Chapter 6 – Lisbon, Day 3
As has become my morning routine, I grab my computer spend the first couple hours of my day working on the blog, sitting at Starbucks – Rossio station. This has definitely become a home base for me, and one that I love… not because I just have to have Starbucks, but because of the location itself. Rossio station is gorgeous, and it just feels good being in there.
First on the agenda was to walking down the middle of the Baixa, along Rua Augusta, to the entrance to the city – The Arco do Rua Augusta (arch). A ticket to go to the top of arch was included with my ticket that I got the day before at The Story of Lisbon. I headed up there and the top gave me a great 360˚ view of the city, directly from the centre of it…. it’s not often you get a complete city view looking out from the middle. It’s pretty neat looking at Lisbon from this perspective because you can clearly pick out where each neighbourhood is… it’s almost like looking at a real life version of a map of the city.
I didn’t spend a lot of time on top of the arch, because there’s only so much time you can spend there… besides, I had spent to much of the morning blogging, and got the day started late, so I wanted to make it to one of my favourite spots in the city. Walking through the Cais do Sodre are is a little weird if you don’t know where you are. It’s almost like an in between area, that’s just a way to get from bairro to bairro. Half the buildings are in disrepair, or at least look like they’ve been shut down, but the anticipation built up quickly. I’m going back. I love it there. I can’t wait to get there. I walk up to the Mercado da Ribeira, the large indoor city market (like our St. Lawrence Market), only to see the Eastern half of it closed! The Eastern half of the market is the vendor’s market… it’s where you get all the truly amazing fresh produce, fish, etc. I shuold’ve known though, it’s Sunday in a devoutly Catholic country. Continuing to walk a few meters ahead, I’m relieved and excited to see that the Western half of the market is open today! Yayyy! As much as I love the fresh market area, this part of the market is truly unique. We don’t have ANYTHING like it… nothing. I don’t care if you want to try to compare anything we have to it… you just can’t. It’s not nearly the same. This entire half of the market has been laid out for food vendors. Let’s not mistake it though, these are no food court or market food vendors. These are scaled down versions of full-on restaurant operations, with full restaurant kitchen line setups and professional restaurant staff. These mini restaurants are from the top chefs and restaurateurs in Lisbon, they aren’t some mom and pop serving you reheated frozen food. It’s an absolute frenzy here today. Totally nuts. It’s way busier than I like it, as there is no room at any table to sit, and I can barely even walk anywhere, but I don’t care…. I’m here, and I love it here. My lunch is going to be the most amazing market lunch I’ve ever had.
I head straight to the mini resto by Henrique Sá Pessoa. He, along with Avillez, are the two Portuguese chefs I admire the most, and they are two of the giants in the Portuguese culinary worlds. Yeah, imagine Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver having food stalls at St. Lawrence market (never mind the fact they aren’t Canadian, we all know who they are). I ordered a Bifana de Leitao (roasted suckling pig sandwich) com batatas fritas (chips or fries… basically, fried potatoes). Every stall/restaurant was so busy that they all used the table pager system for each order, because it takes longer than normal food court delivery time. You should see these guys work. It’s exactly the same as watching the line on fire at any hot, city restaurant. They were pumping out top end food like there’s no tomorrow. No breaks, no breathers, just constant hustle. These guys have my complete respect. Not only were they busting ass, but the food was top quality. It was so good. Crispy crackling skin, melt-in-your-mouth pork, served with house-pickled cucumber and carrots.
