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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sabor Mineiro

Being rather more fond of meat than the next guy, I’m always up for a good rodízio. And outside of Brazil, the king of them all surely must be Sabor Mineiro, near Lisbon.

The hot and cold buffet has a truly astounding array of offerings—many just make that their meal. Over a dozen hot dishes, two or three times as many cold offerings, soups, and, of course, some stellar pão de queijo (cheese “bread”—heavenly little balls more like a cross between a roll and a popover). The rodízio portion (where guys bring huge skewers of meat to your table and cut you off slices until you tell them to stop) includes more varieties of meats than I’ve seen anywhere. Some of the items I hadn’t seen before: cupim (meat from the bump just behind the cow’s neck), and beef “com queijo”—slices from a big hunk of meat larded with globs of cheese which ooze out of it in an almost obscene fashion. Everything is of the highest quality, and you can eat your fill for about €20.

Although there is a location in Lisbon proper, word is that this is the location to go to. With a modicum of adventurousness, it’s a fun trip. From Lisbon, take either the ferry to Cacilhas or the Fertagus train (which crosses the Tejo river via the 25 de Abril bridge) and pick up bus 126 (to Marisol) or 127 (to Fonte da Telha) to Charneca da Caparica… ask the driver to let you know when to get off—everyone knows where it is. Slightly less fun, but more direct would be to catch the bus 159 (to Marisol) from Praça de Espanha in Lisbon.

Sabor Mineiro
Avenida Elias Garcia 992
2820-222 Charneca da Caparica, Portugal
(+351) 21 297 34 07


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Restaurante Cabrita

One of the most pleasant ways to spend an evening when one is in Lisbon is to head to Cais do Sodré and hop on the ferry across the Tejo to Cacilhas… it’s an easy, 10-minute ride. Once there, head to the restaurants (not the ones right on the water—they’re not so great and rather overpriced). By the time you’ve taken 50 steps, you’ll begin to smell the charcoal grills, but do not be seduced by the first restaurants you pass. Instead, continue up Rua Cândido dos Reis to no. 87, Restaurante Cabrita.

I lived in Lisbon for a few years in the ‘90’s, and this is one of the tiny handful of restaurants among my favorites at that time that is just as good now as it was then. They continue to expertly prepare fresh, quality ingredients. House specialties include arroz de marisco (rice with seafood) and arroz de tamboril (rice with monkfish). And of course, since Cacilhas is essentially a fishing village, it’s impossible to go wrong with grilled fish. But my favorite dish here is massa de peixe.

This dish is virtually unknown outside of Portugal: it’s a stew of fish and macaroni in a fish stock (seasoned with the barest hint of tomato, sage, and, if I’m not mistaken, a pinch of saffron, too), cilantro, and a shrimp or two tossed in for good measure.

Sounds a little weird, but it’s divine. And it's marvelous with a few drops of their house-made piri-piri (hot sauce). 

Ask for a chouriço assado (chouriço grilled on charcoal) as an appetizer—it’s superb.

The grilled chocos (cuttlefish) are great, and they serve up the best sardinhas assadas (grilled sardines) you’ll get in a restaurant anywhere. If bacalhau com natas (a gratin of dried codfish, potatoes, onions and cream) is one of the daily specials, grab it--it’s probably the best version of it I’ve ever had. Considering the high quality of their offerings, the prices are eminently reasonable.

Restaurante Cabrita
Rua Cândido dos Reis, 87
Cacilhas 2800-270 Almada, Portugal
(+351) 21 275 17 80

Gösser Bierklinik

The other restaurant I visited multiple times during my recent sojourn in Vienna was the Gösser Bierklinik. Situated on a quiet cobbled street near the Stephansdom, it’s one of those places that feels suspended in time, and the food is classic Viennese.

I wish I had been able to try everything on the menu, but what I did get was uniformly excellent. The Bauernschmaus was a festival of pork products—roast pork, a piece of smoked pork, roasted bacon, and sausages—on a bed of beautifully-done, almost sweet, sauerkraut, with a Semmelknödel thrown in for good measure. It made me very happy indeed. Fiakergulasch was the best goulash I have had in over a decade, served with boiled potatoes, a grilled sausage, a fried egg, and a sliced pickle—a deeply satisfying plate of food. And the house beer is, obviously, the classic Gösser: not quite up there on Parnassus with the great Munich lagers, but damn close.

Gösser Bierklinik
Steindlgasse 4, 1010 Wien, Austria
(+43) 1 533 75 98 12


7 Stern Bräu

Just yesterday I finished up a week in Vienna, Austria, where I had almost no free time to do any exploring. Luckily, the charming fellow at the Hotel Mercure Secession directed me to 7 Stern Bräu, in the Neubau neighborhood, my first night in town… it was so good, I returned twice that week.

Their Käsespätzle mit Speck (cheese spätzle with cream and bacon) is easily the best spätzle I’ve ever had… if you’re the least bit inclined, get it! Knoblauchrahmsuppe (garlic cream soup) was wonderful, and the bratwurst with sauerkraut was everything it should be. Everyone seemed to be getting the klassische Spareribs (ribs grilled with freshly minced garlic) and for good reason… the small portion—you can trust me on this—is enough for the heartiest of appetites. The excellent house beer comes in a dizzying array of varieties.

My last night there, I espied another pork specialty of the house, the gegrillte Schweinsstelze, a large grilled pig knuckle for two. I plan on getting it the first night of my next trip to Vienna.

7 Stern Bräu
Siebensterngasse 19, 1070 Wien, Austria
(+43) 1 523 86 97


Lark's Hand Car Wash & Bar-B-Que

Recently, I was on a gig in southwest Michigan. It had been a few days, and I was beginning to think there was no really good, honest food in the area at all when Paul finally took me to Lark’s. I went back every day the rest of the time I was there.

Barbecue and soul food is what they do here, and it’s all fabulous. The best introduction to their art is the Pig on a Bun: a peerless sandwich of pulled pork. Jerk chicken is also stellar (I’m a huge fan of the dark meat)—not exactly what one might expect if one is familiar with Jamaican jerk chicken, but the barbecued chicken with a spicy dry rub is pretty stupendous on its own terms. As is the homemade spicy Polish dog—get it with onions and barbecue sauce (the house sauce is good and vinegary, not too sweet, and spicy enough to be really interesting). Curiously, the only thing I tried that was less than top-notch was the ribs… they were just a tad dry. But the country-style ribs were tender, juicy, boneless chunks of utter deliciousness.

If you go, say hello to Marilyn Lark, a former Queens resident and a great lady.

Lark & Sons Car Wash & Bar-B-Que
174 W. Main St., Benton Harbor, MI 49022