Yesterday I found out that I had a new appointment date at the SEF for my residence card in Portugal. Due to the lockdowns, all the appointments since the beginning of the year were postponed up until Monday April 19th, when the office reopened. To celebrate this – because nowadays any good news warrants a celebration – I booked a lunch at Alma, a Michelin two-star restaurant in Lisbon, three years in a row.
Below are my experience:
The Reservation: For party of 2 or above, reservations can be made online. Since I’m going there by myself, I rang the restaurant to make sure it is okay that I come alone. Some restaurants are okay with solo diners, others are not – For instance, Liath in Blackrock, Ireland is so small that they would like to maximize the space/table to its full capacity, meaning at least 2 person for a table – I completely understand that. Fortunately this is not a problem at Alma. So there I went!
The Location: Alma is situated in an eighteen century building, in the Chiado district, that was once a warehouse for the famous Livraria Bertrand, the oldest operating bookstore in the world. To get into the restaurant, I rang the doorbell. Once inside, the space is ample with tables spaced out, adequate for covid time social distancing.
The Menu: In addition to an a-la-carte menu, there are three tasting menus offered regardless of lunch or dinner. They are Alma, Coast to Coast and Origens. I opted for the four course Origens menu at 75€, with flight of three wines, water and coffee included.
Now the Food and Wines:
My journey starts with a glass of 2020 Quanta Terra Phenomena Pinot Noir Rosé from the Duriense region of Portugal, which covers the same area as the Douro DOC and Port wine region, except that it is the simpler, less typical wines of the Douro region that are sold under the label Vinho Regional Duriense.
For starter I have the tapioca cracker with oyster sauce. Octopus and coriander with Spanish Romesco sauce. Red peppers coated with burnt leek and cuttlefish ink, just to give it the colour and the umami flavour, smoked vinegar gelée and red pepper sauce
Next I have the gazpacho in clear liquid form, topped with tomato & pennyroyal sorbet with two types of cherry tomatoes: fresh and marinated
Bread comes in two types: Sourdough from Gleba (that’s where I get my sourdoughs in Lisbon ) and Pão de Mafra (Only made in the Mafra region of Portugal). The restaurant carries its own signature olive oil, sold about €15 a bottle.
And the divine cherry & apple wood smoked butter, which is not for sale 😦
This next wine is Quinta de Chocapalha CH 2017 – old vines white from a Swiss winemaker (hence the CH) in Lisbon. It has a good acidity that pairs well with the first course
Which is Portuguese Sole on top of green peas mash, covered with noisette hollandaise and bits of Alentejo chorizo
Pedro, one of the head sommeliers, stopped by and told me that I should try this red which would go really well with the following course. He said that even though my tasting menu included three wines, he would let me try this anyway. So this red – Luis Pato Bairrada Vinha Pan 1999 – came from Bairrada DOC in the mountainous Beiras region. I love it.
At this point I just realized that the kitchen was right at the corner from my table. I inquired and was granted the permission to say hi to the chefs. I’m so happy they are back working their magic!
For the meat course, I had the Suckling pig confit, turnip top purée, pickled onions, pepper jus. The sucking pig is a specialty of the Bairrada region where the town of Mealhada is known for. I found this article on WSJ. I have got to make it there someday.
After all the heavy food, it’s time for a palate cleanser. Here we have: Basil sorbet with champagne caviar, lightly torched pineapples from the Azores. I had a discussion with my server about which Portuguese fruit comes from which island. So the pineapples are from the Azores whereas the bananas are from Madeira. Got it 😉
To accompany dessert, I like this Casal Sta. Maria Colheita Tardia- late harvest – wine from the Lisbon region.
Dessert is all about almonds and oranges. Here I have: almond ice cream atop a thin mound of almond cracker, with oranges, citrus curd, almendrados (almond biscuits from the Algarve region) and orange peels on the bottom. It was great combination of flavours, enhanced by the dessert wine.
On the table next to me, I spotted this bottle of Touriga Nacional 2017 from Quinta do Vallado. We happened to drive around the Douro Valley in 2017 and stayed at this winery. (Back then I didn’t drink any wines and even though we were given a bottle of red complimentary to our room, we left without it. It was too much to carry and bring back to the States)I told my server that I had stayed there. He asked me if I would like to try it? The next thing you know……I’m on my fifth glass.
For petit fours, here I have, from right to left
A queijada (Portuguese Milk Tart) with a pumpkin mousse/jelly that burst into your mouth (my favourite of all), a pastel de nata (Portuguese Egg Tart) with chilled cream custard wrapped in white chocolate that hardens and serves as a protection shell, once set, and a chocolate truffle with olive oil.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my dining experience at Alma. The staff speaks fluent English, was attentive, knowledgable, and patient with all my questions regarding the ingredients, which region they come from, as well as the cooking methods. I left the restaurant well nourished, slightly intoxicated 🙂 and learned something new about food in my newly adopted country.