Again, weave my way up and down the streets, around corners, up stairs, down hills, up hills… through Cais do Sodre, Chiado, Bairro Alto, back to my apartment. Finish the Day 2 blogs, post. Done. Next thing you know, it’s dinner time! Wow, how time flies. I seemed to have formed somewhat of a dinner routine, so I head back down through the city to Chiado again. It’s become very clear to me now that most of the best restaurants Lisbon has to offer are concentrated in Chiado and Bairro Alto. José Avillez has 5 restaurants in Lisbon, all in the Chiado neighbourhood… wouldn’t it be nice if I could visit them all?! Well, I’ve already been to two of them (Café Lisboa – day 1, and Pizzaria Lisboa – day 2), so why not go for number 3? I’ve wanted to go to Cantinho do Avillez since before we came to Lisbon the first time, but it’s the kind of place that’s always very hard to get into. Lucky for me, I’ve found that it’s much easier to get a spot in places when you’re flying solo. So, this time I get in, with very high expectations, and boy does Cantinho live up to it! The restaurant is split into two separate sides/rooms…. probably because they took over two independent spaces and just had to split it that way. The decor was very homey, and using lots of neutral colours… keeping it clean and modern, but also making it comfortable and including many decorative accents honouring the Portuguese culture. On the side of the restaurant I was on, there was a really interesting thing. There was an open kitchen, but it’s not like any restaurant open kitchen that I’ve seen before. It was pretty much a home kitchen setup! Commercial appliances, rather than industrial, home-kitchen design and layout. Actually it was really nice. I kind of looked like a larger version of the William-Sonoma demo kitchens that they have in-store. I was just so surprised they had a home kitchen with home appliances in one of Lisbon’s best restaurants. I chatted with my waiter about this, and he let me know that this kitchen only put out the entradas e sobremesas (starters and desserts), while the kitchen on the other side put out the mains. Ok, makes more sense now.
My food arrived, and from then on, I was in heaven. I started with a Lisbon tradition, peixinhos da horta… pretty much the originator of Japanese tempura, but this is with green beans. They were the best damn tempura anything that I’ve ever eaten. Battered and fried green beans. Such a simple concept, but one that very few can cook at such an elevated level. I got a beer with dinner (first time I’ve ordered beer with dinner!) I only started drinking alcohol last year, when Susete and I went to France for our honeymoon. We started to order wine, because the French just think you’re absolutely insane when you don’t… which we experienced on several occasions. The Portuguese are very much the same way. The wines are so good and so cheap, why wouldn’t you order it? Booze in general here, is just something that goes with food, and in this case of the peixinhos, it was the absolute perfect accompaniment. Of course, I ordered a small portion of draft Superbock (20cl, which is only about 200mL, or less than 1 cup).
My main was bifé tartaro com batatas fritas. Steak tartare, and fried potato chips… I’m sure you can guess by now, the Portuguese love their potatoes, and they definitely love them fried. I don’t even really have much to comment on this dish, it was just perfectly done. Enough said. Dessert was a cheesecake concoction, almost half in between cheesecake and ice cream, with a flawlessly smooth raspberry coulis. Amazing. Happy with my jantar, I started to trek home again, walking through the Chiado, which by this time, is packed full of people. It’s dark out now, and Lisbon is a whole different animal in the dark. It’s really like keeping a giant school of kids inside all day and then letting them out for recess… they’re just everywhere, running all over the place. That’s Lisbon at night. I came across the main square in the Chiado and yet again, encounter another great street band performing. This was more caribbean/calypso/samba/latin style of music, and the crowd around loved it, and so did I. People just couldn’t help but dance around the sidewalks and road.
Arriving back at my apartment in the Carmo, I could hear more music blasting out, this time from the direction of the Rossio train station. I knew exactly where it was coming from, so I continued on past my place and went down the steep stairs to the Baixa and the square beside Rossio station. Two men, Abel on drums, and Gonçalves on guitar and lead vocals, had complete command of the entire square… with probably about 1000 people or so sitting in there and/or walking through it. They treated the crowd to a long set of reggae and rock tracks and were absolutely amazing. They were interactive with the crowd, and played like few street performance can play. They took familiar songs to places I haven’t seen them go before… and we’ve all heard these songs a million times over. It was the perfect mildly warm temperature out, I had my coffee in hand, the crowd was jovial, and the music was outstanding. A perfect way to end my first 3 days in my beloved Lisboa. Tomorrow, I head to the airport to pick up Prince Phillip, and we’re jumping on a train to Évora, the capital of the expansive Alentejo region.