How I fell in love with canned fish and other Portuguese tales [Vol. I: Porto]

I want to start this post by apologizing to Portugal.

I must admit, Portugal was our second choice for a trip that for months we had been envisioning as a Greek adventure. I’m pretty sure Brian and I were talking about doing our one year anniversary in Greece when we were still in Thailand for our honeymoon. Disgusting, I know. Timing, flights and curiosity slowly led us to consider Portugal more and more. First it was going to be a second stop in our trip but as we uncovered all the potential we decided we were going to dive in completely and we are so glad we did. (Don’t worry Greece, I’m still coming for you!)

I will be doing a series for every stop we made in Portugal in order to truly make it justice. I will be sharing what we did but also, a lot of recommendations I collected before the trip (and during it) that we were not able to discover.

Let’s start with the wonder that is Porto. Jetlagged as we were and with some time before we could check into our Airbnb, we did not miss a beat and found ourselves having breakfast by theriver. We had no set plans, just a list of choices. What did we do? We propped ourselves outside a local restaurant, drank wine and watched the people walk by. To be fair, we did walk in the church of Saõ Francisco on the way and explored some of its barroque beauty.

Let me tell you, Portuguse wines are so underrated. Maybe it’s because I am not a sommelier but when I hear people rave about European wines, it’s always French, Italian and Spanish wines… but Portugal? Not so much or at all. Sure, we hear all about the wonder that is Porto (the wine) but I was pleasantly surprised to see (and taste) all the different varieties they have to offer.

For our first dinner in Portugal, we went to Wine Quay Bar. This was a place we had seen mentioned in various lists and I really liked that it brought together a lot of Portugal delicacies in a “tapas” style menu. The cheese, meats and olives were superb but oh my goodness… the bacalhau. Not sure how you feel about cod (bacalhau) but I grew up with my grandma’s Puerto Rican “bacalaitos” (cod fritters) and to me cod has always been associated with fried greatness that you should not have too often. Well, Portuguese have been doing it right all these years (sorry, grandma!). The cod we had here was soft and full of so much rich, yet delicate flavor. I don’t think my description can do it justice. 

I knew canned fish was a delicacy in Portugal and I was excited to try it but to be honest, I never expected to fall in love with it like I did. There are currently about 12 cans of different fish varieties in my kitchen. No day feels special enough for us to dig in just yet. Brian wants me to add that he was not a huge fan of the cod but was obsessed with the spicy tuna that they serve (also in a can). The saddest part is that I could not buy the exact cod they had at the restaurant because they ran out. The waitress was telling us about how cod is not as abundant as it used to be. There are issues with over fishing and people respecting sea borders. Really a shame since a lot of people, like them, have grounded their business around cod.

You really can’t go to Porto and not experience a Porto wine tasting. Like I said, we did not have set plans but for this, I recommend you do a little research and look to reserve beforehand. We were lucky to be able to walk in and just get a spot in Cockburn’s Port and had a great experience. First of all, I didn’t know port came in whites! Refreshing to start the tour with a port and tonic, even though I realized once more that I just don’t like tonic.

Did you know that port wine has about 20 % alcohol volume? You feel it. It’s good.

Porto (technically Gaia) houses all the port wines for aging but the grapes are actually harvested in the Douro Valley region. Just like champagne is not champagne if it’s not from Champagne, France – port wine is also only port wine if it comes from this region. Lucky us, Douro Valley was our next stop! More to come on that in an upcoming post.

So yes, this is a Francesinha (missing the fried egg on top). It’s a signature plate in Porto that I feel I have no authority to criticize. Essentially, this plate is available in almost every restaurant that serves Portuguese food but I was being such a brat that I didn’t want to order it if it wasn’t from the places “the internet” said are the best. The way our day ended up flowing, we were not near the famous Cafe Santiago when it was time to eat so Brian convinced me to let it go and just order it where we were. It was alright. Plot twist, we ended up having the best Francesinha in Lisbon from a restaurant with a chef from Porto. I will share more on that when I write about Lisbon!

