Postcard from Porto: Exploring beyond the traditional fare

Pizza always beckons us at some point no matter where we roam. And, perched over the Douro River, the glass-walled Casa d’Oro boasts both a wood-burning oven and almost the best view in town. The pizzas were pretty good, and the arancini made up for missing Central Market’s Passaporto Italia. The  arugula and parmigiano salad was perfect, and even better when combined with the pear and goat cheese salad – a mountain of cubes of both those key ingredients.

With almost an equally prime view on the opposite side of the river from Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia, Real Indiana gave us a burst of flavors totally different from the traditional  dishes of Porto. Texas tastebuds had begun yearning for an infusion of spicy flavors, so the sauces were welcome. The mixed grilled meats as an appetizer were plentiful; each one – chicken, lamb, beef, gyro – had such wonderfully distinctive seasoning. The vegetable biryani was pleasing as well, and all the dishes seemed to pack more punch than Indian restaurants at home.

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Book Restaurante is among the restaurants updating traditional Portuguese dishes well. Located in a former book store in a downtown neighborhood with several others still surviving, the restaurant keeps shelves of books on the wall and delivers menus and checks in pages of (seemingly) random books. We ate there twice, our first experience being so positive – a lunch special of luscious carrot soup followed by a large timbal of potatoes, greens and crusty codfish. Our second visit was minus the lunch special, so had a painful pinch to it. But, aside from that, the tender tentacle of octopus twisted into a pot layered with roasted slices of sweet potatoes and greens was truly a remarkable dish.

Amazingly, our other contemporary-take experiences were right in our neighborhood. This past March, an enthusiastic new manager making a career change took over a traditional restaurant located in an old post office – O Carteiro. The results were both pleasing and geographically convenient. He introduced us to the refreshing drink of white port, tonic and mint. The kitchen makes a wonderful mixed-game sausage, which was a flavorful appetizer and wonderful as a stuffing for chicken, and the grilled sardines were the best we have had so far….

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