Bacalao. Paprika-dusted potatoes. Chorizo, chorizo, chorizo. The hearty, straightforward flavors of Portuguese cuisine are about to go mainstream if recent stories in New York and Colman Andrews' The Daily Meal are any indication. And chefs at two of New York City's trendiest restaurants couldn't be happier that the country's food is finally getting the attention it deserves.
"It's about meat and seafood together, super hearty food," says Hotel Griffou executive chef David Santos, whose parents grew up on the outskirts of Leiria. "End cuts of meat, salt cod, inexpensive proteins. It's very farm to table—when you kill a pig, you're eating pig 450 ways in the next month."
Adds Josh Blakely, head chef of New York City's Macao Trading Co., which features bacalao fried rice and other Portuguese-inspired dishes on the menu: "The Portuguese were such incredible colonists; their food was affected by their spice paths. They brought back things from Gola or Brazil, spices from Africa and India. The colonial, melting-pot style happened very organically."
So what would the chefs recommend for a Portuguese food newbie? "We're starting a Portuguese brunch," says Santos, who urges diners to try items like sardine salad and baked eggs with chorizo because, "How many times are you going to have freaking pancakes?" Blakely offers an octopus carpaccio with pine nut vinaigrette. "People who are weird about octopus will try it."
But they're confident that customers are finally becoming sophisticated enough to appreciate the cuisine's subtle charms. "It reminds me of the food of England or Massachusetts—seafaring, simple food. Cuisine that was meant to get you fed," says Blakely. "It doesn't have that sexy, easy Mediterranean quality like Spanish food. But diners are digging deeper now."
CLARISSA CRUZ is the Fashion Features Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the former Style Editor of People magazine and has written for Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, Food & Wine, and Budget Travel. @clarissanyc1