Yes, I’m wearing a bib; and yes, I’m very excited. I had just been served an earthenware pot full of steaming sea food with rice (something between risotto and paella) and a bubbling tomato sauce. Cleansing cloths were waiting on my right to wipe my fingers with after peeling prawns; a set of tools had been placed before me to help me crack open spidery crab legs and a lobster’s claw; and finally, an empty bowl awaited the click of black mussel shells.
I had not expected to eat so well. I’d been to Portugal many times and had learned to be wary of its cuisine. A favorite ingredient of the Portuguese, for example, is Bacalhau, a salt-cured Codfish. I The smell that it exudes while drying on racks in the open air is supposed to be very unpleasant, and the cured result too salty. Or so I'd heard. At the time, it seemed reasonable to proceed with caution and to question the palate of the Portuguese people.
In fact it was in Lisbon that I had one of the worst meals I’d ever eaten. It was comparable to a BLT (Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato sandwich), except there was no L or T but Sausage and Steak instead and, interestingly, it rested in a pool of tomato sauce. As a final touch, they’d topped off the sandwich with a slice of pineapple, a generous amount of melted mystery cheese, and one shrimp. To be fair, I’d had no clue what I was ordering, since the menu was in Portuguese and the waiter couldn’t speak a word of English and I, of course, couldn’t speak any Portuguese. I had just pointed randomly at the menu.
My trip to the Algarve, however, was full of happy culinary experiences from the coperto to the dessert (in part thanks to menus that had been translated into four different languages, one of which was English). The coperto that preceded the meal at Don Sebastiao – the restaurant in which I was photographed above - consisted not only of bread and olives, but also of carrots marinated in garlic, flambéed chorizo, and an aromatic goat’s cheese.
I had to admit that I was wrong about Portuguese food. We ate well wherever we went in the Algarve, and were impressed by the fresh regional produce. But every evening I wanted to return to Don Sebastiao. There were just so many interesting, yummy-sounding dishes on the menu: I wanted to try the Carpaccio of Cod with Pomegranate Seeds and the Mussels in Sparkling Wine Sauce, the grilled Sword Fish and the Sea Bass Fillet with Scented with Coriander, to taste the Pork Chops with Figs, the Black Pork Cheeks with Sweet Potato Puree and the Lamb with Mint Sauce. For dessert: the Chocolate Cake, the Mango Mousse, and the mysterious Algarve Specialty (we never figured out what that was supposed to be).
It's not the perfect restaurant. There were bones in the Sea Bass Fillet, for example. But my Rack of Lamb in Port Wine Reduction was delicious, as was the 'Seafood Rice'. My boyfriend even tried the Bacalhau, which was indeed a little salty, but had been prepared beautifully and proved my food prejudice very wrong.