Thursday, February 19, 2009

Portugal and our favorite Portuguese Restaurant

We treated ourselves to a dinner-out last night at our favorite Portuguese restaurant, O'Dinis. (Pronounced all slurred together like you have a few marbles in your mouth "O'Din-iSH". Continental Portuguese pronounces "s" like "sh", unlike Brazilian Portuguese.) O'Dinis is in East Providence, Rhode Island at 579 Warren Avenue. The phone number is 401-438-3769. (They do take-out as well.) We stumbled onto O'Dinis in search of a Portuguese restaurant that reminded us of our travels through Portugal the previous year. For Victor, it reminds him of "home". He maintains his Portuguese citizenship by choice and has been a permanent resident here in the United States since he was 6. 

-Relaxing after a home cooked meal in Portugal-
Victor's Tia (aunt) Amalia, Ripley (9 mos) and Teo (uncle) Fransico
When we went to Portugal, I was still slimming down after having had Ripley and had tried to cut back on my carbs to knock off the last 7 pounds that didn't want to leave me. Boy was I in for a surprise! When you sit down to a meal in Portugal you are served meat or fish, potatoes, rice AND bread -- all at the same meal! Typically there will be sliced tomatoes, sweet onions and lettuce on the side. If you're in a restaurant, you have to ask for the "salad". The salad is always left for you to drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. To this day, Victor has to force down dressing from a jar. This has been great for our family because it's better for us and less expensive! As you can see, often fresh fruit (and I mean fresh!) and a pudding or flan follow the meal. 

-The little Catholic Church in Victor's small northeastern town of Cavadoude-
(Cavadoude sounds like "cavadoit", said really fast, when you hear it.)
That's Benjamin and Victor in the picture.
Here is the adorable little house that Victor grew up in.
Sadly, no one has lived there for years.
Wouldn't I love to!!!
Here you can see the other side of the house, and how it sets into the hillside.
Victor's mom has a knack for finding truffles (yes, apparently they have them in Portugal as well as Italy) and dug them up from this hillside. Yes, truffles in the back yard. Not too shabby.
Here is the view from the front gate of Victor's house. Lovely. 
The hills in the area run 2625 feet (800 meters) to 3281 feet (1000 meters) high.

The best restaurants we went to in Portugal were the small "nothing fancy" places that the locals went to. Victor and I will never forget tripping onto this dive-like restaurant after driving around - lost - in Algarve after a long trip from the North. We were starving and ready to eat just about anything. There weren't any fancy-shmansy tablecloths, just the most incredible grilled chicken we've ever had to date. FAB-U-LOUS. (With fries (incredible Portuguese fries) and rice, of course. And don't be putting ketchup on the fries, either!!) 