The whole thing was so silly and has really got me thinking about the way I want to travel. I don’t want to miss out on the good stuff that other people have discovered but I also want to take my own chances and discover for myself  the wonders that are out there. We worry too much about what other’s have lived that sometimes we forget to make adventures of our own.

This was the case for our anniversary dinner. We tried to get reservations in some of the popular places but they were all full. We ended up walking by this small and cozy restaurant that was playing live Fado – exactly what I wanted for such a special evening. I was hesitant to trust our anniversary dinner in a restaurant that was unknown to us but Brian ignited the explorer in me and we went for it. I am so glad he did, as our dinner at Terreirinho Restaurant was the most special dinner of our entire trip. Who would have thought?

And that, my friends, was the view from our AirBnb. It was affordable and with a great location, here’s the link if you are interested!

Here are some other food spots we did not get to try but totally encourage you to consider. If you do end up going to Porto and trying some, let me know what you think!

Any Porto food recommendations you think I should add? Let me know!

You can see more from my Portugal travels on my Instagram. 🙂

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[Dinner] Sorellina’s Twist On Some Classics

Finally made it to Sorellina, a nice recently opened spot in Hoboken. Happy to report back that I was not disappointed! It was not too crowded, but then again, temperatures were below freezing so I would still recommend you check out Resy for a reservation, we had no issues.

We started off with some appetizers and if you know me, you know I can’t say “no” to burrata. In addition, we went for the roasted cauliflower and it was absolutely amazing. The charred onions and the breadcrumbs gave it the perfect crunch.

As for the main course, I went for the Cacio e Pepe Conchiglie. It’s not your average Cacio e Pepe as it has milk-braised pork and it features a different type of pasta. Still, I took a chance and it was very good. If you are craving Cacio e Pepe and are 100% set on it, order something else but if you appreciate what makes Cacio e Pepe amazing at the base and are open to exploring something different, go for it!

Brian went with the Bucatini Genovese and he was also very pleased although I must be honest and say he kept trying to eat off my plate. 🙂

Overall, I definitely want to go back and try different plates to keep tasting their unique flavors and fusions.

Have you been yet? Any recommendations?

[Lunch & Dinner] Charlie Bird

If you know me, you know I have a slight obsession with Charlie Bird‘s farro salad. Why obsess over a salad, you ask? Because it’s delicious, fresh, intriguing and somewhat guilt-free.

Charlie Bird NYC Farro Salad Beaches & Brie

This salad helped me appreciate pistachios in a brand new way because YES, it has pistachios! The parmesan shavings on top just add another level of saltiness greatness, making each bite come to life a bit more.

I have yet to recreate this salad at home but NYT Cooking and All Day I Eat have some great ideas on how to start!

Charlie Bird Cacio e Pepe NYC restaurant Beaches & Brie

Another Charlie Bird favorite? Their Cacio e Pepe. Creamy but so good, I mean, just look at it! They also have a prix fix lunch menu during the week where you can get a small plate (think: farro salad)  AND a pasta for $32. Not super cheap, I know, but it’s worth treating yourself to a nice lunch if you are in the area, especially if it’s a nice day out and you can take advantage of their outdoor seating.

gnocchi Charlie Bird Beaches & Brie

The gnocchi is also another solid option. Try starting with the burrata option, another great pick, but NEVER as a substitution to the farro salad. Promise?

charlie bird burrata nyc beaches & brie

[Thailand] My Friends, The Elephants

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

I can’t remember who was the first person to tell me to watch where I was going to see elephants in Thailand, I just remember knowing that I needed to educate myself instead of just showing up somewhere random. I knew I wanted to see these beautiful animals, I just wanted to do it responsibly so that I wasn’t contributing to their pain.

Through research and personal accounts of people living in Thailand, I found The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The elephants in the sanctuary have been rescued from riding camps or other places where they were treated unfairly and abused. There, they are provided with everything they need within a safe space. Some may argue that they are still not in ideal conditions, but it’s better than what they had before. Also, as one of the volunteers argued, they have been captive for so long, they are not fit to survive in the wild on their own. Elephants are not meant to be ridden, it’s not natural for them.

