Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Restaurante Açude: Sarrabulho & Clams

On our first day in Portugal, we began touring the town of Ponte de Lima, often said to be the oldest town in Portugal, having received a charter by Queen Teresa in 1125 A.D. When it was time for lunch, we took the recommendation of our driver, Joaquim Almeida, and chose to dine at Restaurante Açude, which is on the waterfront  of the Lima River. 

The restaurant has a casual elegance to it, and a beautiful view of the river. The menu consists of Starters and Mains.  Starters, generally priced from 4-19 Euros, are mostly seafood, from codfish fritters to shrimp, with a couple pork dishes. The Mains have a some dishes available as 1/2 portions (called doses and priced about 19-24 Euros) and full portions generally cost 30-41 Euros, with some dishes charged by the pound. Although the majority of the Mains are seafood, there are several meat choices, including lamb, steak, veal and pork. 

I'll note that based on my experiences at a number of other Portuguese restaurants, portion size is often ample, and a full "dose" may be able to feed 2 or more people. So, that makes those dishes a better value as they often can be shared. A 1/2 dose has plenty of food, and would often constitute a regular portion at most American restaurants. 

The restaurant has a large wine list, with plenty of Portuguese wines as well as international ones. As we were in the Vinho Verde region, I selected a local wine, the 2018 José Domingues Terrunho D'Alma Alvanrinho. Domingues has an excellent reputation and this winery has only been around since 2017. The Alvarinho is sourced from the famed sub-region of Monção & Melgaço. The wine has a 13.5% ABV, is unfiltered, and was aged for about 9 months on the lees. The back label states, "Terrunho is the context. The wine is the expression, the language." The wine was absolutely delicious, with a complex melange of flavors, including bright citrus, some briny notes, and savory hints. Excellent and balanced acidity, and a lengthy finish. A fine choice for seafood.  

We began with a Starter, the Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato Clams (19 Euros). This is a traditional Portuguese dish, allegedly named after Raimundo António de Bulhão Pato, a 19th century poet and essayist. He didn't invent the dish, but some unknown chef decided to name the dish after him. In short, the clams are commonly in a broth of olive oil, garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper, and white wine. The clams are tiny, but there had to have been at least 50 of them in the bowl, and they were tender and tasty, with a touch of the sea. And the broth was perfect for soaking your bread. A fine way to begin our lunch. 

"...papas de sarrabulho, a stew made with pig's blood that is mother's milk to the northern Portuguese."
--Chicago Tribune (IL), June 9, 1985

I wanted to try one of the most iconic dishes of Ponte de Lima, the Arroz de Sarrabulho (32 Euros). A half dose wasn't available and our server stated that the dish was large enough for two people, so we decided to share it. Sarrabulho is a traditional pork dish, made with pig's blood, and its origins may extend back maybe 600 years or more. It is said to be connected to the "Matança do Porco", a festive "pig slaughter," where families came together in celebration. It's also claimed that the dish originated with poor people, unable to afford meat, who thus used blood to make their dishes seem meatier.

The dish came in two parts. The first was the rice, made with pig's blood and shreds of pork. The second was a plate of meat and potatoes, including blood sausages and other types of unusual sausage I couldn't identify. The rice was tasty, with a strong meatiness and umami to it, and plenty of tender shreds of pork. Don't think about the fact that it's made with pig's blood and just enjoy its intense flavors. The roasted potatoes were tender as well, while some of the meats were a bit more dry, but covered with the rice mixture, they were better. This dish was large enough that it probably could have fed 3-4 people, so it's a very good value. 

I was very pleased with our lunch at Restaurante Açude, getting to experience some delicious, traditional Portuguese cuisine. Service was excellent and if you're in the area of Ponte de Lima, I highly recommend you check out this restaurant. 

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