Friday, April 26, 2013

Restaurant Day

 We are enjoying learning how to cook the local produce and seafood from the fabulous markets here in Olhão, but the best way to experience the local flavours is to go to the good restaurants and sample food cooked by the local expert chefs.

Via e Volta
Pete & Linda went to Tavira; a town up the coast towards Spain on April 25th to meet us with some portuguese Bridge players (they are pretty serious bridge fans . . . . although they ended up playing with another couple from BC . . . . ) so Regis and I decided to make this a 'Restaurant Day'.

We wandered down to a little place called Via e Volta that was highly recommended by Colin & Suzanne. A little Family restaurant, it serves only seafood and only at lunch. They have a menu, but it lists only two items; “Adult 8.50 Є” and “Child 5.00 Є”, along with prices for various drinks. They do not give you a choice of fish; you get whatever fish was abundant at the market that day.

The restaurant is located two blocks off the main Avenida da Republica, but the neighbourhood is not especially inviting, There is a whole row of deserted, run-down buildings at the end of the street and you have to weave your way through a couple of bins full of construction debris to get to the restaurant. Now as you may have noticed by my pictures and descriptions of Olhão, this is not that unusual, and part of the charm of the place, so we were not put off and upon arriving we were greeted by a friendly waiter who gave us the only vacant seat (in itself a VERY good sign). We were asked what we wanted to drink, and a beer and glass 1/4 lt. of white wine was ordered, but we were not even asked if we wanted to order food – obviously everyone who comes here of course wants the fish.

Keep those fish coming
The restaurant is in a very tiny building, and there are very few seats in the actual restaurant, the main seating is outside under a large canvas room with roll up plastic windows. We have not seen anything except sunshine, but I suppose they might need these windows one or two days out of the year. To one side, against the actual building there is a large charcoal grill where someone is constantly grilling the fish. I could watch the fish being flipped back and forth until they reached 'grilled perfection' and then four of five were put on metal trays and taken to the next table waiting. Watching the fish being grilled and waiting for your's to arrive , you were provided with a delicious bowl of marinated olives and pickled carrots, a lovely tomato, onion and cucumber salad, and a basket of bread to hold you until your plate of fish arrived.

Once your first plate arrived, it never stopped. The waiters kept a constant watch over your table, and when you reduced one plate to fish heads, bones and skin, another was promptly placed on the table to replace it. After three plates, we had had enough, but they kept returning, looking positively heartbroken that you couldn't eat another five hot-off-the-grill fish.

GIANT Scrimp Kabob !
The evening meal did not start out so good. Linda had gone down the evening before to scout out the possible spots to eat. I told her to go down when it was busy at 7:30 and find the spots full of locals enjoying their meals. She not only used this criteria, she also asked about making things without tomato, and came back with news of Ria Formosa which not only was popular with lots of locals, but she was assured the kitchen could make their famous Seafood Cataplanas without tomato. When we arrived however, the waiter wasn't sure about the wine Pete wanted, they did not have white sangria Regis could share with Linda, and the red which Linda couldn't drink only came in a BIG pitcher, which would have meant we would have had to carry Regis home. Then when Linda tried to order the tomato free Cataplanas she was told “No, of course it couldn't be made without tomatoes, they were part of the base.”

Steak on a Stone
Now the evening turned out great actually. Pete & I found a delicious bottle of wine to share, Linda ordered a Tuna with Onions dish, Pete got to personally meet his fish dish before it was cooked, Regis had the most amazing giant Shrimp Kabob, and I got to try Steak on a stone. They should have given us the meal, because people were stopping to stare at Regis' giant shrimp, and the smell and sound of my steak sizzling on the stone started bringing passing folks into the restaurant. The Kabob was truly amazing, and I was served a square, inch thick, lava-hot stone with a piece of almost raw steak sizzling and smoking on it. I kept flipping it and cutting pieces off as it cooked to how I liked it. A really spectacular meal.

Regis did have to settle for a Coke, but she always enjoys that anyways.

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