Adeus, Lisboa and thanks for the memories!

And then this happened...

And then this happened…

I’d love to go on and on about the many great things I ate in Portugal almost as much as I’d love to go on and on actually IN Portugal, but alas, like my trip itself did, the lovefest has to end. But don’t you worry, sweet reader o’ mine, I’ve saved the best for last!

And by best, I mean most likely to possibly freak you out. Bear with me.

My last full day in Lisbon was spent with my old high school friend who lives there (the lucky bastard, him and his EU citizenship) strolling around town, stopping at museums, bars, markets, shops, and miradouros (viewpoints from which to take in the city’s many gorgeous vistas) basically squeezing every ounce of goodness out of life that day. It was a pretty phenomenal day at that, and you know I wouldn’t say that if it hadn’t included some good grubbing too.

For my last proper meal in Lisbon (not counting the pasteis I wolfed down en route to/and at the airport the next morning) I wanted one thing: caracois. Uh, huh. Snails. I’d heard about them and seen signs advertising them outside of restaurants so I figured, hey, when in Rome…

We walked up to As Zebras Do Combro, a small, homey restaurant with azuleijo covered walls and a sassy, Portuguese only speaking waitress who confirmed they had snails, among other traditional and regional Portuguese eats.  With stomachs growling (ok, possibly just mine) we ordered a plate of snails, linguica, grilled sardines (another thing I wanted to eat before leaving the country) and a cold bottle of white wine.

You know, just a casual, small mountain of snails.

You know, just a casual, small mountain of snails.

Ok, so let’s get right down to it: the snails. I posted a picture on Instagram (AngieDupinthelimousine if you don’t already follow me) and one vegan friend commented with a broken heart emoji. I texted the same picture to my sister, who immediately wrote back (5 hour time difference be damned): “HELL, NO.” So, I get it, people on this side of the pond aren’t crazy about the slimy little suckers as food. But over in Lisbon, they’re a local favorite, so I wanted them. Was I necessarily in love with them after? Well, no, but I didn’t think they were bad either. After poking them with a toothpick and dragging each one out of its shell, the tiny snails were kind of gummy, and didn’t really taste like a whole lot besides the butter and olive oil they were cooked in. Not as meaty or flavorful as escargot I’ve had prepared the French way, these were just ok. Not bad, but ok.

Bad food porn but GREAT food.

Bad food porn but GREAT food.

Now the linguica, a Portuguese chorizo that won’t be winning any points for its good looks, was deeeeelicious. Smokey and garlicky with a slightly crispy outside and a juicy, spicy inside, this sausage ranks as some of the best I’ve ever had. Again, not much to look at but damn good to eat, a true lesson in the importance of focusing on more than just looks.

It wouldn't be Portugal without sardines.

It wouldn’t be Portugal without sardines.

Last were the grilled sardines, probably the most Portuguese of foods since sardines are everywhere and on everything from a billion different beautifully packaged cans to keychains to magnets to t-shirts. I was most interested in getting them on my plate, however. Grilled whole with just a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, these little fish were the perfect example of less is more. They were simple and tasty, the plump, soft meat inside worth the work of pulling the thin bones away.

Having done everything I wanted to do and eaten everything I wanted to eat, I left Portugal with both a full stomach and heart. Until we meet again, lovely Portugal, obrigada and adeus! (But you can keep the snails…)

Saltie state of mind

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The Captain’s Daughter

My mind’s been elsewhere recently, and until this afternoon, I wasn’t really sure where that was. I thought it might’ve run away in light of my recent apartment drama (yup, my roommate and I are moving. Again.) or maybe checked out after my latest pseudo romance turned out to be another dead end (cue the T-Swift playlist), or possibly just felt drained from the House of Cards binge I’ve subjected it to (woa, season 2, WOA).

Likely, it was all of those things and more that drove it away, but today at lunch, the second I bit into a beautiful, sloppy sandwich at Saltie, I figured out where it had been all along: on a seaside vacation.

The way a certain smell or song can trigger a specific memory, so can certain foods, or more specifically flavors, just as easily conjure a place in my mind. Today, as I chomped away on a lemony, garden-worth of arugula, plump, juicy sardines, briny capers, creamy slices of pickled eggs and a zesty smear of salsa verde, all between thick, golden focaccia flecked with sea salt, my mind immediately went to a sunny day on a coastal town somewhere.

