Restaurante Olivier and Portugal conclusion

As our Portugal trek sadly came to a close, we decided to have one last blow out dinner.  We took the train from Lagos back to Lisbon (3 or so hours) and had one night left to celebrate the time we had spent in the beautiful country.  We chose Restaurante Olivier, and this place was arguably the best restaurant we went to on the entire trip (which is saying a lot considering No Patio and San Bento were also great).

Located just up that main road along the water, and south of the Bairro Alto, Olivier is a classy, French bistro meets Victorian lounge.  As we were seated in our large, cushy white booth we could hear an odd, yet amusing array of classic rock songs in the form of lounge music (you haven’t heard Nirvana until you hear it in the sound of a clarinet).  The service was excellent, with the owner of the establishment coming by our table to introduce herself.

Although expensive, you have to try the appetizer platter.  Only one of us ordered it and we all shared the plates, but it was some of the most amazing food.  The appetizer plate comes with THE BEST Foie Gras that I’ve ever tasted (and I don’t even like pate).  The duck liver melted in your mouth and was strong, but not overwhelming never leaving any nasty after taste like some others do.  The crab dip with guacamole was also a fantastic addition, making us all wonder how none of us had thought about trying to make it before.  The beef tartar w/ arugula was the right combination of meaty and light, while the sweet apple-cinnamon, walnut, goat cheese, filo dough pastry was an odd combination but worked and was my buddy’s favorite.  The fifth part of the appetizer was a salmon nigiri sushi which was just good – compared to the other four plates that is.

For the main course I had the tenderloin with Olivier sauce, which our waitress said was to die for.  The meat itself was excellent – not as good as San Bento’s steak – but most definitely up there in quality.  What made the dish really amazing however was the Olivier sauce that they drizzled onto it.  I have no idea what was in it and the waitress wouldn’t give up the recipe ingredients, but if you go there I would highly recommend it.    My one friend also got the tenderloin, but our third buddy ordered the scallops which, honest to god, melted in your mouth.

We opted out of the desert, but if you do want to do desert it’d be best to go with the three course meal option.  It’s a better deal as the place will cost you a pretty penny.  Grade: A-

Our week and a half long trip to Portugal was amazing.  Great food, friendly people, and we got to see a lot in that time.  Beaches, bars, museums, castles, port wine cellars – it was a busy trek.  I most likely won’t go back any time soon because as wonderful as Portugal is, it’s a one and done type of place to me – kinda like the Grand Canyon.  Once you’ve seen it and experienced the great things Portugal has to offer, you can check it off your list.  But I would highly recommend checking Portugal out and a week and a half is a pretty good amount of time to see the country, though two weeks is probably the best.


Where I ate:

Restaurante Olivier
Rua do Alecrim, 23
1200-014 Lisboa

Lisbon, Portugal Part III

We slated three days to explore Lisbon, and while that was certainly enough time to see a lot of the city, four days probably would have been the perfect amount.  On our final day we took a short bus ride over to the area of Lisbon called Belem.   To get there, all you need to do is walk down to that main road by the river (see the entry in the last post about the road to find if you get lost), and hop onto the Number 28 Bus going west.  (Note: Don’t confuse this with getting onto the streetcar Tram 28.  The Tram is a popular attraction for tourists – one that we unfortunately didn’t get a chance to ride on, but if you get that 4th day in, it sounds fun.  It looks kinda like riding the San Francisco streetcar).

The bus fare to Belem is only about 1.50 euro (which you can pay on the bus) and the ride takes about 15 minutes depending on traffic.  The buses are also really comfortable. Once you get to Belem the first thing you’ll notice is the serenity.  Coming from the hustle and bustle of downtown Lisbon, the peacefulness was a welcome break for us.   Here are the three stops we made while we were in Belem:

