had read about this one dish, and really wanted it, so, I got it even though no one else ordered apps.

It wasn't what I think of as a tartare exactly, as the octopus wasn't chopped, but it was thinly sliced, arranged into a tower.  The octopus was ... fine.  It wasn't chewy or rubbery.  Decently prepared.

It was coated with a creamy mayo-like sauce, drizzled with plenty of oil, and topped with pickled peppers.  The mayo sauce was tasty enough.

To me, this tasted no different than tuna salad.  Mayo and mild fish.  I was not really blown away.

Ojan said it tasted like chicken.  I disagreed, as I hate chicken and didn't hate this.  Since neither of us really liked it, we quickly offered it up to the others, to take their votes.  Everyone said it tasted like chicken.  I'm still going with tuna salad.
Main: Codfish “Bairro Alto” Style. 17.95€.
For a main, I opted for a signature codfish dish, since that is what the restaurant prides itself on, and, that is what reviews all say to get.  I opted for "Barrio Alto" style, which was topped with herbed breadcrumbs and slivered almonds, and layered with sliced potatoes, spinach, and caramelized onions.

I didn't like it.  The sliced potato was just cooked sliced potato.  The entire dish was rather oily.  The codfish, well, it was salt cod, and, it was just .... firm, salty cod.  It turns out, I just don't really like salt cod.  The crumble on top was a herby breadcrumb mix, and it wasn't crispy, and was pretty soggy from oil.  Not the most appealing texture.

The spinach and caramelized onions were actually quite tasty, and I did dissect the dish to extract all the veggies, but otherwise, this dish didn't really make me want a second bite.

On the side was sliced cucumber and a tomatillo, arranged like a flower, which seemed incredibly random.  The cucumber was fresh, crispy, and juicy.  Every dish came with a different random side like this, others had a cherry tomato in place of the tomatillo.

The portion was also massive, like all the entrees.  No one in our group was able to finish a dish alone, so I highly recommend sharing.

One other diner opted for a steak as his main, with a creamy roquefort sauce, and declared it, "One of the better steaks I've ever had, anywhere!".  He clarified a bit later, "in the top 5 steaks of my life".  It was also the only example, during our entire time in Portugal, where the meat was cooked as ordered.  He asked for rare, and, rare he got, exactly as he wanted.  Ojan tried a bite, and agreed it was quite good.  I tried the creamy cheese sauce that it came smothered in, and yes, the sauce was good.  However, apparently the fries were awful, large steak fries, arranged in a lincoln-log like structure that looked cool, but both Ojan and the guy who ordered the dish declared the fries "terrible".

Besides the steak eater, no one seemed particularly happy with their meal choices.
White and Dark Chocolate Mousse Duo. 7.75€
The same diner also ordered the white and dark chocolate mousse for dessert, and couldn't finish it, so, I snagged a few bites.

Both mousses were unremarkable.  The chocolate one was fairly rich. 
Trilogy of Flavors (for two). 15.75€.
For my dessert, I opted for the amazing sounding "Trilogy of Flavors", since it had their signature 3 items , and, you know me, I'm a dessert girl, and I wanted them all.  This way I didn't need to pick just one dessert.  And I did intend to share.

The menu did not say what the three items were, but, I knew that they would be the one I was most excited about, the "Crème Brûlée", plus the “Abade de Priscos” Pudding I wanted to try since I did not like the only other version I had ever had of it at Largo, and the “Conventual” Sweet Eggs.

“Abade de Priscos” Pudding
This is the slice at the back of the plate.  I knew to expect that form, not a creamy pudding, given that I tried the dish the first time at Largo the day before.

I liked this version more that the one I had at Largo, as that one was very, very eggy and I literally didn't want a second bite.  This was basically just a thick flan, well set, sweet, but, otherwise fairly boring.  I love desserts, and I just didn't feel compelled to eat this or finish it when no one else wanted it either.  It wasn't bad, but, it just wasn't good either.

“Conventual” Sweet Eggs
This was the middle item, actually more of a cake.  It was served warm, which I wasn't expecting.  It had a crispy crust on top and a really strange texture, rather gritty.  It was sweet and fairly eggy, and perhaps tasted slightly of saffron?  I didn't care for this.

Crème Brûlée / Leite Creme. 
This is the Portuguese version of crème brûlée, crema catalana, trinity cream, or whatever your country calls it, aka, cream, eggs, and sugar.  The Portuguese version is cooked on a the cooktop and is topped with a bit of burnt sugar.

Since I absolutely adore puddings, and crème brûlée in particular this is what I had my eye on from the start.

The consistency was not what I was expecting.  It was not thickly set like a firm crème brûlée, but it also wasn't thin and watery.  Somewhere in the middle, really, just like a pudding.  It was sweet but not too sweet, and had a nice overall flavor.  It was my favorite of the desserts, and, after Ojan took one bite (the platter *was* supposed to be shared by two people), I claimed the rest of it.  It was certainly the only one I wanted to finish.
As Salgadeiras Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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