I had not been back in Lisbon in more than a decade and wasn’t expecting to find—from this traditional regal city in the Iberian Peninsula—such a visual transformation and great leap forward in time. Many old buildings have been renovated, making the once emerging modern architecture of the 1960s, ugly and antiquated, now a thing of the past. Let’s face it, nothing beats classic architecture, especially in a country like Portugal where craftsmanship is at its best.
In terms of cuisine, I encountered a city buzzing with life! One example is the two Michelin Star Belcanto Restaurant, by the marvelous Portuguese chef Jose Avillez, certainly one of my favorite meals this year. Avillez also caters to a younger and sophisticated demographic at his other innovative restaurants: Mini Bar, Café Lisboa, Pizzaria, and Cantinho do Avillez, all serving seasonal cuisine in a very simple and straight forward way. Today, he is one of the most prolific chefs in the country and quickly becoming renown all over Europe.
I went beyond my natural gravitation to Michelin starred and award winning restaurants, which at times can be a cause for disappointment, like when I visited Tagide, a fine dining restaurant famous for its majestic views of the city, where the food and the service felt–all around–very amateurish.
Then came the night we went to A Cevicheria, today’s hippest and most popular restaurant in Lisbon, specializing in Latin/Peruvian cuisine by the Portuguese chef, Kiko Martins. My friends raved about it, and I thought to myself—what do they know in Portugal about Ceviche? Jaded as I am by the master in the Peruvian Cebiche world (with a capital “b”), my dear friend, Gaston Acurio, we ventured at 8 pm only to find out there was a two-hour wait. A Cevicheria doesn’t take reservations, and every night people clamor to snag a seat. Fueled by this—and without a doubt—I told our friends, let’s put our name down.
1. Alexandre Sarmento, chef.
2. Antonio Cruz, Chef.
3. Tomas Rocha, chef.
4. Daniel Guerra, barman.
5. David Vieira, first cook.
6. Arley Jardim, chef de Sala.
We waited out for our table a block away at the magical bar Pavilhão Chinês (Chinese Pavilion). A must go place when visiting Lisbon. With a chaotic interior, like an overstocked antique store, this place looks more like a burlesque bordello than a bar. Impeccably crafted classic cocktails are served by severely serious bartenders that don’t crack a smile. Seriously! Thank God for the surroundings that provided plenty of entertainment.
At 10:15 pm we were back at A Cevicheria, and still had to wait for a table. I gathered that—after dinner—it is hard to pay the bill and leave when you are having a great comfy time. We sat by the window that opens to the outside of the restaurant where everyone who has a chance, can sit to savor a drink while waiting. A charming bartender, Daniel, treated us to the best Pisco Sour I ever had, served in an uncommonly stylish champagne flute. We observed—still sitting outside— how the dining room and the open kitchen performed a ballet of wonderfully synchronized food service, where chefs, wait staff and patrons felt staged as part of a culinary spectacle.
Did I expect this? No, but the best was yet to come.
Interior architectural designer Antonio Martins, chef Kiko’s brother, handled the unassuming but gorgeous décor. A large door with hollow silhouettes of flying geese and fish hides the calming interior done in white and sea blue hues. A gigantic octopus sculpture, made from a sponge and perfectly detailed, floats midway between the bar and the dining room tables.
1. Fresh fish.
2. Pina Colada dessert.
3. Causa de bacalhau.
4. Quinoto de polvo.
5. Ceviche puro- peixe branco da época, purê de batata doce, cebola algas e leite de tigre.
6. Gaspacho de gamba do Algarve.
7. Tuna Ceviche.
Everything on the menu is a Main Course, portions are not small, and they are meant to be shared. A splendid start was the Algarve Prawn Gazpacho: thin sliced raw fresh sweet Algarve shrimp sitting on a bed of translucent, iridescent tapioca pearls. The dish was served lightly sprayed with lime to frame the tasty tomato Gazpacho, which we poured from a small porcelain flask; beads of salmon roe accented the cool flavors of the sea. Following our marvelous first impression, came the impeccable Salmon Ceviche in a perfectly balanced chilled leche de tigre, the salty-spicy-sour marinade made with fresh lime juice, red onions and malagueta peppers, that cooks all ceviches. Here, it is enhanced with fresh mint, mango, orange segments and circles of deliciously sweet roasted corn puree. The Portuguese ceviche version, uses cod, with a similar marination–but substituting the lime for rosemary vinegar–and sits on chickpea puree, dried olives and pork rind (crackling chicharrones bits).
Other options include a hearty shredded duck confit croqueta, crisp on the outside and moist and meaty on the inside, which comes with a side of pea rice with corn and salsa Criolla. One of A Cevicheria’s signature dishes is the O Talho’s Steak Tartare Taco(O Talho means Butcher Shop), made with hand-cut local beef. Chef Kiko achieves unforgettable combinations of textures and flavors in every dish. But the Mini Surf & Turf sandwich–butter soft pork belly confit, shrimp, and steak in a freshly baked soft potato bread—is almost life changing.
Perfect endings: All. But must haves, the Dulce de Leche and Piña Colada: a coconut dusted cake roll filled with dulce de leche, topped with caramelized pineapple and rum, alongside more dulce de leche and coconut cream. The Sweet Quinoa Brulee with Guava and Guava Foam is another standout dessert rendition. And let’s not forget the superb Chocolates from the Americas, a creamy dark chocolate powdered cake, topped with a chocolate mousse, crowned by a large crisp chocolate tuille cookie curl, next to some chocolate crumble “sand”.
If you only had one night to spend in Lisbon and wanted to experience Portuguese hospitality, A Cevicheria is the place to be. Explore other cities in Portugal: Porto. ■