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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Another Café in Porto? You Bet! Café a Brasileira

Another Café in Porto?  You Bet!  Café a Brasileira

Porto is full of the quaint, the old and the wonderful. Architectural wonders abound.  Walk down any street and feast your eyes on what a city should look like. Many of those stone marvels are hotels and cafés, left over from the gilded age when the upper crust did not eat, they dined.  One of the best is the Café a Brasileira, dating from 1903, but recently refurbished with all attention to every historic detail, with the columns, the fixtures, the walls and colors, all matching the originals.

You might say, even the coffee is original, coming from a farm in Brazil, only 150 kilometers (about 90 miles) from where the pharmacist, Adriano Telles, first served coffee by the cup, although these days, every café in Europe and America and even Japan survives by being a slave to lattes and such.  Café a Brasileira is no exception. So never fear, you faint of hearts who don’t really like coffee, but love the idea of having your java doctored to match your beach tan, nothing to fear at this café.

 But, for those brave souls who are no slave to the latest trend in coffee-juice, and I proudly count myself in that number, forgo the silly frills and tell the very attentive waiter you’d like a snifter of Jameson Irish to go with your morning cup of rich brew.  Sure, you may have to suffer the mild rebuke of your significant other, or you may be surprised to see her lightly lick her lips, wink, and whisper, “I’d like a sip….if you know what I mean.”  Be sure to hold the snifter in both your shaking hands as her perfect lips daintily touch the rim.  Stand ready to applaud if she turns to the waiter and demurely asks him to bring one for herself. Oh, be still my pants heart!

But, more than just a place to sip a cup, the café is a great place to watch the world go by, sample the justly famous Pastel de Nata (custard Tart), and make yourself feel like the masterly traveler that you are.

Porto is a place that makes you feel like dressing for breakfast and taking a leisurely stroll into a bygone era.  Café a Brasileira.  Don’t forget the name. I guarantee you won’t forget the experience.

University Student in her black robe

One of the very attentive waiters

A chair back

Friday, May 18, 2018

Port Wine in Porto

Port Wine in Porto

The first question from my careful and VERY discriminating readers:  Wass up wit like you know, Sherry and Port?  They’re like the same, right?

Before I answer that penetrating question from those addicted to the word “Like,” I offer one comment and some recommendations.  First, the comment:  You may not be old enough to drink and I’m going to have to see at least four forms of ID and a note from your like-mother.

Recommendations:  Such as, Almost, Possibly, Maybe and a blank space as reasonable alternatives.  Remaining deathly silent will be like a crowd pleaser.

But, for those brave souls who marched stoutly through puberty, I offer a thumbnail sketch of Sherry vs Port.  Feel free to ‘like’ like it or not. 

Port and Sherry are both fortified wines.

What is a ‘fortified wine?  Another question already?  Ok, I know it’s impolite to like-ask a question with a like-question.

The answer is quite simple.  Fortified means additional alcohol is added, which stops fermentation, leaving some residual sugar and a sweeter wine.  The further along the fermentation process is, the drier the fortified wine.  The additional alcohol is referred to as aquardente and may come in any form, from brandy to other distilled spirits.  The result is an alcohol content of 18 to 20%, as opposed to unfortified wine’s 11-13%.

Differences between sherry and port:  Sherry comes from Jerez in the extreme southern part of Spain.  Port comes from the Douro Valley in the north of Portugal.  Sherry is usually a blend of various vintages (the Solera Method), while Port is normally a single vintage.  Yes, there are more differences, but instead let’s concentrate on Port.

Port comes in these three varieties:  White, Ruby, and Tawny.   Vintage Ports are mostly of the Tawny variety, although I did acquire a 20 year old white Port.

As a rule, taste-wise, White tastes a bit lighter, Ruby is a bit heavier and sweeter, and Vintage Tawny is as smooth as the unexpected caress of the woman your wife warned you about.

BUT, if you’re eating dark chocolate, skip the caress and pair your indulgence with Ruby Port.  The blend of the two flavors will astonish you.

If you’re in Porto, Portugal and want to sample a variety, do what we did and drop in at Kopke, one of the oldest Port merchants in the city.  Cross the Douro River and  don't forget to read about the famous bridge.  Once you cross, look back for a beautiful view of the port. 

At Kopke, you’ll be seated at an elegant table and introduced to the wonders of Port, presented by an attractive and knowledgeable assistant, who will not only explain everything you’re tasting but supply breads, crackers, and chocolates to allow you to pair all your possible choices with food.

