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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Restaurante Zé Maria

Valença do Minho is a funky border town in the north of Portugal, right on the Minho river at an important crossing point into Spain. It's got a great old fortaleza (fortress), reasonably-priced accommodations--I thought the Hotel Lara, right at the entrance to the International Bridge, was great--and some excellent food, if you know where to find it (that big "if" is true of Portugal in general). Cozinha minhota has a lot of wonderful dishes in its canon... the trick is to convince someone to make any of them for you. Most restaurants stick to the same boring stuff.

Luckily, there is Restaurante Zé Maria. It seems to be the best-known restaurant in town, and although I passed through Valença twice in the last couple of weeks, I only managed one meal there because the second time was a Tuesday, and they are closed on Tuesdays (I have a special knack for that). But the one meal I did manage bespoke of a kitchen that knew what it was doing. If cabrito is on the menu, I'm probably going to order it... and that's just what I did. It was cabrito no forno: oven-roasted pieces of kid goat with roasted potatoes (that were surely coated in lard before roasting... mmm...), served in a traditional alguidar de barro full of rice.

Not exactly spectacular, but a it was cooking true to its exceptional ingredients, and deeply satisfying. I so wanted to go back and try other things... I kept seeing beautiful bacalhau, seafood, and meat dishes going by, and some great-looking fried potato rounds. Next time.

If you end up staying in the Hotel Lara on a Tuesday, whatever you do, DON'T go to Restaurante Cristina next door. I had a meal there so unbearably mediocre I was not interested enough to even finish it.

Restaurante Zé Maria
Centro Comercial Bruxelas - Av. Dr. Tito Fontes
4930-673 Valença do Minho, Portugal
(+351) 251 82 53 64

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