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Portugal by plate

Old Lisbon makes its mark on South Miami

By Gail Scott

The moment you walk in the door of Old Lisbon, you are transported to a quaint restaurant in Portugal. Gorgeous blue and white tiles (imported, of course) create a ribbon around the room, and a fresco of the Jerónimos Monastery adorns the wall, giving you a waterfront view of Lisbon without the jetlag. Beautiful samba in the background completes your getaway.

We were met at the door by Ricardo Costa, who also served us during the evening. Costa is a consummate professional—knowledgeable about the restaurant, Portuguese cuisine and the country’s history. His unobtrusive service made the occasion memorable.

Old Lisbon has an interesting and well-priced wine list that will put new grapes on your wine radar. Because it was a quiet Wednesday night during the summer doldrums, a crisp Alvarinho fit the bill. The 2014 Aveleda was medium-bodied with a nice acidity for the food that followed.

We started our trip with a trio of appetizers: cod croquettes served with black-eyed peas, grilled octopus, and mussels in tomato consommé—all made from top-drawer ingredients. The croquettes are frequently called some of Miami’s best, and the accompanying black-eyed peas were spectacularly seasoned with garlic, onion, olive oil, vinegar and cilantro. The grilled octopus was charred perfectly—with a bit of a crust yet still tender—and the mussels enjoyed a bath in a complex tomato broth flavored with Portuguese sausage and onions.

(Having dined at Old Lisbon’s Coral Way location previously, I also enjoy the chouriço assado—grilled sausage served in a flaming ceramic pig. It’s memorably presented, and the sausage is seared perfectly. My husband loves the grilled sardines, which are traditional and flavorful.)

Our main courses focused on the sea. Our first entrée was bacalhau com natas—shredded cod served with potatoes in a creamy garlic and onion sauce, topped with mozzarella. All of the bacalhau dishes here are special; they elevate cod to another plane. We also tried the seafood rice with clams, shrimp, mussels and squid. This paella-like dish is much juicier than its Spanish counterpart with a rich tomato-based stock. If you prefer meat dishes, the roasted veal is a savory, filling option.

I can state without hesitation that the best dessert in South Miami is at Old Lisbon. Delicia de Fatima is a religious experience. A wonderful egg custard served with crumbled Maria cookies makes for a rich and satisfying finish to a meal. We also enjoyed a traditional pastel de nata, an exquisite egg pastry with crispy edges. And what Portuguese meal would be complete without a glass of port from the homeland?

Miami is lucky to have a Portuguese restaurant of this caliber, and even luckier there are two. 

Old Lisbon 5837 Sunset Drive, South Miami; 305.662.7435; oldlisbon.com

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