By Bob Sacks |
Yes, we all know not to judge a book by its cover, don’t we? A friend whose palate I respect suggested I visit Por Do Sol, a Portuguese/Spanish Restaurant on Broadway in Long Branch for a “nice dinner out,” so it seemed a good choice. Walking up to the entrance, I confess to some fleeting doubts after seeing a sign over the entrance proclaiming “Sports Bar” and another above the side door that read “Liquor Store.”
Stepping inside, the large bar, multiple wall-mounted TVs tuned to soccer, basketball and hockey, and the vastness of the room, did little to reassure me. After we were seated by the gracious and charming hostess, I looked around the softly lit space and realized that the excellent singing and guitar music was live, and that many of the other patrons were speaking their native tongue: Portuguese. That, and a quick read of the menu, eased my concerns and I was eager to taste the food.
The first bite of the Pasteis Bacalhau – salt cod fritters – ($1.50 each), drove away any lingering doubts, and affirmed my friend’s recommendation. The delicious deep-fried croquettes of salt cod, potatoes, onion and parsley, brought big smiles to our table. These greaseless, light-as-a-feather treats are a signature dish of Portuguese cuisine, and deservedly so. Excellent!
Homemade Portuguese Sausage ($13) arrived on a small brazier with flames still dancing underneath it, providing much visual appeal. A cousin to Spanish chorizo, but uniquely seasoned with more paprika, this was nicely charred and mildly piquant.
A simple, but very tasty dish of Shrimp in Garlic Sauce – camarao ao alho – ($13), sautéed with onion, garlic, parsley and paprika, made the case for less is more. The small, plump and juicy shrimp were center stage and allowed to be the star of the dish.
Shellfish and seafood are a major part of Portuguese cuisine, and the deftly prepared Clams a Bulhao Pato ($) was but one more example. The generous serving of good-sized clams, cooked in olive oil, cilantro and garlic, was perfectly tender and grit free.
Large enough for two or more serious eaters, the Paelha Valencia ($29), golden saffron rice, Portuguese sausage (chourico), bits of boneless chicken, mussels, lobster and shrimp, was deeply flavorful, and an interesting contrast of tastes and textures. The lobster in the dish was the only miss, as it was somewhat overcooked.
Marsicada, shellfish stew, ($29) was offered with a choice of red or green sauce. I opted for the green and was rewarded with an aromatic parsley and white wine broth which held a generous amount of clams, fat mussels, tender lobster and those tasty little shrimp. One of the dishes of the night.
More like a casserole, and somewhere between the Paelha and Mariscada in juiciness and texture, Arroz Marisco ( $24), had mussels, clams, small scallops, and crab claws, with savory rice, in just enough broth to make this shellfish dish hard to stop eating.
There is no wine list. Our cheerful server offered us a few reds and whites by the glass, but we chose to first try a pitcher of sangria, and were more than happy with the white version ($20 /Large). Fruity and refreshing, it was way too easy to drink but happily the alcohol was lightly diluted by the club soda and fruit juice elements, thus avoiding over-indulgence. There is also a red sangria, priced the same, which is equally ideal to pair with this food, albeit a bit more substantial in weight, as it should be. One of the few nights I did not miss my usual glass or two of vino!
From a small dessert menu, Arroz Doce ($5), classic rice pudding, was a showstopper. Dusted with cinnamon, and oh-so-rich and creamy, but not at all heavy, it was compelling; indeed, I would return if only for that! It was that good!
Serradura ($5), aka Sawdust Pudding, is a deceptively simple mix of fresh whipped cream and crumbled Maria cookies, which are a mainstay of this fare. The crisp, slightly sweet wafers, with a hint of vanilla, are a perfect foil for the airy cream.
By the end of our authentic-feeling experience, in regards to the service, ambience and food, it seemed that my guests and I had been transported to a small village in the hills of Portugal and had very much enjoyed a dinner among the local residents at their neighborhood taberna. Por Do Sol is more than the signs outside would indicate. Yes, it is a sports bar, but it is also a remarkably good Portuguese/Spanish restaurant, dishing up very good examples of well-prepared, fresh-tasting food, in a warm and lively setting.
Por Do Sol
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob. Read his reviews here.
This article was first published in the March 29-April 5, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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