Portuguese Fare at Chateau Mediterranean

There are days that you plan around elegant lunches; taking off from work and getting a glass of wine to specially remember a wonderful meal.

Then, there are days when you are in New Jersey and stop in at the one place that seems to be open.


IMG_20130924_121249_970 Mediterranean Chateau isn’t the type of place I usually seek out. It has a vaguely bar mitzvah feel with its cavernous spaces, bar area in the front, and 1980s linen tablecloths. It was empty when we arrived, but quickly filled up with ladies who lunch, suburb style.

Don’t laugh…that day, I was one of those ladies. Minus the wine spritzer.

And I loved it.

Beneath the cheesy feel, however, lays some very good Portuguese food. Take a look:

IMG_20130924_121640_929 Caldo verde

This famous Portuguese soup is as homey and familiar as clam chowder. A thick, creamy soup that isn’t at all gluey, is laced with tender kale ribbons, soft hunks of salty sausage, and potatoes. It isn’t overtly meaty or bitter from the kale. It’s just the thing you want on a nippy fall afternoon, with a freshly baked soft sourdough roll form the breadbasket.

I didn’t even need that wine spritzer…I was already feeling high.
IMG_20130924_123145_928 Portuguese sausage

If you have ever had breakfast in Hawaii, you will recognize this wonderful, garlicky sausage as linguica. The kind served here is from a local butcher and it’s some of the best I have had on the east coast – soft, pleasantly greasy, crisp on the outside and savory inside. The rounds are fried and served with hot pickled vegetables that are not unlike giardiniera. The bright, vinegary pickles cut right though the sausage’s fat and the plate is a wonderful appetizer.  IMG_20130924_124450_538 Bacalao Portuguese style

Beware of bones. I was warned, but I ignored. That’s all I have to say about this dish that, while tasted wonderful, was so riddled with bones that I could barely get a bite without having to pick them out of my teeth.

#sexyandiknowit

That’s too bad because the flavor is spot on. A bright, garlicky, onion-y tomato sauce with tiny, creamy potatoes and flaky, mild cod. It could have been great. In fact, I am going to try to recreate it at home.

Sans bones.

I can’t say that the Chateau Mediterranean is a “must visit,” but it did open my eyes  – Portuguese food is awesome! And the service was great and it was – wait for it – really, really cheap. NYC has ruined me – I forgot that normal people can have a 3 course meal for $20 some places in this country!

Sometimes the only place that is open is the only place that you would want to go, anyway. 

Aldea Makes its Way to the Top of the List

George Mendes’ Michelin Starred restaurant Aldea has been on my list for awhile, but, as many upscale restaurants tend to do, kept sinking to the bottom. This isn’t the type of restaurant you just happen to walk into on a Wednesday night. 
 This is a reservation-worthy, get your high heels on, skip lunch sort of place. And I did all those things (Well, let’s be honest…didn’t wear heels) when I arrived for my reservation.
 The extremely affable hostess asked if we would like to be seated at the chef’s counter – yes, please! We walked through the small, muted dining room and sat at a sushi bar in front of all the chefs. We literally got to watch the staff of a Michelin-starred restaurant at work. This was like my version of watching an adult film – I was intrigued, I was paying attention and I was most DEFINITELY excited. 
 Olive Baguette and Bacon Fat Cornbread. 
The olive baguette was exemplary – sour, crusty and studded with moist, slightly bitter green olives – but the cornbread was something else altogether. Crumbly, soft but not mushy and with a pervasive smoky taste and aroma. Not specifically bacon-y, but so hearty and meaty with that deeply porky taste pervading throughout. Clearly, I ate it all.
 Caphirena Macaron
Crispy, minty macarons melded with a sweet and potent alcoholic snow cone. Cooling with the mint and crunchy with the macaron, it melted in my mouth leaving behind the tang of alcohol and the promise of a great meal to come.
 Gaspacho
A classic version of the Mediterranean soup. Smooth, creamy, acidic and sweet with tomatoes and a ton of sherry vinegar. The vinegar was cut by a ball of spherical mozzarella that was liquid on the inside, its creaminess melding with the bite of the sherry vinegar. Not as transcendent as the version at M. Wells, but I could still drink a gallon of this. 
 Cured Foie Gras with Market Peaches, Lemon Verbena and Almonds.
Smooth, rich foie gras that tasted even sweeter with the flecks of salt. Crunchy almonds broke up the creaminess of the foie, and the peaches were satiny and bright, punching up the meaty flavor of the liver. The lemon verbena was judiciously used, so it wasn’t like eating a mouthful of perfume, just a gentle hit of the herb to bring a fragrant note to the rich dish. 
 Shrimp with Garlic, Coriander, Razor Clams and Trout Roe.
This was the one dish of the meal that I was not crazy about. Loved the shrimp – obviously oil poached and so tender they were almost liquid. Loved the trout roe, gently salty and pleasantly sticky. Loved the garlicky, pungent broth. But those razor clams…I just couldn’t get past them. They had a very fishy, iodine-y taste to them. Too bad, because the rest of the dish was very tasty, but the razor clams just didn’t do it for me. 
Arroz De Pato with Duck Confit, Chorizo, Cracklings, Olives and Tangerines.
 My paella kick continues and this just might be my favorite one. The rice was so creamy, so rich, so redolent of  citrus and the salty kick of olives. The duck confit was juicy and tender and the chorizo was fragrant with garlic and fatty pork. The cracklings were like pork scented potato chips – crispy, shattering in the mouth, contrasting with the melting texture of the confit and the total creaminess of the rice. If you come here for just one dish, come here for this.  Our server said it was her favorite and man…she has great taste. 
 Passion fruit Tart with Coconut Ice Cream and Caramelized Bananas. 
Oh yes. Sweet, tart passion fruit. Dark, slightly bitter chocolate. Fluffy, light mousse next to crisp, decadent crust. A sorbet so rich it seemed to be made entirely of cream. 
And bananas…don’t worry, I didn’t eat those. 
But I did eat these cranberry mignardises. Sweet, tangy and the perfect way to end the meal. 
And what a meal it was! Portuguese food evidently focuses on strong, fresh, zesty flavors, because that’s what this whole meal was. Wonderful service, fair prices and delicious food made the night one to remember. And let’s not forget the fact that you can sit at the counter and watch the chefs prepare your food. I could just watch the way that they cut vegetables into tiny even dices for hours. Maybe that’s just me…but its also a great way to not have to talk to your dinner date!
Of course, if I was your dinner date, all I would be doing was talking about how fab this meal was. 
And all that from something that got pushed down on my list. 

