Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
It had begun to rain.
We'd just arrived in Lisbon. We were jet-lagged out of our minds.
At least we had a couple of days before my business meetings started.
I tend to travel without researching. You'll think me bonkers (I am). Somehow, though, I prefer to arrive, see, feel and let time unfold.
But we were getting wet on this Sunday night. We both wear glasses. There was a danger of becoming irritable. We were, after all, insanely hungry.
We walked for the fourth time past our hotel -- the utterly wonderful Palacio Ramalhete -- somehow hoping that a restaurant would materialize.
We turned a corner.
At the top of a hilly square was a light. An awning said: "Come in here and you will have the sort of experience even Lindsay Lohan has never had."
Actually, it said "Restaurante Raizes."
We walked up and peered inside. There was no one there. But our hungry bodies and weary minds (or was it the other way around?) shouted: "Open that door, dummies!"
We sat down by the window and a teenager came out to put down some menus.
He'd guessed we weren't Portuguese. He was clearly a clever teenager. The menus said: "Portugal On A Plate."
The teenager asked us if we'd like a drink. We explained that without a drink we might disappear into an alternative firmament.
He poured. We drank. And then we looked at each other.
This wine was good. It was excellent. Some deity had descended to offer us mercy.
The menu seemed to offer simple local food. A cheese plate, a chorizo plate, grilled chicken gizzards.
Suddenly, the teenager turned up again, bearing a wooden box and a couple of glass containers.
In the box was bread. Excellent bread. In the containers were olive oil made by an artist and a pumpkin jam that made us squint with incomprehension at its subtleties.
The glasses of wine were finished quickly. The teenager returned.
"Another wine?" he asked.
A touch speechless, we merely nodded. "Same? Or something different?" said the teen.
We asked for something different. And that became the theme of the whole evening.
Have you ever had bread chorizo? Have you ever not been able to decide whether you prefer pumpkin jam or pepper jam?
Who Is This Person? What Is This Place?
Marco -- for this, we learned, was the teen's name -- brought us food and wine that was different. We wondered how we had ended up here and no one else had.
"We've only been open two months," he said.
"So who owns this place?" I asked Marco.
"I do," he replied.
I didn't have the courage to ask him how old he was. However, Marco explained that his family were from central Portugal and were also in the restaurant business.
But Raizes (which means "roots") is slightly out of Lisbon's city center, in the Santos district.
"I wanted to open here because it's more quiet," explained Marco.
This, I suppose, is the Portuguese equivalent of: "If you built it, they will come."
As the evening flowed in a direction that we'd never conceived, we received a lesson in the difference between wines from the Douro region (less alcoholic, slightly lighter) and the Alentejo region (gloriously sophisticated, happy wine).
We tried cod with cornflour bread and roasted potatoes that rendered us temporarily insensate with appreciation for simple, clear taste.
The Cardinal Sin.
And then we asked for port.
Marco the teenager looked at us as if we'd asked him to drop his trousers, smear lard in his hair and sing the Spanish national anthem.
He politely explained that we really wanted Moscatel from the Setbal region.
We simply didn't know that we wanted it.
We only began to realize our wants as it slipped down our defenseless gullets like a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc that had seen something of the world, but always loved home the most.
The following morning, we were still a little dazed. When you're traveling on business, you can't possibly be sure what you'll experience.
Yet we were sure that Marco, if not a teenager then surely not so long after being one, had given us a singular evening.
We went back twice more.
The hake with a cockle, rice and tomato sauce I can still taste today (it's been a couple of weeks.) The lamb may not have lain down on Broadway, but Broadway, frankly, doesn't deserve it.
And Marco's wine choices were astounding -- especially astounding when he only charged an average of 4 Euros a glass.
One night he came up to our table and quietly made an announcement: "Tonight, we will only have wines made by women winemakers."
And so another effortless, glorious memory was made.
The Roots Of A Great Restaurant.
Marco Silva, we learned, is 26. He just wants a restaurant that makes people feel things. To their roots.
On our subsequent visits, Raizes was busier. Everything seemed to run smoothly, even though he was the only server.
Because of Marco, we went to Alentejo to find some of the wineries. It was no less surprising.
At Ervideira, we drank so-called invisible wine that looked like vodka and a red blend that had been aged 100 feet down a lake. Just another day in a Portuguese paradise.
But after work was done, TV series were discussed and plans were made, the last night had to be spent at Raizes.
It's not what you'd call fancy. (I know what you call fancy.)
But it has something so few restaurants have and so many crave: It makes you want to come back.
In an era where chefs try to do more and more to impress each other, rather than customers, Marco Silva has a much simpler way of building a restaurant that might last.
He has soul.