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Lisbon: The Port Wine Institute and Belcanto

Our last port of call on our cruise was in Lisbon. A few days prior, we had been lamenting about the poor food quality on board the ship, and we started looking for fine dining restaurants and places to go to satisfy our foodie cravings. Unfortunately, in other ports we either didn’t have enough time to go to some of the places we really wanted or they were closed (Sunday is not the best day to be spending a whole day in Spain).

Luckily, we hit Lisbon on a Tuesday and Belcanto was open for lunch. However, we had a bit of time before our reservation, so we headed up to the Port Wine Institute to try some port and relax with a drink. At 11:00 am. Yes, we’re those sort of people. We walked through the streets of Lisbon (which is absolutely gorgeous by the way), and ended up on a hill where there was an amazing view of the city. This area was also directly across the street of the institute so it was conveniently located for us.

The institute is a pretty spectacular place. The green carpeting and comfortable seating really make you feel welcome and invited in. The service is a bit slow at times, but we ended up trying several different port wines while we were there. We started with the standard late bottle vintage (LBV). While these may not be as nice as the vintage ports, those were not available to try by the glass. However the ones we tried were nice, and we ended up picking up a nice 2003 LBV to take home. Next, we moved onto the tawny ports. Tom has never been a fan of them, but he figured if there was a place to find one he liked, it was at the Institute. Turns out, he likes old tawny ports, as he had a 1961 that was out of this world. It was actually a Colheita which is a single vintage tawny, so nicer than your standard one. That port wasn’t available in the bottle, only by the glass, so we tried a few others and ended up with a 1967 Colheita to take home. We also picked up a vintage port because we could.

At the restaurant, we opted for the tasting menu. It was six courses, and we asked about wine pairings, and they had one that had a glass with every course or one with every other course. There was no question as we opted for the full pairings. They were also all Portuguese wines which really made the meal special. I missed a picture of the first amuse bouche (consisting of a trio of olives), but got photos of everything else. The next amuse bouche was something that looked like a ferrero rocher, but turned out to be a bit of foie gras pate in a shell. Delish. It was served with a bit of a crispy cod thing. The last amuse bouche was barnacles! Barnacles! I’d never had them before, but was very impressed.

For the actual meal, the first course was a display of shellfish that looked like the ocean. The shellfish was all very tasty and the presentation was spot on. Course two was pickled fish with a beetroot an onion sauce. The fish was really soft and tender, and the beets were a great match. The wine for this course was spectacular as well. Course three is the dish that apparently got them their Michelin star this year. It’s a slow cooked egg with gold leaf and truffles. It was absolutely heavenly. Next was mullet with a liver sauce (made from the same mullet!) served with gnocchi to represent the sidewalks of Lisbon. Fifth was a course of suckling pig belly served with a sauce they painted on! There were also crisps in an edible bag served on the side. There was a pre-dessert of a frosted raspberry with wasabi. Interesting flavor combination and delicious! Last we had the mandarin. It was a mandarin foam inside of a mandarin jelly with sorbet and mandarin slices. One of the best desserts I’ve had in awhile. It was served with a sweet white port, and we realized we were missing out not trying sweet white port before (we had only had dry white and were not fans).

After lunch, we ended up walking around Lisbon looking for some of the wine we had just drank at lunch. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much luck, but we picked up a few other bottles of wine to bring back home and try. I didn’t get to see much of Lisbon, but I loved what I saw. We also picked up a couple of Portuguese tarts to have for later. Lisbon (and probably other places in Portugal) is now on my list of places to return to in Europe.

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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Travel

 

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Casablanca (and Moroccan food)

One of the things I love about traveling is getting to try all the authentic local cuisine. When we went on a cruise recently, and it went to Casablanca, we knew we needed to find a good local place to have delicious food. Some of my friends who had been on a trip to Morocco recently had mentioned that Moroccan food can be hit or miss depending on the restaurant, and since we only had one day, we knew we had to find a good place to go.

The restaurant we chose was Restaurant Imilchil. Apparently Imilchil is a small town in the center of Morocco, but for food purposes, I was more concerned about the taste experience. As we sat down in the restaurant (and we weren’t even sure it was open because it seemed empty and closed) we perused the menu, and it was all in French and Arabic (as you’d expect in Morocco). Unfortunately, we didn’t bring enough British Pounds to likely cover the meal, so Tom had to run off to a cash machine to get some local money. Apparently the restaurant owner followed him (either to make sure he found it or he was coming back, we really have no idea). It did give me a bit of time to get some shots of the beautiful dining area as well.

We weren’t too sure what to get, so the owner recommended the salad, a chicken tagine and some couscous to share. It sounded perfect, but I had eaten at Moroccan places in the States, and I had a delicious sweet and savory pie made out of chicken and fruit wrapped in pastry and covered with cinnamon and sugar so I definitely wanted one of those. I managed to explain somehow what I wanted, and he said “Pigeon pastilla”. Apparently pastilla is what I wanted and it’s made out of pigeon (instead of chicken) so I was even more excited by the thought.

The salads that we had were fantastic. I can even describe the flavors on my palate. Definitely Moroccan and delicious. (And unfortunately, I was so hungry I forgot to get a photo.) The pastilla was heavenly. The pigeon was well cooked and had that liver-like taste that I love about it, but mixed with almonds and Moroccan spices. The sugar and cinnamon on top just added to the sweet and savory combination that I’ve learned to love. The tagine was actually my least favorite part. It was nice, but it could have been better. There were bits of liver in it that were nice, but the sauce and overall flavor was a bit lacking. An American traveler also came into the restaurant, and he had the lamb and prune tagine which may have been better. The couscous was a bit wet for my taste, but the vegetables on top were fantastic. Plus under the vegetables was a nice braised piece of lamb that was quite delicious. So overall, the restaurant was well worth our research and planning, and I would recommend it to anyone who happened to find themselves in Casablanca. The owner also suggested some Moroccan wine. We were intrigued and love to try wines from different places, so we had a bottle, and we were pleasantly surprised at how good it was. We may have to try to find it in the UK!

Unfortunately, Casablanca itself wasn’t that nice. It’s a bit dirty, and definitely doesn’t have the romantic feel you’d expect (but most of that is because of the Hollywood movie). We walked around a bit, and came across the market, but most of the stalls were closed. (Possibly just while we were there, but who knows?) We ended up there on a Friday and since that is the day of worship in Islam, it could be the reason why it just wasn’t that exciting around town. I had already found out that the giant and beautiful mosque on the hill was closed to visitors on Friday (unless you got there really early, and that was unlikely for us to do) so there was a lot of stuff we just didn’t get the chance to see. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d go back to Casablanca, but I’m glad I went. I even picked up my own tagine to cook in at home, so I definitely need to have a Moroccan night. Including making that delicious pastilla!

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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Travel

 

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