Yes, I could go into the glorious flavors of every variety, but you wouldn’t remember and taste is so personal.  I love a 40 year old Port (yes, we sold our car and gave right of first refusal on our first born), you may very well prefer a more modest vintage.  The pairing with dark chocolate and the applause of our taste buds also ‘forced’ us to a purchase a delightful Ruby Port as well.  The Kopke selections are nearly impossible to say no to.

So now it’s time for the quiz.  But, first… need a refill on that Port?  And another bit of luscious dark chocolate? 

Screw the quiz, you’re already an A student.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen – Amelia Island, Florida

Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen – Amelia Island, Florida

I like Americana.  I seek it out, so when I saw Gilbert’s sign and the initials BBQ and a huge smoker outside, replete with the billowing clouds bearing the seductive aroma of long-roasting meat, I pulled in.  Sure, I was hungry, but I could have stopped anywhere.  No lack of good restaurants on the island, including a plethora of those advertising BBQ.

But first, I need to give you a glimpse and insight of my taste for Barbecue.   Texas?  Yep.  Mostly beef and the tantalizing tang of red sauce.  North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia?  Yep, every time.  Vinegar Q sauce in NC.  Mustard based sauce in SC.

The south is proud of it's barbecue and each state doesn't mind telling you whose is best. I remember clearly when I asked one of my compatriots from Texas about NC Q and his definitive answer:  I don’t trust people who put vinegar on their barbecue!

I’m different. I don’t play favorites until my taste buds vote.  Mention BBQ and I’m ready to pull in and dig in, even though I’ve come to expect the Q will be the star of the show, covering for lack luster mayo-soaked cabbage slaw and fries who last felt the sting of hot oil a while back.

Having weathered the worst, when I sat down amid the souvenirs of the southland of years past, I’d already decided to stick with Q and avoid the rest.  Then I saw the menu.

Collard greens.  Braised Brussels Sprouts. Cheese grits.  Mac and cheese, using pimento cheese.  Fried green tomatoes with Datil Pepper sauce.  Courtesy of our well-trained and well-mannered server, Connor, I soon was well informed in mouth-watering detail.

Gotta stop and tell a bit more about service at Gilbert’s.  Our other server, Sidney, was equally well informed and courteous.

And, had I known more about the Chef-Owner, Kenny Gilbert, I wouldn’t have been surprised at the prompt, courteous and superbly trained staff.

A bit about Kenny Gilbert.  Go to his home page to read the remarkable experience this Chef has, but I’ll give you the short answer:  Worked at first class restaurants around the globe.  Did well on Season Seven of “Top Chef,” and brought to Gilbert’s a level of superior cuisine never seen before in an almost inconspicuous BBQ restaurant.  Unpretentious in the extreme, Gilbert’s could easily compete in taste and service with restaurants costing ten times as much and requiring reservations two months in advance.

Underground is in the name and for a good reason.  The locals know about it, of course, but too many out of towners do not. I’ll do my best to change that.

The pork ribs and ‘burnt ends’ were smoked to soft and seasoned perfection.  I have never tasted BBQ of this quality and this satisfying.  I’ve been to dozens of BBQ restaurants, but for the life of me, after eating Kenny Gilbert’s BBQ, I can’t remember the others.

Fried Green tomatoes

And how about the so-called sides, all of which are first class stars in their own right?  The fried green tomatoes were tender inside and golden and crisp on the outside, with the batter light enough to still let the tomatoes shine.  Datil sauce requires finesse. After all, Datil peppers are hot enough to make a hungry hog swear he’d never eat again.  Not this time.  The Datil sauce brought out the sweetness of the pepper, with just enough bite to tantalize without raising any objections.

I could have feasted on the collards and the Brussel sprouts alone. Had to stop to save room for the BBQ.  I’m an unrepentant carnivore! Cheese grits?  Mac & Cheese?  Top of the line. Flavor on top of flavor.

One last comment about the ‘sides.’  The flavors meld so well with the spiciness of the Q.  When you get a plate full of a variety of foods, all of which compliment each other, you know you're dealing with a first class chef. 

When you sit down in Gilbert’s, you’ve found it all.  Food on a par with some of the best, service by well trained and well informed wait staff, and such a congenial atmosphere you’ll feel comfortable whether you just finished a round of golf, or are on your way to cocktails at the country club.

When you come to Amelia Island, even for a short time, do yourself a favor and let Gilbert’s take you to a new level of BBQ cuisine.