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15 January 2013

Tonight's Episode: O Paparico, the door to heaven

The cab driver's English is nearly non existent. I break out Google maps to show him where we are headed. He sets out across the streets of Porto at speeds not recommended outside of Formula 1. The cool Portuguese rain has kept a lot of the traffic off the streets, or perhaps it should be attributed to the New Year's Eve preparations. We arrive in a distant part of the city, no sign of our restaurant. The cab driver motions to an unmarked door. No, not that one, the one next to it. We knock. The door opens. We step into what will, 5 hours later, be one of our most beloved restaurants.

We arrived at 8 pm, as per our reservation. Silly us, this is Portugal. 8pm means 8:45-ish. The only other couple to arrive before then was....another American couple. No matter. The first thing the incredibly welcoming staff of O Paparico would stress is that we are entering their home. That means have a course. Get up, walk around. Sit on a couch and watch TV. Chit-chat with your neighbors. Enjoy the space. And what a space! Imagine walking into a 14th century castle's wine cellar. Heavy stone, rustic wood, a giant straw thingy The Girl names George. One of the most beautiful spaces we have dined in. 

First Course

Cod Fish Ceviche with corn bread, 
onion, and cerefolium

Paired with 

White, Soalheiro Old Vinyerads, 2011, Vinhos Verdes 

Bright, light, and subtly meaty cod with touches of garlic and cilantro. Paired with a beautifully floral wine. Clean and subtle dish with balance and easy elegance. The Girl and I begin the smile that will last all night. The easy drinking Vinhos Verdes is now one of The Girl's favorites. 

Second Course

Grilled Scallop
w/ coral butter and chorizo vinaigrette

Same pairing

Have you ever had that one perfect bite? That one, simple dish that you could spend the rest of your life reflecting on? For The Girl, this may be it. Using her fork to cut her scallop in ever smaller pieces, allowing her to linger over each bite. This perfectly cooked scallop, with a the unique flavor profile, paired with the wine show notes of smoke and bourbon. End result is a truly magnificent dish.

Third Course

Veal Terrine
w/ port wine sauce and fennel seed

Paired with

Sparkling, Vertice Millessime, 2007, Douro 

This ultra creamy and decadent terrine has rich, deep flavor. Constancy is perfect, and the port wine sauce adds a sweet note that mellows the taste. Combined with the sparkling wine, the effect is rich and cool, and both of us make short work of our dishes.

Fourth Course

Sea Bass
w/ quail egg and salicórnia and traditional Acorda

Same Pairing 

First let me address the acorda. This traditional side dish is made from bread and fish stock, almost like a bread soup. The constancy is similar to mashed sweet potatoes. The taste is divine. The fish is expertly done, skin crisp, temperature perfect. The char of the green onion gives a backbone to the dish. The Girl is surprised; she likes charred green onions.

Fifth Course

w/ baby onions and tomatoes in port wine sauce
aka The source of The Girl's nightmares

Paired with

Red, Conceito Bastardo, 2010, Douro 

Watching the look of surprise develop on The Girl's face was well worth the price of admission. An octopus tentacle, done properly, is tender and mild, with a brine flavor that is refreshing. The only complaint would be a wish for more of the delightful sauce, nearly a caramel. 

Sixth Course

w/Bone marrow and wild mushroom sauce, black truffle

Paired with

Red, Quinta do Mouro, 2006, Alentejo 

See Second course. Change out The Girl for me. Cry when plate is empty.

Cheese Course

Cheeses from South, Central, and North Portugal
Goat, w/herb syrups

Same pairing

This course was fantastic for me. The Girl DOES NOT LIKE GOAT CHEESE!!!!! I love it. So, six slices of beautiful cheeses, beginning with a soft brie-like cheese with a coriander sage syrup. Moving to a slightly firmer cheese with roast paprika and parsley. The final cheese, with a nice firmness, and a vinegar and thyme syrup

Pre dessert

Ricotta cheese with pumpkin jam
carbonated candy

Paired with 

Porto, Krhon Harvest de 83, Douro 

Fun. This dish is fun. And so tasty. Every bite delicious and creamy. The Port......Truly amazing. This may not be a '61 but what beauty and depth.


Chestnut cake

Same pairing

I wish I could tell you what this tasted like. I truly do. But there was NO WAY IN HELL either of us would be getting another bite down. Just not happening. Somewhere among all of this, we had a champagne toast and 12 raisins in the Portuguese tradition and made friends with those around us. We compared notes and shared in our marvel of the dinner this talented staff sent out.

.........But wait.....There is more to the story. How can that be? Well, it is now two AM and we need to get back to our hotel in city center. We call for our cab. And we wait. And we wait. And we wait. Finally, the owner grabs his keys and says, "Let's go!" He would just take us back himself. Turns out this isn't so out of character in Portugal. Need directions? Don't be surprised if the person you asks just stops what they are doing and takes you there. Oh Portugal, you GET hospitality!

I have spent two weeks reflecting on this meal. I wanted some distance to see how it would look in retrospect. I try not to gush, or be overly bombastic, to temper my reviews knowing that every experience may differ. Here are our feelings: O Paparico deserves to be recognized as one of the most incredible dining experiences on Earth. Michelin Stars WILL be in their future. Portugal, long overlooked for both it's food and wine, will soon be a major player on the international food scene. This restaurant will be in the forefront.

The Scores:
Ambiance- 5/5
Food- 10/10
Service- 5/5
Value- 5/5
Overall: 25/25 A Mind-blowing, once in-a-lifetime gastronomical experience that will leave you weak in the knees

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