We were tired. Due to an early morning train ride, we didn’t get too much sleep last night… maybe about 5.5 hours… but then I guess that’s become a lot for me over the past few months. Still, we were tired. We both slept half the train ride. We’ve been in the go non-stop for the past 4 days, and I guess it’s just burned us out a little. Only one thing could re-energize us…. Lisboa.
Arriving back in Lisbon is like coming home. I really love all of Portugal, so far as I’ve seen, but Lisbon is where my heart is. For months, since I can here for the first time, Susete and I have been raving about how amazing and underrated this city is, but finally now I get to actually SHOW someone.
Leading up to this trip, I’ve been really building up the hype to Phil about how much he’s going to love it, how great it is here, how good the food is…. I could’ve been a little worried that it wouldn’t live up to the hype, but I know. It always will. Not even 100 ft out of the Metro station and into the city, and Phil is in love. You can’t help it, it’s like a siren call. You just can’t help but get sucked in. Lisbon has a way of doing that. The atmosphere, the people, the way it seamlessly integrates the old and the new, without one overpowering the other.
We’ve seen a lot of amazing things so far, on our journey in PT, but now we’re in LX, and we’re not fooling around. It’s lunch time as we arrive, and we go in for the kill right from the start. Café Lisboa. José Avillez is my Portuguese culinary inspiration, and I need Phil to experience it because I know this food will have the same effect on him as it does on me. As a matter of fact, that’s only half of my plan for the day 1 experience, the second half comes later in this article… but in less than a day, I will give Phil what he needs to see to understand exactly what we’re going to be doing in our restaurant, and why we’re here.
Bacalhau a Bras, tartaro do polvo, shrimp alho, farinheira come ovo, avelha, toucinho de ceu. Avillez is the best, and our first meal in Lisbon is setting the standard for the rest of our time here. Café Lisboa is having the same effect of Phil has it did in me the first time I ate here (check the earlier blog). His mind is opened, as a flood of information and inspiration overwhelms him. “I don’t get it, how is it possible? I don’t get it. What am I supposed to do now? How can I go home now?” This is all he can think of now. Inspiration and confusion at the same time. Awe. That’s what it is, awe.
I knew this would set the standard, but it’s only the beginning. We head down the road and make a reservation at Cantinho do Avillez for a couple days from now…. this is a must. Our plans start to flush out more as it’s clear where we need to go, what Phil needs to see, after that first lunch. After we take a rest back at the hotel, we’ll head into Alfama, and show Phil old Lisbon… the only part of Lisbon from before the 1755 earthquake.
We wander Alfama for a bit just so he can get a good picture of the area, although it’s really hard to get a clear picture of this place the first time, because of all the stairs and hills up and down, the twists and turns, the multiple levels, streets on top of each other, and the many hidden paths and alleyways that make up this ancient district. The Alfama is home to the original inspiration for the foundation of my entire menu… hell, my entire concept. O Beco (the alley) is a tiny hidden restaurant that exists in a small alleyway, maybe 60 ft long only. You can easily pass by it if you don’t already know it’s there. Seating only about 20 people at the most, and run by two older ladies who work in the most impossibly small kitchen, the most amazing food comes out. This is Portuguese soul food. Literally. it reaches deep inside and pulls on your soul and you just don’t know how you’re supposed to react to it. It’s not even close to fancy, and almost like you’re eating out of some grandmother’s home kitchen, but it’s just that good. This grandmother will give any professionally trained chefs run for their money. Susete and I first came here back in the spring, on the recommendation from a local, and the Bacalhau a Bras, and Carne do Porco de Alentejana was such an amazing experience, it cleared my mind, inspired me, and taught me what real Portuguese food is. It taught me what and how I should be cooking. And now it’s done the same for Phil. Café Lisboa has show Phil what elevated Portuguese food can and should be, it showed him the present and the future. O Beco showed him where it all came from. The two put together is the perfect balance, and in that space in the middle, that’s where we’ll be. That’s what we’ll be bringing to Toronto. We’re determined to show the city we call home, the amazing gastronomy of the city we’ve grown to love.
This is only day 1 in Lisbon. It’s only gonna get better from here.