Taste of Portugal

Back in Newark. People are starting to wonder why I moved to Manhattan just to take a train ride to Newark every chance I get. Simple, it's the food!

Taste of Portugal is about half a mile down Van Buren Street from Ferry Street - about 10-15 minutes if you're walking it, which I was. It's a good size place, with a large bar and casual dining room on the right as you enter - and a more formal/family dining room to the left. The décor is simple and understated. The staff is very attentive and does a good job keeping a mindful eye on what's going on at your table—ready to react. I've been here when it's very busy, and the service was still decent.

Mixed Platter Appetizer

It's my second time here and the second time I've asked for this appetizer. I love having the mix of things to pick through. It's like a one plate tapas. But, it's not a great app, just fun. There are two sauces: a fairly traditional marinara (why?) and a pretty garlic-intensive Portuguese sauce with some paprika and I don't know what else. I like the latter, never touched the marinara. The mussels were good, fresh and cooked properly, and I liked the garlic sauce on them. The chouriço was OK, a little dry and greasy, and would have been better grilled. The calamari was soggy, frankly, so I left most of it on the plate. But my favorite was the shrimp. Plump and sweet, they went well with the garlic sauce, too.

Robalinho Português Grelhado (Grilled Portuguese Striped Bass)

In the summer months, especially on bright sunny days, I really crave grilled fish - the whole fish. And I want to eat it outside - al fresco. I can't help but recall eating fresh grilled fish in Portugal during the warm months; be it at a tiny restaurant on the beach in the Algarve or Cascais, or a hidden tasca (small restaurant common throughout Portugal - it's their "diner," kind of) in Alfama. The sun and the salty air are integral ingredients that are truly missed when absent here. Back at my parents home in Fall River, in the summer my dad would grill anything we had in the refrigerator. I remember as a kid eating grilled fish in the back yard, under the sun, with fresh lettuce and tomato salad from my dad's garden. Amazing flavors, enhanced with salt, olive oil and vinegar - nothing else. I've have grilled trout in Greece and it's the same feeling. And that's what it is, a feeling. So, it's a little anticlimactic eating grilled fish inside a air conditioned building, but I had the craving and I was in Newark, where I think you'll find some of the freshest and best fish/seafood anywhere.

I had the grilled red snapper at Taste of Portugal during my first visit a few months ago. It was pretty good, but it was the winter, so I didn't have a terribly strong desire for it to be good. It was just exploring. I noticed that at least half of the diners were having the same thing, Filet Mignon on a Stone. It's a basic cook at your table steak thing you see in Korean restaurants, but in this case is a brick size piece of beef with about a entire stick of butter on top - and the whole thing just sizzles and smokes like crazy. People were loving it. But it's not for me. I've rather just get a fatty rib eye - what do I need with a stick a butter on my food.

Today, I really want a good piece of fish. Sea bass was on the special's page. When I ordered it, my server said "The fish is whole, do you have a problem with that?" The choice of words struck me as pretty funny. Anyway, whole is how I wanted it. The grilled skin is my favorite part. The fish, a good size, arrived on a plate garnished with some broccoli and carrots with a couple of potatoes on the side. Simple boiled potatoes on the side is a very traditional. The fish is the star here, no doubt. Portuguese generally drizzle olive oil, vinegar and lemon on their grilled fish - and that's how I like it, too. After the first bite, I could tell the fish was great. And it should be. Grilling is basically about controlling heat over time and paying attention. The grilled and charred bits mixing in the olive oil and lemon - to my taste buds - are heavenly. Now I have an emotional connection to these flavors that probably most people do not, but stripped down to the facts, this was a very well-cooked fish. The broccoli and carrots were... Doesn't matter.

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Taste of Portugal

148 Delancey Street
Newark NJ 07105
(973) 274-0600
www.tasteofportugalnj.com

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Mouth - Indie Food, Tasty Gifts