O'Dinis isn't a "dive", but it's not fancy-shmansy either. Simple tables, paper place-mats, and simple tasty Portuguese Food. It's like rolling over to your Portuguese neighbor's house after work on a Friday night. They know you well, you're like family, so they don't get out the nice china, but the food it great. Everyone who works there is either family -- or they've been working there for so long, they are like family. To say that it's kid friendly is an understatement. Most Portuguese people I've known swoon over children, and it's no different here. The staff will talk to the kids more than you. 
Speaking of kids, when we were visiting Victor's mother's cousins (Follow that? Although Victor still calls them Tia and Teo.) outside of Porto (sadly, I have no pictures) when you sat down to eat at their table, all of the children were served this incredible Portuguese soup. Where was mine?? I wanted to know. (I finally spoke up and asked for some, but I was the only grown-up eating it. God only knows what everyone was saying about that wacky American girl.) Kids start with soup. I think it's their sneaky way of getting vegetables into children. Well, Ripley is true to his Portuguese blood, as soup is one of the few ways I can get good-for-you-stuff into that boy! The soup at O'Dinis is different every time, there is only one kind offered, and usually Ripley eats an entire bowl of the stuff -- even if there is tons of kale in it, go figure.
Here is Ripley with his soup, and a special treat, an ananas Sumol - a Portuguese fruit soda available in pineapple, orange or passion fruit.
What to get: Generally, their specials are fabulous. If they have "Frango" (grilled 1/2 chicken) don't even think about it, GET IT! If they have grilled or pan fried fish -- GET IT! Often they have snapper. It's the whole fish -- with the head and bones, but that's the way it's done in Portugal, get over it. They could probably lop-off the head for you if you want. :) The fish comes with boiled potatoes, rice and salad. Boiled potatoes sound awful, but trust me, they are drizzled with olive oil and are incredible. Seriously, try them. If you like cod, take the time to try the Bacalhau na brasa. (I think I have the spelling right. Bacalhau sounds like "Bac-i'll-ya" when you hear it.) It's salted cod, that they soak to get the salt out, then grill with tons of onions and garlic and olive oil. Yum doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. Served with boiled potatoes, rice and salad. It takes 45 minutes to cook, so sometimes Victor and I call ahead to get the ball rolling. If they don't have my favorite specials, and we don't have 45 minutes to wait for the bacalhau, I order the pork (argh! for the life of me, I can't remember the name of this dish!) that's pounded thin, marinated in garlic and a spicy piri piri sauce -- served with fries and rice. It comes with spicy peppers sliced on top. Yum. there are tons of other things that friends have ordered and loved. These are just our favorites. For appetizers get the grilled chourico, simple but delicious. Also, another favorite, if you like little necks, get the little necks steamed in a white wine and garlic broth. Yum Yum. Benjamin often gets this for his main dish. The sauce is great for dipping your bread into -- especially with a little olive oil!  For dessert: Don't even think about it, get the flan. Even if you don't like custards, try it. Soooo yummy. The "flan lady" cruises in with cookie sheets of flans a couple of times a week. Top this off with a "bica" (espresso) or a "galao" (coffee with steamed - frothy milk). For whatever reason the cappuccinos come with whipped cream on top. Stick with the galao.
Here is Victor with - as he called it - a cheesy smile. 
Our favorite wine here is Vale de Terre. It's all reasonably priced here. 
A lot of folks get the standard Monte Velho red, but we like the Vale da Torre better. 
It looks kind of quiet in the restaurant, and it was at first. At O'Dinis there are two major shifts. One, at 5pm, it's packed. Another around 7pm. We arrived at 6pm.
Sometimes on Monday nights after 9pm, the owner of the restaurant sings Fado with his guitar. 
They didn't have my favorite specials -- so for fun, I tried grilled quail. I'd never had quail before. But, I guess it's a Portuguese thing. Victor said that his mom used to make it. 
My dish came with (count them) three quail! 
Check out those carbs, would ya?!
Victor got the seafood kabob special. It was excellent. Moist, not dry.
Check out those boiled potatoes. Melt in your mouth goodness.

The family that owns O'Dinis is from the island of St. Michael (or Miguel) in the Azores. The food there tends to be a little bit spicier than on the mainland. Generally the food I ran into "on the mainland" as they call it, is simple with tons of garlic, onions and olive oil. 
What's better than that???


The Domestic Goddess said...

I'm reading this at 6:45 am and I'm ready to chow down on these pictures you took. What times does O'Dinis open? (can you tell I"m hormonal?)

Sandy said...

Well, they have lunch (I'm guessing on the weekend too) and they open at 5 or earlier for dinner. The place has a big crowd of early eaters. Yum. Yum. Yum. Don't you think Bo H would treat you? :)

Samantha said...

You make Portuguese food sound so good. I will soon be married to a 100% Azcorean Portuguese,we've been dating for 6 yrs & for the life of me I can't seem to enjoy their food. The restaurant looks good. We usually go to Primavera or Madeira, or some other one in Fall River. Haven't been in a while, maybe we will try your place.