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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Alert: Potential New Favorite Cocktail

 I love rum. I’m Puerto Rican, it’s sort of in my blood, I can’t help it. When I’m out, my “go to” drink is usually rum with Diet Coke. Don Q or Bacardi, preferably. However, as much as I love Diet Coke, I am trying to cut down on sodas. Rum is not that great either, especially when you want to keep your blood sugar levels on check.

This weekend during my trip to Boston, I stumbled into what I believe has the potential to be my next favorite cocktail: Gin Blossom. The magic happened at the trendy Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar.

According to their menu it takes: citadelle gin, st. germain, lemon muddled cucumber and raw cane sugar to make this glorious drink. I will definitely try it at home and cross my fingers that it’s not a disaster.


Lolita also had some other great things to offer. Once you are seated, they welcome you with an amuse-bouche of grapefruit granita served over a bowl of dry ice which creates a fun, smokey effect (not successfully captured in the shot above). Obviously, they offer to drizzle it with tequila. Of courseeeeee.

Of all the small plates we ordered, my favorite one was the blackened shrimp queso, “bubbling hot moteray jack cheese, blackened shrimp, roasted poblanos & pico de gallo.” I don’t think I really knew what “blackened shrimp” meant but I’m so glad I went with it.

A lot of food and gin blossoms later, we thought we were done but no, they bring in cotton candy as one last hurrah. Confession: I don’t think I had ever had cotton candy in my life. It never appealed to me. Also, when I was little my blood sugar was all over the place so I learned to stay away from sweets (tragic, I know). Cotton candy is weird, especially when you are having it for the first time with a few cocktails in your system. It was really fun, but not something I would crave. It’s such a tease, you think you are getting something and then it just fades away. So unfair.

So, what did we learn today? Cotton candy is weird and gin blossoms are exquisite. Cheers!

Best Places to Have Lunch in SoHo

This list should actually be called: “Best places to have a delicious and “ok” priced lunch around my old office in SoHo”. I’m no expert, but I know what I like and I know what my wallet doesn’t.  Below are my favorite places to have lunch in SoHo, this list has been in development since I started working in SoHo almost two years ago. Some places are cheaper than others, but one thing they all have in common is they can provide a delicious lunch in less than an hour. This list has been evolving since I started the post, since sadly some places closed.

La Esquina

My all-time favorite is the “Pepito” and fries with chipotle mayo. Note that the fries do not come with chipotle mayo, but I highly recommend you order it for the ultimate experience, you can thank me later. If you can’t really sit down they also have the option to order to-go on the outside, slightly different menu, still amazing.

la esquinaPhoto from La Esquina Facebook

Delicatessen + MacBar 

Every time I go to Delicatessen I fight the urge to order cheeseburger mac and cheese, because why not, right? Their special mac and cheese plates are to die for and honestly, totally worth it. If you are feeling like going against your heart’s desires, then I recommend the award winning pan roasted chicken thigh sandwich with cerignola olive pesto, sweet pepper aioli, burrata cheese & french fries.

macbarSome of the delicious mac and cheese plates offered on the menu! Photo from Delicatessen Facebook

SoHo Park

I’ve been here over 10 times and I always order the same thing, classic cheeseburger. It’s that good. The extra fun thing about SoHo Park is they have an amazing selection of dipping sauces for the fries, roasted pepper aioli is my dipping sauce selection. This place is also fun for outside seating and actually feeling like you’re in a park, so creative of them, right?

soho park nycPhoto by Cristina Nogueras

Salud

This place recently opened and although I have only been there once, I’m planning to return soon. I love their tagline, “a Latin-take on organic”. It’s really what Salud is all about. I had the quinoa veggie burger and I never expected it to be that amazing. The owner was very nice and even treated me and my friend to some homemade brownies that I believe were made with a chocolate he prepares himself. Salud also has a brunch menu, which obviously, I need to try.

saludnycPhoto from the Salud Instagram, the veggie burger I had at Salud looked so delicious, I totally forgot to take a photo!

Cafe Habana

I’m Puerto Rican, so I love everything our neighbors in Cuba have to offer in terms of food. Cuban food hits close to home and always makes my soul happy. This spot offers a variety of Cuban food, with some other Latin American touches as well, including tacos. If I could, I would always go for the skirt steak, but their Cuban sandwich is also delicious and rumored to be one of the best ones in the city. See for yourself!

habanaGrilled corn, so delicious. Photo from Cafe Habana’s Facebook

Emporio

If you don’t like pizza don’t bother coming here, or being my friend, for that matter. With a nice selection of brick oven pizzas, this place is a great place to go with a few coworkers and share some slices during your break. You can also eat the pizza all by yourself, no sharing required.

emporioMy choice of prosciutto and cheese, classic & great – Photo by Cristina Nogueras

Bread

This cute Italian restaurant is as charming during lunch as it is during dinner. I’ve been able to make my way through the menu and I must say, I can’t get enough of it. If you are having lunch there, the tomato soup is a must. Oh, and in case you were wondering, they do have bread and it is very delicious.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetPhoto by Cristina Nogueras

Parm

If you go to Parm, you get the parm. The folks there are extremely good on making these chicken parm sandwiches, so ordering anything else seems like a crime. I have, however, ordered the garlic bread knots and they were very good… followed by a chicken parm sandwich, of course.

parmParm from parm – Photo from Parm’s website

Grey Dog

Looking for a quick, yet nice place to sit down and have lunch? I’ve only been here once, but I had a very delicious sandwich that left me feeling satisfied.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetQuite frankly, I forget what this sandwich was all about, but the pesto was absolutely amazing. – Photo by Cristina Nogueras

Spring Natural

To be honest, this one is making the list because I wanted to reach to 10 and I figured I had to get in a place that was healthy overall, just to ease my guilt. It may be a little overpriced for certain simple items, but after all, it’s SoHo. Their salads are really good (yes, I said that) and the bread they start you with is really good as well.

spring street I’ve tried to kept my photos to what I have tasted, but this looks delicious, could not overlook it! Photo from Spring Natural Facebook

 

What are your favorite SoHo spots? Share them with me below!

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¡Buen Provecho!