I walk in through the main entrance and enter through a second door, on the right, into the bar since the long hallway to the dining room is blocked. All around are promotional posters and signs advertising various alcoholic beverages, happy hours and weekend events. I take a seat at the bar and the bartender hands me the menu. While I look it over, I can overhear someone at the other end of the bar talk about how he used to come here years ago and how he’s got so many great memories from the thirty-plus years that Portuguese Manor has been serving Perth Amboy and how happening the city once was, too.
Looking around I can understand. The bar occupies the front of the building with the dining room in the back. The restaurants familiar dated look, similar to most Portuguese family restaurants in the US, appears like it has seen better days. There are extravagant wood carvings on the walls that hint at a prosperous past and now share space with beer posters and hand written signs. The bar is over packed with tables and chairs, a DJ stand at the dining room entrance and everything has an overall hue of wear. The dining room seems to be much nicer, with neatly set tables appropriately spaced apart and better lighting. However, it is late afternoon and the dining room is empty. And for a what seems like a small, neighborhood, Portuguese restaurant, it‘s surprising to me that there are no Portuguese speaking customers during my visit.
Sopa de Mariscos
I place my order with the bartender, starting with the seafood soup. Since there are no Portuguese wines available by the glass here, I just skip it and have a Coke. While I wait for my soup, the bartender brings over some bread and a small salad. It’s about half a small loaf of bread, toasted, and it’s pretty good. The salad comes out so quickly that I know it’s been sitting in a refrigerator back there waiting for me to show up. There greens look wilted and the tomato and onion look dry, so I told the bartender no thanks, I’ll pass.
The soup arrives looking like soup. It’s a deep ochre color, thickened with some starch and has some toasted croutons floating on top. The flavor is rich, salty, slightly bitter and I like it. At the bottom of the bowl are pieces of chopped shrimp and they’re all right. The croutons are now soggy and I leave them to the side. Overall, the soup is OK, but it’s missing something — an aromatic, like cilantro, would give the soup another layer of flavor that is noticeably missing to me.
Mexilhões à la Catalana
Shortly later, the mussels arrive. They look really good, plumb and bright. I can smell the sweetness of the tomato sauce and have a taste. It’s flavored with red pimentos, onion, parsley and a little bit of garlic. It’s a little sweet and... not sure, but it tastes like it’s a little old. I then try a mussel — they all oddly have only one shell — and I notice that it’s plumb, but also snappy and chewy, though it tastes pretty fresh and briny. But I can barely get passed the texture. I assume that the mussels had been frozen and probably had not cooked enough. More problematic is that the flavor of the mussel and the sauce do not mix well — two wrongs don’t make a right — and I can only get through two mussels, leaving most of this appetizer to be taken away... please.
Zarzuela is not a long plastic horn you blow at soccer games. I’ve never heard of it, but the bartender tells me that it’s basically a spicy mariscada (seafood stew). In fact, that’s all it is here at the Manor. Take the Mariscada and add in sliced pickled hot cherry peppers. The dish comes out in that typical metal pot that so many Portuguese restaurants seem to think is a nice presentation. My pot looks like it’s at least ten years old with blackened handles and dings in it like it’s been part of a New York subway performer’s drum kit over the summer, but regardless the stuff inside looks good with the usual suspects of lobster, little neck clams, scallops, shrimp and more of those mussels, which I am not going to even try. On the side is what they call “saffron” rice, which is just your basic yellow turmeric rice, and it’s decent.
The broth is particularly yellow, and I taste it with some bread. Immediately, I can tell something is not cool with me and I realize that it’s the aroma. The slices of cherry peppers are loaded with vinegar and that vinegar is strongly affecting the flavor of this broth. I try to ignore it and go for the clams. They’re OK. The shrimp is that little kind of shrimp that never quite tastes that sweet. The scallops have similar qualities to the shrimp. I stare down that the lobster and hope for the best. It tastes like it should, not great, but familiar and close to what I expect. Unfortunately, I can’t get passed this vinegar in my broth and I simply cannot enjoy this meal. I try more of the clams, shrimp and scallops, but I quickly give up. Seems like we’ve all seen better days.
310 Elm Street
Perth Amboy NJ 08861