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A tasty mess

The carefree ease I felt while eating (and making a mess out of) that sandwich, listed at Saltie as the Captain’s Daughter, made me think that’s where my mind’s been all along. Maybe it wasn’t a lazy beach getaway that my mind took. Maybe it’s just been hanging out at a small sandwich shop in Williamsburg this whole time. Either way it’s good to know where I can turn to get my head and my stomachand consequently my heart on the same page.

Really, I should’ve known a great sandwich would’ve made everything better all along.

Saltie on Urbanspoon

Pigging out in Chitown

While I might appear slothlike, I’m really not, and especially when I travel, I like to hit the ground running. Even after a taxi-flight-taxi combo, the extra added annoyances of flight delays, last-minute carry-on bags having to be checked, and spending almost 3 hours wedged into the dreaded middle seat, as soon as Flaneur and I got to our hotel in Chicago I wanted to go OUT. There was a restaurant I was itching to go to and the next day just wasn’t soon enough. What if I died in my sleep and never made it?

So instead of kicking back and relaxing,  off we went in search of The Purple Pig, a restaurant one of my friends in San Francisco raved about and insisted I go to. Next time I see this friend, I owe her a drink at the very least because The Purple Pig was ridiculous–in the best way. Fireworks and a parade wouldn’t have made for a better welcome to the city.

Below, some food porn from our first night in Chi-town:

First out, from the antipasti section of the menu, were the fresh spring peas and bacon with spearmint. Fattest, most delicious peas I’ve ever eaten. I could eat this all day, every day.

Peas unlike any I’ve ever had.

From the salad portion of the menu,  rabbit panzanella with mixed herbs and lettuce, crispy capers, pickled fiddlehead ferns (that’s one of the curliecues in the left corner) and black truffle vinaigrette. Panzanella, a type of italian bread salad, is one of my favorite easy dishes but this took it to a whole new level. So many colors, flavors, textures. So. Much. Deliciousness.

A crazy heap of panzanella. Crazy good, that is.

Then from the fried items: sardines with shaved fennel salad and lemon vinaigrette. This is one of those dishes that makes you wish you were on vacation at the beach somewhere, maybe in Italy. But then when you realize you’re not, you’re still ok because you have these damn tasty sardines in front of you, and that’s more than enough.

Fried sardines: salty, tangy and just perfect.

Next, from the a la plancha part: pork jowl and grilled asparagus with oyster mushrooms and fried duck egg on top. This was probably, no definitely, my favorite. The pork jowl was tender and meaty, and when that perfect, orange duck yolk spilled over it? I could have cried if I wasn’t busy stuffing forkfuls in my mouth.

Pork jowl and fried duck egg. The people sitting next to us were blatantly staring at us while we ate this, food envy written all over their faces.

Last in our succession of savory eats, the pork neck bone gravy with ricotta from the smears section of the menu. A hearty, saucy, rich dish served with crunchy toast for smearing and dipping, this was a great example of what i consider comfort food.

Pork neck gravy and ricotta smear. As in, I want to smear this all over my mouth.

And then finally, dessert.  It wasn’t easy choosing but at the server’s recommendation, we went with the Sicilian Iris, a ricotta and chocolate chip filled fried brioche. Sounds magnificent doesn’t it? Oh, and it WAS. Something like a cross between a canolo and a bombolone, this thing was unreal. When it came it out, it looked like a round, fat, sugar-dusted donut but inside, it oozed, warm creamy ricotta with dark chocolate chips. Totally decadent, and so, so, so very good.

Sicilian iris: the sweet lovechild between the canolo and the bombolone

Not only was this one of my favorite meals in Chicago, but one of my favorite ever. I’d go back to Chicago just to eat at The Purple Pig again.

The Purple Pig on Urbanspoon

Un petit roadtrip

Le Petit Bistro, Rhinebeck, NY

Last Saturday spring finally sprang, and while all of New York headed outside in a celebratory exodus to the parks, streets and any open spaces with a ray of sunlight shining down on them, Flaneur and I decided to leave the city all together.

We had been talking about escaping the city one weekend but because of all the time that goes into planning even just a two-day trip, I kept putting it off. You have to pick a place, figure out how to get there, then find things to do while you’re there, places to eat (always an important part of the research) and where to stay if you’re spending the night.

But then, as if he read my thoughts, someone at work asked if I’d ever been to Rhinebeck, New York in the Hudson Valley. No? Well I should go, he said. And while I’m there I should stay at America’s oldest operating inn, the Beekman Arms, and I absolutely must eat at Le Petit Bistro.