-Portugal is famous for its pastries.  In particular, the Pasteis de Nata is world famous and originates from Lisbon (there are variations of this desert in Chinese and Southeast Asian restaurants).  This egg custard pastry is pretty much one of the main reasons people come to Belem.  You can get them from any pasteleria in Lisbon, but if you want them fresh from the oven you’ll head straight to Antiga Confeitaria de Belem – which is exactly what we did once we got off the bus.  Located just down the street from Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, you’ll see it right away because of the crowd congregated outside of the cafe.  You have the option of waiting in line and getting it to go, but my suggestion is take the time, get table service, and have a seat inside (Note: There’s WAY more seating than it looks when you first walk in – just keep going back and back and you’ll find a huge room full of tables).  While their menu is pretty extensive, the must-do is you have to order some fresh pasteis de belem (same thing as the pasteis de nata).  They come out warm, golden brown, with a flaky crust, and a smooth, eggy, sweet custard inside.  Covered with a little cinnamon, they are quite heavenly.  Ignore the fact that eating them packs on the calories and justify crushing a few by telling yourself you’re getting a workout walking around Lisbon.

-The don’t miss landmark of Belem is the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos which is where we headed after stuffing our faces with pastries.  The Jeronimos Monastery costs 6 euros to enter, but is free on Sundays.  When you walk in, the first thing you’ll see are the coffins of Vasco de Gama, the man who navigated the route from Portugal to India, and Luis Vaz de Camoes, the great Portuguese poet.  While the main nave of the church is quite amazing – the highlight of the monastery is the cloisters.  As you walk around the cloisters, the plaza like area has highly decorated columns and an elaborate fountain in the middle.  Within the cloisters are several exhibits including a room with a great timeline of the history of the monastery superimposed over the history of Portugal and the history of world events.

-After the Monastery, we decided to go down the street to the Museu Coleccao Berardo.  Now this museum is free to all and houses an extensive collection of modern art.  There’s not really a whole lot I can tell you about it (because I’d be describing a bunch of lines across a piece of paper), but it’s worth checking out if you have a couple of hours.  However, if you’re pressed for time don’t bother. Modern art is modern art, and the exhibits there are things you could see easily in any U.S. modern art museum, and you won’t miss any “masterpieces”.

After spending our day in Belem we took the 28 Bus back downtown to grab dinner and head out for a fun filled evening.  For dinner we grabbed a bite to eat at Solar dos Presuntos.  Located north of the Rossio, to get there you have to walk by several tourist traps. Once you get clear of those, you’ll see the place.  The restaurant has a vibrant feel to it, with photos of celebrities (mainly Portuguese ones we think, but Ted Kennedy was definitely up there) on the all the walls (for you D.C. people – think Mei Wah.  For everyone else, just click on the link) and the hustle and bustle of the coming and going of waiters carrying whole fishes to tables left and right for customers to inspect.  Once we were seated, they immediately placed on the table a delicious array of chorizos, cheeses, olives, and breads (which they refilled consistently).  The wine list was handed to us – on an IPAD (yeah, that was pretty cool) and we each ordered a dish that was very good (grilled squid, goat, and shellfish bean stew to be exact).  Be warned: the menu may not reflect what they have on that day.  My buddy wasn’t able to get either the scallops or the pork on the menu because they were out of it for that day.  It’s also not the cheapest place in the world, you’ll pay a pretty penny for a good meal, but you’ll leave more than satisfied.  Grade B+

To top off the night we headed to the Bairro Alto.  This area is hopping with clubs, bars and restaurants.  On Friday and Saturday nights, people spill out into the pedestrian only streets and mingle with their libations.  There’s a bar scene for each kind of crowd, but it all becomes loud and jovial as the drinks get consumed.  It’s not as crazy as Bourbon Street in New Orleans, but there’s plenty of ridiculous drunkenness to be seen as the clock hits the early morning hours.  We had a great time and went to far too many bars for me to remember specific ones (that and the several Super Bocks, Sagres, and Caipirnhas lead to that memory loss).


