Will travel for food

“Will travel for food” might as well be my philosophy for life, because I rarely mind a trek— be it by foot, train, plane or automobile— if there’s a good meal waiting to be had at the end.

When my Lisbon-living friend suggested we take a daytrip to Tomar, a small town about a 2-hour train ride away, to have lunch at a great family run restaurant where you had to tell them what you’d be having when you made the reservation so that the lovely little grandma in the kitchen could start the appropriate preparations, I was sold. (I mean, there was also a visit to a thousand-year-old castle at the top of a hill thrown into the pitch, but really, he had me at lunch.)

Chico Elias, did in fact, involve a hike. No, really. After our two hour train ride, my friend and I had to cut through town and hoof it up a hill, on the side of the road, under the unrelenting August sun to reach our lunchtime destination.

Like showing up at your actual family’s house, the door was locked, and someone, possibly one of the children, answered the door and let us into the cool, still dining room. No menus or English either. My friend confirmed our order in Portuguese and I just smiled and nodded.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

The delicious duck at Chico Elias comes hidden under layers of deliciousness.

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

I mean really, will YA LOOK AT THAT?

First out was the duck, prepared in a way like no other I’d ever had. Served in a heavy casserole type dish, it came out as a mountain of a most delicious mix of stuffing-like cornbread, pine nuts, walnuts, greens, and buried inside like the treasure that it was, tender, juicy, perfect duck. Each heaping spoonful had a little bit of all of the ingredients and all of it was perfection. The blend of textures and flavors including crunchy, sweet, nutty, juicy, soft, meaty and earthy was just everything I needed and wanted, with all of the comfort and warmth of a home cooked meal.

Roasted goat and the most perfect potatoes in Portugal

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If my own home cooking were this good, I’d never leave the house.

Next up, the goat, a rich, meaty dish so good that even after the absolutely filling duck before it, I couldn’t stop shoveling it in until it was done. Served alongside the juiciest, most savory, melt-in-your-mouth potatoes and equally juicy, delicious greens, good enough to convert even the most veggie opposed eater, the outrageously tender, soft roasted goat was one of those foods you can’t eat without at least once closing your eyes and letting out a deep mmmmm.

Just like at home, where your family (or at least certainly mine) never thinks you’ve eaten enough, it’s worth noting that the portions at Chico Elias are massive. Each dish we had could easily have been split between three people, who would’ve all walked away well fed and beyond happy, but between the two of us we had two. So yea, enough food for five to six people.

Faitas de Tomar

Faitas de Tomar… slices of cloud like dessert

But because no truly perfect meal is complete without dessert, we went with local specialty, faitas de Tomar, a moist, spongy cake like sweet made with egg yolks and sugar. It was just the right amount of sweet and light to balance the heavy, savory feast we’d had.

Would I ride the L train from Brooklyn to JFK, fly across the Atlantic to Lisbon, jump on a train to Tomar and haul my butt up that hill to eat at Chico Elias again? Damn right I would.

Lessons in pesto

The goods

The best thing about having an Italian boyfriend is that his standards for Italian food are ridiculously high. He would rather eat a sock than dinner at the Olive Garden, never buys pasta sauce in a jar, splurges on “good” olive oil, and like me, he thinks that alfredo sauce is weird and gross. Tonight for example, he wanted to make pesto. Great, I thought, I love pesto! So off he went to the supermarket down the street but instead of coming back with a small jar of the oily green stuff most people would’ve bought, he came back with a wedge of Parmiggiano-Reggiano (aka Parmesan), a fat head of garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts and olive oil (Italian of course).

Apart from grating the cheese and documenting this whole process with my camera, I didn’t really do much. I observed and was greatful. That was about it. Flaneur on the other hand, got to business. He finely diced a couple cloves of raw garlic and added them to the bowl of grated Parmesan I had finished.

Mixing ingredients

Next, between tossing several of them in his mouth and marveling at how good they were (even though they were from Spain), he chopped up the pine nuts and also added those to the cheese and garlic mix.

Chopping pine nuts

Up next were the basil leaves, which he plucked off their long stems and minced with the sharpest knife my small kitchen had to offer. Once the basil was chopped into small enough pieces it went in with the cheese, garlic and pine nuts.

Chopping basil

After getting a generous pour of olive oil (and then a couple more for good measure), he stirred everything around until it was a thick, even green mixture with an aroma so rich and powerful it filled the whole apartment. (It’s now hours since we ate and my room still smells of garlic and basil in a wonderful pesto-scented Yankee candle kind of way.)

Stirring it all up

Finally, he cooked the pasta, De Cecco fusilli (his favorite brand and the only one he eats at home in Italy). After draining it he threw it back in the pot, mixed in the pesto and served it. We sprinkled on some more fresh-grated Parmesan and sat down to enjoy our delicious pasta with authentic homemade pesto. Mmmm mmm!

Buon appetito!