Sunday, June 1, 2008

Lisboa Restaurant

Portuguese Cuisine
19 Layfayette Street
Waterbury, CT 06708
(203) 754-0789

So this Portuguese restaurant has been hidden off a little street near my house for years and I finally decided to try it out. Lisboa is not it in the best section of Waterbury, surrounded by old and often abandoned factory buildings, so many people have never heard of it. The decor of the restaurant is very informal, it appears that the bar area has been remodeled recently. The dining room was simple, white walls with a few random framed posters of Portugal. Scott and I aren't too concerned with the looks of a restaurant (actually, our favorite places are holes in the wall), but based on the amazing food of Lisboa, a few new coats of paint and a meeting with an interior designer would probably send this place over the top. On the other hand, it is clear that many of the guests are repeat customers, warmly greeting the waitresses with kisses and updates on their lives. So perhaps the feel of the dining area is perfectly suited to Lisboa's family of regulars, in which case, who are we to judge?

My favorite part! Okay the cool thing about Lisboa's food is that while it is amazingly impressive, it isn't stuffy or over the top. While not an expert in Portuguese cuisine, I get the impression that this is traditional peasant food of Portugal, featuring a menu of simple dishes of potatoes, seafood, Portuguese chouri├žo, and simply prepared meats.

We also loved how the food is presented. Many of the dishes are very interestingly served, leaving diners to ask "What was that dish you just brought to that table?" The chouri├žo appetizer is served in a little pig serving dish (sorry vegetarians), the shish-kabob comes hanging off this sweet contraption, and we got very excited when someone ordered Steak on a Rock, which unfortunately I cannot find on their online menu, that was served almost raw on a hot granite stone, leaving the diner to sear and cook the meat to his liking. All of the regular dishes have links to photos if you look at the pdf menu on Lisboa's website, but no pics of the specials. And Scott and I weren't savvy enough to bring a camera this time.

So when you first arrive, after ordering drinks (good wine list and full bar), you get a heaping plate of olives and a basket of warm and crusty Portuguese rolls, which is one of my favorite breads in the world. Scott and I actually ended up eating two baskets of bread, and for people who try to be somewhat carb-wary, this speaks volumes for Lisboa's rolls. Our salads came out next. Nothing fancy, I thought the blue cheese dressing was very good. Scott just had oil and vinegar because he felt bad about how much bread he had eaten. Then we had the Clams Spanish Style , which was probably a little big for two people. The sauce is divine, make sure you save your bread for it!

My entree was Shellfish Casserole, a combo of shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, and lobster, with the red sauce. I wish I had known that the red sauce in this entree was the same as the sauce from the Clams Spanish Style, because I felt like I was just eating the same thing with different seafood. The sauce was simple, thin and perfectly spiced, it tastes like a broth I made once with tomato sauce and clam juice, but I didn't ask the secret. And Lisboa, bless its heart, was not stingy on the seafood at all. Two halves of a small lobster (which was just a tiny bit overcooked), and enough shrimp, scallops, mussles, and clams (all perfectly cooked) to make a delicious leftover lunch the next day. Shellfish Casserole is one of the pricier things on the menu, but if you are a seafood lover, definitely worth it.

Scott had one of the specials, Roast Suckling Pig, which was slow roasted and melt-in-your mouth good. A word of caution, it is super-garlicky, which we love but know that some people hate. It was served simply with a dipping sauce and Lisboa's Portuguese fries, which are sort of a cross between French fries and potato chips. I didn't like them, but then again I don't particularly care for fries or chips. Scott ate a few, but I could tell they were not the most impressive part of his meal.

The service was good. While not overly-attentive, our water glasses never went empty. Although that could be because we were drinking wine and beer. Plus the food comes out slowly, but this is almost certainly a reflection of the slow-cooked style of the food, not of the waitstaff. Another thing we liked was how it seemed like the waitresses knew many of the repeat customers, and even knew what they would order. Scott and I were a little jealous that we weren't a part of the Lisboa family!

If we had an infinite budget, then we would go back today. Not to say that Lisboa is expensive, it just isn't $2 tacos, which is more our financial style these days. Our bill for a mini bottle of wine, 2 beers, a good appetizer, and 2 of the more pricey entrees was about $76 before tip. I would eat there every week if I could. We discussed the fact that we could go back and just split the Clams Spanish Style appetizer with plenty of bread and olives, and that would make a cheap and delicious supper.
So yes, we will go back, and hopefully soon.

1. I love hidden gems, and this restaurant perhaps defines one.
2. GREAT food at a good value, and they weren't stingy with the seafood.
3. They have $10 mini-bottles of wine, perfect for one person. And so cute.
4. At the end of the meal, instead of a crappy mint, they give you a mini chocolate cup filled Beirao liquor. I know this is more than 3 things, but CHOCOLATE CUP WITH LIQUOR?! How delicious is that?

1. The beer mug was thoroughly frosted.
2. The first thing they bring you is a huge dish of olives.
3. The Portuguese bread is crusty and absolute perfection.

There was really nothing we didn't like. The dining room area could probably use some renovations, it certainly doesn't match the high caliber of the food. But we hardly even noticed the decor, we were too busy stuffing our faces.

Visit their website, you can see links to pictures of menu items (Warning: the pics really don't do the food justice), and also see links to other articles by the New York Times and New Haven Register. Or just go, trust us, you won't be disappointed.

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