We arrived to the sanctuary on the back of a mini truck, well aware that we were in for adventure and that we were going to be in the throws with the elephants.

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We started by changing our shirts and wearing the traditional karen clothing so that the elephants would feel more familiar with us. In order to really win their friendship from the start, we fed them lots of bananas. Literally banana after banana, after banana… they can really eat!

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elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

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We walked around and brought them sugar canes for them to eat. Again, impressive to watch these beautiful beasts eat. This one even tried to eat my GoPro.

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I must admit I was a bit scared. They are beautiful, yet intimidating beasts. They were gentle and friendly and to me, it was scary to think they could be so friendly that they could hurt me without realizing so. For example, being together on the river, a quick playful roll could have basically killed me. Maybe it was just me being cautious, but those thoughts were always in the back of my mind.

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Still, I was able to enjoy and admire them up close and in their natural habitat. We literally got into the mud with them, I went in barefoot to a pile of God knows what. I legit probably stepped on their poop more than once but hey, I did not come all the way to Thailand to stay clean and watch from afar, right?

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The mud made jumping in to the river 10 times more amazing. Sure, the elephants still pooped on the water there, but hey, at least I could clean myself! It was really an experience like no other. The closeness with nature (think walking barefoot through the jungle) and the majesty of these animals (think huge elephant running around like a puppy) was just absolutely incredible.

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

elephant jungle sanctuary cristina nogueras beaches & brie thailand

This day really made me want to continue exploring ecotourism. It was interesting, yet not surprising, that the group was composed of people like me from around the world (mid/late twenties all the way to mid/late thirties) hungry for meaningful experiences that do not cause harm and help you learn about the awesome world we live in.

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[Dinner AND Brunch] Welcome to the neighborhood, Union Hall!

In case you missed it, Union Hall finally opened up its doors last week. I was skeptical going in but very hopeful that I could potentially find here my new favorite spot.

Spoiler alert: it did not disappoint.

The vibe is super chill and all their menu is based on small plates. I didn’t know this going in, but it’s the same owners as Brass Rail and Stewed Cow. The chef was also in Chopped and well, to me that’s pretty cool. Staff was super nice and you can tell they are excited to work there, which is always a plus.

Enough about people, let’s talk food.

Or wait, let’s talk drinks for a second. They have $5 martinis on Wednesdays! Their dirty martini is actually pretty darn good. I would have liked to have some blue cheese inside my olives but that’s ok, I’ll let it pass. They have great specials every day of the week including $2 Union Brew mugs every. single. day.

Ok, now for food, for real.


They may look like hush puppies, but these are actually french onion soup mac and cheese balls! They even come with their own little broth on the side, delicious. Tip: don’t be afraid to embrace the broth! (Did I say these were great?)


They had three sliders that you could order individually, but we decided to go all out and try the 3 of them out: veggie, turkey burger, and lobster. Brian and I both agreed the veggie slider was the best because the sauce was so good.


I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen plenty of pins on Pinterest and videos on Facebook about the wonder that is cauliflower fried rice. I’ve been meaning to cook it at home but I’m always too lazy. Union Hall is the first restaurant I’ve been to that offers cauliflower fried rice as part of their menu. It was probably the best part of the meal. Plus, it comes in this cute little take-out style box so, totally recommend it.

union hall steak

Source: Union Hall

We also got a hanger steak with blue cheese that made me think why I don’t order more steaks with blue cheese. I love blue cheese or any cheese for that matter, I guess.


That may look like a tall shot of something creamy but it’s actually a mini milkshake! The waiter explained how they have different special milkshakes every day and the day we went in it was fruit loops. I must admit I was waiting for a mini version of those Black Tap shakes that can give you diabetes so I was a little disappointed when it didn’t have an actual fruit loop in it, but boy oh boy, it was SO good. It tasted like those last drops of milk from the fruit loop bowl.

Noooooooooooooow… BRUNCH!

First, they have $2 mimosas! Can’t tell you how they were because I didn’t have one (stupid, I know) but I will be back and can update based on the verdict. Again, $2 mimosas!