“Ok,” I agreed easily. “I’ll go next weekend.”

And just like that Flaneur and I rented a car, booked a one-night stay and said, “See you later, Manhattan. We’re outta here.”

Rhinebeck is a lovely little town, peaceful and quiet with minimal to do other than just plain ol’ relax, which we did a lot of. But our biggest reason for going, the main attraction of our trip and what sold me on the idea, was the cozy French restaurant my coworker had raved about.

As I do with everything else, I Googled it before going. The website was cheesy and dated and the photos of the interior gave it a boat cabin feel, with all the woodwork it had going on. I trusted my coworker, who swore that the restaurant was much better looking in person and that I really did have to go. And good thing I did because he was definitely right.

Le Petit Bistro was cute and inviting, with a soft glow coming from the small candles on each table. The wood on the walls, angled ceiling and bar was actually really pretty and created a warm, intimate feel very unlike the photos on the site.

We showed up for our 9:30 reservations and were seated at a small table toward the back of the restaurant. A few minutes later, we were told that a table by the window had just opened up and if we wanted to we were welcome to move up. A small gesture but it spoke a lot about the kind of service here. I was impressed.

The menu was short, which Flaneur and I appreciated since too many choices just lead to panic and scrambling at the last minute when the waiter shows up. We got our order in and sat back with glasses of red wine. Ah, now this is the life.

Appetizers came out and I was both nervous and excited. Excited because they looked and smelled delicious, but nervous because what I ordered, in keeping with the French theme, was escargots de Bourgogne, and the last time I ordered escargot, at a small bistro in Paris, I spent the entire next day puking in the streets, on the metro and finally on my plane ride back to Italy. It was not pretty but I didn’t want one little bout with food poisoning to keep me from enjoying this iconic dish.

After pulling the first escargot out of its shell and plopping it my mouth, I completely forgot I’d ever been sick at the hand of one of these tasty little delicacies. Juicy and plump without being chewy or gummy, the delicious butter-garlic-parsley combo made each one a scrumptious mouthful. When they were done, I double-checked all the empty shells to make sure I hadn’t missed any. No such luck.

Escargots de Bourgongne

Flaneur’s appetizer, the grilled sardines, was part of the special’s menu (which was written on a chalkboard and explained to us in mouthwatering detail at our table). When I hear sardines I think of the scrawny guppies that come in a can but the two on Flaneur’s plate were big and meaty. With a squeeze of lemon juice over them, they were tangy and delicious, yet subtle and not overly fishy.

Grilled sardines

Small salads (plain with a pour of olive oil and a sprinkle of pepper) were out next, and then the entrees. I ordered the roasted duck, which came on a creamy mound of mashed potatoes, and was topped with asparagus and round balls of what I think was cooked apple. (Could’ve been pear. I was too involved in the whole dish to analyze the fruit too much.) The duck had a perfectly browned, crisp skin without being too heavy or fatty, as skin tends to get. Inside, the light brown meat was tender and juicy, and came off in thick forkfuls. The mashed potatoes were smooth and buttery and with each bite of duck meat, I tried to scoop up some of the creamy potatoes. The fruit, whatever they were, were soft and sweet, adding just the right amount of sweetness to the savory dish. And finally, even the asparagus were great, cooked to a nice tenderness that made them easy to cut and enjoy, especially with the potatoes. (Although really, I could eat shoelaces if they were mixed in with those mashed potatoes.)

Roasted duck with mashed potatoes

Sticking to seafood, Flaneur ordered another specials item: the grilled sea bass. Served atop a simple but delicious bed of wild rice and paired with the same perfectly cooked asparagus, the bass was the perfect blend of buttery and lemony without being too salty or overpowering. Capers added a little zing of flavor to each bite.

Grilled sea bass

Even though we were stuffed, there was no way I was leaving without dessert, so Flaneur and I decided to split one of  my all-time favorites: the creamy, the classic, the delightfully crisp-on-top icon of French sweets, the crème brulee. And as I suspected based on the rest of our meal, this one did not disappoint. Under a golden brown caramelized crunchy top layer (which always makes me think of the scene from Amelie where she tap, tap, taps the top with a silver spoon) was a cool, thick, butter-colored cream. Absolutely delicious and the ideal ending to a perfect dinner.

Crème brulee

The next day we went back to the city, back to the noise and the crowds and the work routine. But the next time it all gets to be too much, we know where to go, and most importantly we know where to eat.