Wednesday, August 24, 2011
The Hartford Food Guy Visits O'Porto
Saturday my wife and I spent most of the day at the shore at a birthday party for a friend (and regular reader). Although there was a quite a bit of finger food and a delicious birthday cake we were both pretty hungry by the time we got back to Hartford so we decided to have a late (by Hartford standards) dinner at O’Porto on Park Street in Hartford.
O’Porto is in an old factory just over the Hartford/West Hartford line that was redeveloped by Carlos Mouta a/k/a “the Prince of Parkville.” Carlos is Portuguese, although he spent his childhood in Mozambique, which was a Portuguese colony until 1975.
After the fascist dictatorship that had ruled Portugal for about 60 years was overthrown by the Carnation Revolution in 1974 (the university students stuck carnations in the barrels of the soldiers’ guns, who effectively joined the revolution by just standing around instead of breaking up the protests) the new government granted Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bassau, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Cape Verde Islands their independence. This (and civil wars in Angola and Mozambique) led to 1,000,000 Portuguese colonists either returning to Portugal or moving elsewhere, many of them to the United States.
When Carlos arrived in the U.S. (with little more than the clothes on his back) his family settled in the Parkville section of Hartford. After graduating from Hartford Public, Carlos had an abbreviated career playing soccer, but ultimately found his way into the real estate business. Carlos has done well for himself, but he never forgot his American roots in Parkville and he has bought and refurbished quite a few buildings in Parkville and helped a number of small businesses get off the ground.
Anyway, as the name suggests, O’Porto is a Portuguese restaurant (Porto is Portugal’s second largest city), though with a very contemporary American feel. Indeed, the interior has lots of exposed brick and ductwork and the décor, furniture, and table settings are all very modern and much more fine-dining than ethnic neighborhood joint.
To start, we had the ameijoas à bulhão pato (clams sautéed in a white wine and cilantro broth) ($9). It’s hard to get more traditional than this and O’Porto’s offering stacked up perfectly well, with some good-sized claims in a very nice (but not overbearing) broth. The key is that the claims have to take on the flavor of the broth without being overwhelmed by it, and our dish definitely met that standard, with the cilantro providing just enough kick. It was a very good start to our dinner.
Mrs. HFG opted for the Lulas Grelhadas ($18). Lulas means squid, which were grilled in white wine and butter. Squid is another tough dish to get right, from both a textural and taste perspective. You have to cook it just enough so that it is not raw, but not so much that it starts to get rubbery. Also, because the flavor of squid is pretty subtle, it is easy to overwhelm it, especially with butter, which is, of course, very rich.
O’Porto got the lulas just right. They were cooked to perfection (neither Mrs. HFG nor I could think of a more perfectly cooked plate of squid we’ve had) and the flavor of the wine and butter complimented the squid very nicely.
Mrs. HFG’s dinner also had some sautéed vegetables and roasted potatoes which were OK, though not particularly memorable.
I had the Alentejana ($20). Like I said when I visited the Primavera Pub last year, alentejana is a staple of Portuguese cooking and consists of marinated pork cubes and claims, served with cubed roasted potatoes. Unlike lulas, alentejana is a pretty hearty meal and the flavor of the pork is supposed to infuse the potatoes, with the clams providing a counterbalance. I thought O’Porto’s offering worked quite well, though at $20 it is not a bargain. Still, it was delicious and I have no complaints about the taste, the portion, or the presentation.
Although O’Porto has a very nice – and reasonably priced -- selection of Portuguese wines, Mrs. HFG and I both abstained, me because I’d had a couple of cocktails at our friend’s birthday party and Mrs. HFG because she had to drive.
As it was getting late and because we were both stuffed from a long day of eating, we passed on desert, though I did see a lovely flan and a nice serving of rice pudding heading to another table as we were getting our check.
Our service was very good as the food moved quickly out of the kitchen and our table was turned in a friendly and efficient manner – without our server being overbearing or trying to rush us through dinner.Although I can’t say O’Porto is my favorite Portuguese restaurant, it is a good restaurant that serves authentic Portuguese food (there are also several takes on Portuguese cooking which I would consider “Portuguese inspired”) and has both good ambiance, as well as prompt and friendly service. If you enjoy Portuguese food, or you want to try Portuguese cuisine but want something more upscale than the Primavera Pub, then O’Porto is a very solid choice.
Here’s a link to O’Porto’s website - http://www.oportohartford.com/