What I saw:

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
Belem, Portugal

Museu Coleccao Berardo
Praça do Império
1449-003 Lisboa

Bairro Alto

Where I ate:

Antiga Confeitaria de Belem
Rua de Belem, 84 84
1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal

Solar dos Presuntos
R. das Portas de Santo Antão 150
1150 Lisboa, Portugal

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Lisbon, Portugal Part II

On our second day in Lisbon we got another day of beautiful weather (actually we pretty much had mid to high 80s and sunny the entire trip) and our day consisted of even more walking around and sightseeing.   Here are a few of the highlights:

A good starting off point for a day in Lisbon should probably begin at the central area of Praca Dom Pedro IV or better known as the Rossio which is what we did.  Located in the heart of the city, in between the historical Alfama region and the restaurant/bar scene called Bairro Alto (I’ll talk more about this area next blog post), the main square is loaded with shops and cafes.  Walk down the pedestrian street Rua Da Augusta towards the water and you’ll find even more outdoor restaurants and pastry shops.  Most are touristy and you’ll be hounded by restaurant workers left and right trying to convince you to stop and eat, but it’s a pleasant walk nonetheless.  Note: Although safe, keep an eye out for the numerous shady characters trying to sell you weed and cocaine on the street.  Once you get near the water, you’ll end up at Praca do Comercio where we just happen to luckily come upon a free Joss Stone concert.

Note: The best way to get your bearings back if you get lost in Lisbon is to just head towards the water.  With all the unmarked crisscross streets, and maps that aren’t able to label every little alley, it can be easy to lose your way.  But if you head down towards the river, you’ll eventually end up on the main road along the water and that can guide you to where you need to go.

You’ll notice very quickly that the city has an admiration for blue tiles or Azulejos, as you’ll see them on several of the churches and government buildings throughout Lisbon.  One place to see one of the more impressive arrays of Azulejos is at the Monastery of Sao Vincente de Fora (Monastery of St. Vincent Outside the Walls) in the Alfama (It’s a bit of a hike uphill to get there FYI).  The entrance fee is  4 Euros (Note: Cheaper if you’re a student, but you have be under 25 years old) and once you get inside you’ll be struck by the mass array of blue tiled artwork.  In particular, check out the exhibit upstairs displaying the azulejos of La Fontaine’s fables.  There you’ll see depictions of 38 of the fables, along with the actual fable written next to it in English and Portuguese, including: The Donkey and Dog, Hawk and Cockerel, Upbringing, and Bear and Man Who Loved Gardens.  Make sure also to see the remains of the 7 Portuguese and Spanish missionaries that were martyred in Morocco and the crazy, freaky mausoleum with a marble cloaked woman weeping over a coffin in the center.  It’s really, really creepy – like hairs will stand up on the back of your neck creepy.

Here are a few more places to check out:

-If you’re looking to get a peek inside what life was like in the Middle Ages you should definitely check out the Castelo de Sao Jorge.   Located at the top of the hill in the heart of the Alfama and overlooking Lisbon, this medieval fortress costs 7 Euros to enter.  On a good day like we had, the castle provided some fun, childlike behavior as we bounced from tower to tower and the views from the top were more than camera worthy.   If you’re lucky enough you’ll also notice the several peacocks that have taken residence in the courtyard and roam around with their baby birds.

-Although Lisbon is known more for its seafood and desert pastries, if you can find it there’s a great steak house to try.  Located near the Parliament building, this local place is so hidden it blends right in with the residential apartments – you have to know the exact address.  The place is called Cafe de Sao Bento and it’s on Rua de São Bento 212, north of the Bairro Alto.  Now this place is old school – you actually have to ring the doorbell to get in.  We actually rang the bell on accident not knowing for sure if someone would answer.  We were more than a little stunned when we were greeted by a man in a tuxedo who led us into the small restaurant.  The place has a weird mafia hideaway feel to it and we definitely felt awkward the first few minutes we were there.  That feeling quickly subsided however when we saw several other “normal” looking groups of tourists, families, and local businessmen.  The wait staff was very kind and hospitable and the seats were plush and comfy.  The steak was phenomenal as well, plated in a no nonsense way – just the meat and sauce with a bowl of either fries or homemade chips.  The steak melted in our mouths and was reasonably priced at around 14-20 Euros.  For vegetarians, the only other thing on the menu besides steaks were small sides of creamed spinach and salad.   One mark against the place however was their ant problem – we had a few of the critters crawling around our table.  For that, it gets bumped down from an A- to a Grade: B+


What I saw:

Praca Dom Pedro IV aka Rossio

Monastery of Sao Vincente de Fora
Largo de Sao Vincente

Castelo de Sao Jorge

Where I ate:

Cafe de San Bento
Rua de São Bento 212

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