April 9, 2009

beautiful food in the Douro Valley

When traveling, L and I love to visit different wine regions and make our way out to the actual vineyards to compare the settings with what is more familiar to us in the U.S. We've been lucky enough to see the viticultural areas of New Zealand, Chile and Greece, and L's also been to Champagne and Bordeaux. And just as with our trips to wine country in the U.S., we've enjoyed some terrific meals at restaurants in these wine growing regions (like Laja and Amisfield).

Thanks to Shane's deft driving (and nerves of steel), we were able to take a quick day trip to the spectacular Douro Valley... intensely rugged landscapes, deeply plunging hillsides, and a still-developing wine-tasting scene that is mostly devoid of crowds and corporate over-commercialization.

While tasting port at Kopke the day before, I saw a newly released cookbook by one of Portugal's most famous chef's, Rui Paula, entitled Uma Cozinha No Douro. The food inside looked fantastic, and I began to wonder whether we might be able to pull off a visit to his newest restaurant, D.O.C. Opened in 2007, D.O.C. is housed a sleek, minimalist building jutting out over the edge of the Douro, with ceiling to floor glass walls to maximize the views. The food is a refined, modern expression of the bounty of Portugal's seafood, one of several contemporary restaurants that have recently opened in the Duoro Valley, perhaps ushering in a new era of wine tourism.

L opted for the 4-course tasting menu, called the Menu Huile d'Olive (Olive oil menu), while I ordered two dishes from the regular menu. This is always a good option, because sharing tastes of each other's dishes ended up creating an informal 6-course meal without any redundancy.

Queijo Brie con compote de 2 pimentos (brie with pepper compote): Lovely rich, warm buttery flavors accompanied by a sweet compote with just a hint of the vegetal edge of the roasted pepper.

Recheado com Vegetais, Trufa Preta e Fois Gras (wild mushroom carpaccio with meat cannelloni stufed with vegetables and fois gras): A terrific dish. The wild mushrooms were sliced very thin and sauteed lightly in olive oil, resulting in flat ribbons of muchroom with the texture of al dente papparadelle (if not a bit thinner). Wonderfully rich fois gras encased in a thin ribbon of beef to complement the earthiness of the dish. Beef replacing the role of pasta, and vice versa... except the "pasta" here was made of mushroom.

Creme de Espargos Verdes e Ravioli de Congumelos em Azeite Trufado (green asparagus cream with scallop and mushroom ravioli): Asparagus is in season much earlier here due to the relatively warm weather. The soup had a pleasant purity of flavor... if not a bit on the simple side, with a delicately cooked scallop. The mushroom ravioli seemed an odd addition to the dish.

Polvo a Lagareiro (octopus made by a wine-presser): I will never get over the octopus I've had in Portugal. Ridiculously tender, spectatular flavor... I have no idea if it is the technique or the product itself that makes the octopus so good in this country. This octopus was creamy in texture... unreal.

Cherne con Tomate Confitado em Azeite e Espuma de Batata (stone bass with tomoato confit and potato foam): Another very well executed dish, if not inventive. Perfectly cooked stone bass, flake tender and moist. The potato "foam" was a bit of a misnomer... it was more like highly whipped, lightly aerated mashed potatoes.

Shot de Tangerina con Frutos Secos caramelizados em Azeile (tangerine shot with dry fruits and olive oil: A nice palate cleanser with the acidity complementing the flavor of the olive oil.

Bochecha de Porco Bisaro sobre Circulos de Cachaco Confitados em Azeite Virgem ("Bisaro" pork cheek): Somehow that translation seems a bit on the short side. A slow braised pork cheek accompanied by confit pork, accompanied by a traditional side of mushrooms and thickened cream. A heavy way to end the meal, particularly with the generous portion sizes. This was probably the least favorite dish.

Tarte de Maca com Queijo de Cabra e Gelato de Azeile (apple pie with chevre and olive oil ice cream): The chevre on the apple pie was an inspired combination, but the olive oil gelato's texture was icy, rather than creamy.

We enjoyed the meal with a bottle of Cabeca de Burro Reserva, Duoro, 2006, which I selected because the winemaker was the only female among the producers included in the wine list. Some of my favorite California wines are made by women--in what continues to be an incredibly male-dominated field--and I like to support people who are breaking new ground in whatever small way I can. The wine was crisp and refreshing, with flavors of tart apple and citrus... terrific for a sunny day in wine country.

In all, this was a high quality meal at a fair price, particularly considering the still-unfavorable exchange rate with the U.S. dollar. Nothing ground-breaking, but a thoroughly satisfying way to spend a couple of hours on a beautifully afternoon. Ah, the sun feels nice...


  1. Anonymous4:38 AM

    Thank you so much for the last several posts; I've had a rough couple of weeks, and reading your blog has been like a lovely vacation from it all! Well done!

  2. Thanks for the comment, and glad you're enjoying our trip! If you love food, you're really going to enjoy some of the upcoming posts over the next week or so...

  3. I'm very happy to know you enjoyed your trip to the Douro Valley.
    Hope you come back soon!