Serra da Estrela is the highest, and perhaps the only, mountain range in Portugal. I drove through the area during my last visit to Portugal. Presumably, that is where this small restaurant in Cumberland gets its name. What strikes me is that driving to the restaurant seems as difficult as driving to its namesake, if you're unfamiliar with the area or don't have a trusty GPS system.
I heard about Restaurante Serra de Estrela a few years ago, a little after my move to Rhode Island. I learned that there was a Portuguese community in Cumberland, and I had asked "Where's that?" After having going up and down I-95 a million times, I didn't recall ever seeing a sign for Cumberland—I mean, it's Rhode Island, how far off I-95 can you go. After living in the area a while, I eventual had reason to find and go to Cumberland, and later started looking for this restaurant. I found another Portuguese restaurant, Churrascaria Marques, first, then just blocks futher, found Restaurante Serra de Estrela.
Coming upon the Serra de Estrela, I noticed its appearance was fairly simple with gigantic faded red, green and yellow painted lettering on the wooden shingles that, to me, looked super-dated and a little ridiculous for a building in a tightly spaced residential area. I found parking on the street, and walked in. What a difference a door makes. Serra de Estrela has a very different look and feel inside. There is a wall of large windows along the front that gives the space a comfortable, light and open feel. The décor is simple and not particularly noticeable, but more modern and upscale than the view from the street.
It's not a large dining room, but it's not a large city, so was plenty of seating available. I found a spot along the wall, ordered a half bottle of read and checked out the menu, which had a fair number of traditional dishes. I was considering the pork and liver, which is one of my favorites at one of the Fall River restaurants, but the Serra Surf and Turf stuck out as a potentially a little different that the norm with the inclusion of stuffed clams. So, since I had missed lunch on this day, I ordered the Amêijoas à Espanhola (little necks in a chouriço, onion and pepper broth) to start, and the Serra Surf and Turf.
Amêijoas à Espanhola
The appetizer was good, a hot pot of little necks with plenty of smoky and tangy broth for the bread. The freshness of the clams stood out as I enjoyed their sweet and salty flavor and the natural broth still in the shell. The chouriço used in this dish was a little more smoky than usual, which is actually more traditional. I do prefer the green peppers and onions be cooked longer and softened up, but regardless, the dish was well done.
Serra-Style Surf and Turf
The main course, Serra Surf and Turf was a NY strip, with two truly jumbo grilled shrimps, two stuffed clams, some fresh-cut fries, a broccoli/carrot/cauliflower medley and some rice. The steak was grilled, my preference, and was everything you'd want a steak to be—flavorful, succulent, tender. The jumbo shrimp were also good, and I was surprised at how vibrant the vegetables tasted. When you use fresh carrots, or any other fresh vegetable, you remember how they are supposed to taste after having eaten the processed version for so long and so often. The reason I selected this dish off the menu was the inclusion of the stuffed clams. These were not "stuffies," where clam meat is removed from the shell, minced into a bread stuffing with herbs, spices, sometimes even minced chouriço. There were fresh clams, with a seafood flavored stuffing (probably with turmeric, the orange-yellow spice often used in Mozambique sauce) spooned over it. The stuffing was light and juicy, not dry. It was a new thing for me, and I really lime them a lot. I don't know why these are offered as appetizers, but I think they would be great and would become a favorite. They offer something beyond the usual dishes that pretty much every Portuguese restaurant offers, but it completely within the realm of Portuguese cuisine. I would love to see more of this kind of thing, here and elsewhere.
Bife à Serra Da Estrela
I've since been back for lunch at Serra da Estrela. They serve a decent looking buffet with a nice selection of beef, pork, chicken and fish dishes with accompaniments. However, I was in the mood for their pork and liver dish, but they were out of liver (really?). OK, so I went with the house steak which is served in a ceramic casserole with lots of sauce and garlic, plus two fried eggs and a bunch of round potato fries on top. The dish came out super hot, which is great. However, the ceramic keeps everything so hot that it took me quite a while to get through the meal. That's not a complaint, in fact, is great. I'll take that over a cold meal any day. The steak itself was good - cooked as I requested. And the sauce is great - great for mixing with the fries and the meat. The only disappointment is that the bread at Serra da Estrela is not that great. It's the usual Portuguese roll, but just not as good as the bread you get in Fall River. The outer crust simply crumbles to dust - and makes a messy table. Bread is not just food, it's one of the best utensils, too, important for gathering up sauce.
168 Broad Street
Cumberland RI 02864