Mary Ellen’s Portuguese Bakery -Pork-o-Palooza!

After a somewhat mediocre meal at Sam’s, I wasn’t holding out high hopes for breakfast. Sure, there might be lobster rolls to be had in summer mornings, but what about late spring? I was pretty much counting on a Starbucks pastry. Then, somewhere, I read about this little gem. 
Mary Ellen’s Portuguese bakery is a small diner/bakery that serves diner standards as well as traditional Portuguese fare. When we walked in at 7 a.m., the place was hopping with local men and women, many of whom, we noticed, had their food brought to them without even ordering and had specific coffee cups in the mismatched plate ware. It was a total family, community affair, but we were quickly seated,  treated like we had been there all of our lives instead of being a few interlopers.
 And really…any restaurant that serves a plethora of pork in the morning is going to get patronized by me.
Before we sat down, we surveyed the bakery counter, which had all sorts of conventional and Portuguese specialty baked goods. There was a cheese and linguicia bread that looked amazing…
But we settled on this Portuguese doughnut. More a fried brioche than a sweet bread, it was covered in powder-fine crystallized sugar that made it sugary but not cloyingly so. A perfect precursor to our meal.
 
The linguicia and egg sandwich on a Portuguese roll was really perfection. The linguicia was zesty with red pepper, sweet with the pork and perfectly moist, the way good linguicia is. The thin omelette was the perfect light counterpart to the heavy sausage, and the bread was totally fantastic. Thick but not dense, soft still substantial, it totally held in all the grease (we call that flavor, here) but had such a supple crust that my teeth easily tore through it, with none of the tug and war one needs with a ciabatta or baguette.
Dontcha just love a culture who eats stewed pork at all times of the day or night? This Cacoila (slow braised Brazilian pork) was tender but not at all mushy, and served with a piquant, spicy broth that was full of vinegar and chilies. Though the sauce was sour, tangy and zesty all at once, what was amazing was how strong the pork flavor shone through here. There was none of the garlicky, onion-y flavor of the linguicia here. The vinegar and chilies just brought out the pork’s inherent moistness and sweet flavor. This was rich but not at ALL heavy, also unlike the linguicia.
It was so not heavy, I could have eaten 3 of them.
Mary Ellen’s Portuguese bakery may have been my favorite find of the trip. Kind service, unbelievably cheap prices, and some of the most delicious breakfast food that I have ever had the privilege of shoveling down my gullet. Get yourself to Mary Ellen’s if you find yourself in Falmouth.
Don’t worry…somehow Starbucks will find the business to survive.
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