Breakfast tacos for the win. Get them with bacon, it was actually quite perfectly crisped. I can get picky about bacon and there’s nothing worse than a soft piece of bacon. (That’s what she said? No? Ok, sorry.) Their avocado toast was ok, but not something to die for. (You should never die for an avocado toast, anyways.) It’s a nice side to share but by no means it should be one of your main plates.


Their skillets were actually really good. If I hadn’t been so full with the breakfast taco I would have killed them all but thank goodness I brought Brian along. We had one inspired by eggs Benedict and the other one had goat cheese and some other great stuff.

There’s still so much I want to try over at Union Hall so stay tuned on my Instagram for future posts. I’m determined to try everything on their menu so let’s see how it goes. 

P.S. Their coffee was pretty good too!

 

 

[Dinner] Casa Apicii

Do I try a new restaurant for a chance of greatness or do I go back to a restaurant I already know and love?

This is hands down my biggest challenge when deciding where to go eat. Sometimes I feel defeated by the realization that I will never be able to eat at every single restaurant in NYC and just opt for a classic spot, but more times than not I go to my ever-growing restaurant bucket list and just pull the trigger. 

Last week I went to Casa Apicii and despite the heat inside their back dining area, had an amazing meal.

casa apicii cocktail cristina nogueras beaches and brie

Let’s start with their house cocktail, the Casa Apicii. Their online menu says this drink is made with vodka, crème de peche, aloe, lemon and bitters… but I could have sworn the menu at the table said something about ginger. I love ginger. Still, whatever it had, it was absolutely amazing. Not too sweet or too bitter, and super refreshing.

burrata cristina nogueras beaches and brie

Next, the burrata. I mean, burrata by itself is already all my little heart needs but for it to come served on top of a pea purée with some crunchy, yet super thin bacon strips? Perfection. All the flavors came together nicely and took the burrata to the next level. Yes, such a next level exists.

pasta cristina nogueras beaches and brie

Last but not least (because let’s face it, am I really gonna have space for dessert?) … pasta! Now, before you go ahead and judge me for what looks like a very plain dish, let me tell you that the pasta was insanely good. It is as thick as pasta can be before it crosses the line to being too thick. It was also perfectly and evenly cooked. I don’t think I had ever enjoyed a pasta this thick. The sauce was not super heavy, yet it was loaded with flavor. Can’t go wrong with a classic! Brian had the pasta alla carbonara but was too hungry to let me take a picture of his plate. Ah, marriage.

Oh yeah, I got married. 🙂 (How about I tell you more about that soon?)

Back to Casa Apicii. Great meal, but come prepared to spend a little bit as things add up pretty quickly. Afterwards, you can enjoy a stroll through the neighborhood and admire the gorgeous buildings. Or you can be like me, get on the Path back to Hoboken and accidentally stop by Insomnia Cookies. 🙂

[Lunch] Italian Patio Vibes in Greenwich Village

In the hustle and bustle that can be New York City, I am always delighted to find a little oasis that makes you feel like you’ve traveled elsewhere, even if it’s just for a moment or in this case, a meal. Romagna Ready 2 Go is an authentic Italian restaurant, you can taste their commitment to quality food from your first bite.

Instead of starting with an appetizer, me and my friend decided to split a piadina. It resembles a panini, but it’s not quite the same. The stracchino cheese used was excellent and left me wanting for more.

For the main event, we went with two of the classics: the traditional cannelloni with ricotta and spinach and the lasagna. Both were made with fresh pasta and the combination of ingredients was the perfect culmination to our meal.

Romagna Garden

Just like the food, the space is full of little authentic Italian treasures, like the owner’s grandfather’s racing bicycle straight from Italy. Even if you are not in the mood to stuff your face with fresh Italian food (which if you are not, I’m judging you) the vibe at their outdoor patio is always welcoming and perfect for anything from a business lunch to meeting friends for a drink after work.

 

* Thank you to Romagna Ready 2 Go for a great meal and lovely service. Opinions are my own.*