Relaxed setting, world-renowned seafood: Cascais, Portugal’s O Pescador

O Pescador. It translates to The Fisherman in English and this Cascais, Portugal destination has the casual vibe of a small fish shack with the gourmet cuisine of a fine dining destination. Throughout the years, they’ve been a cherished destination for such folks as Peter O’Toole, Julio Iglesias, Mick Jagger. Cascais is home to many members of exiled or deposed European royalty and a luxe resort area. I was happy to be hosted to experience it!

The restaurant is on the bay, right near the local fish market. The only way you’ll get fresher seafood is if you’re on a boat with your own filet knife. There’s some al fresco seating and several tables indoors. I’d say that reservations are must-do. Vintage fishing equipment and tchotkes add ambiance, while the many photos of past celebrity diners speak louder volumes than any anonymous Yelp review.

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In Europe, you can order (at a charge) a “couvert”, which are little snacks that differ from, or are in addition to, a bread course. Here, I sampled local olive oil, olives with garlic and seafood pate’.

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Though this is a place to wear the little sundress or khakis with summer sports shirt, it’s also a restaurant absolutely serving world-class wines. To match terroir to mer, I tried Cartuxa Pera-Manca Branco, a Portuguese white wine that score an impressive 95 in Wine Spectator. Those experts point out that it has white fruit notes, vanilla and spice flavors. It had a great body, with a most subtle sweetness to enhance sweeter seafood.

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Bring a buddy! One of the fantastic house specials serves 2: Parrilhada. Grilled shellfish like calamari, lobster and gigantic tiger prawns from African Mozambique (a former colony of Portugal) are simply served with Portuguese flavors of lemon and strips of pimento, in appetizing abundance. Seriously, the shrimp are so large and tender, they seem like langoustines. I was chewing on lobster shells, to get every last bit of goodness! While you can find chilled seafood towers as appetizers in the US, I’ve never seen an entree of such a glorious variety of hot, fresh seafood.

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Portugal (as well as Spain) also has the famous black-foot ham, that roam around eating acorns, imparting a nutty taste. They call it Presunto Serrano Bolota and dramatically slice it to order, table-side, carved on an antique bureau. It’s not salty! It’s flavorful without intense gamy funk.

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They have a good selection of chocolate and tropical fruit desserts (remember, Brazil was their colony), but I was eager to try the famous Portuguese cheese. I hope they become more available in the US soon. They have some of that nutty, rich oil flavors of Spanish Manchego. They serve it with a vintage Quinta do Noval 2012 unfiltered Port, also highly rated in the 90s by experts. Robert Parker described it as a lower sugar, yet fruit forward port — a perfectly balance pairing with the cheese.

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