It was one of our first experiences dining out in Europe together, so we wanted it to be somewhere elegant. Boy, did this little place fit the bill.
Let’s get one thing straight – Lisbon SPOILS its visitors with breathtaking views aplenty, but the panoramic view from Via Graça overlooking the city at night is truly one of the best. It’s a fairly small place, maybe 60-75 covers, but the entire back wall is a huge window so there’s not a bad seat in the house (wish we had the appropriate camera equipment for this one!)
Via Graça is situated on the top of the highest hill in the neighborhood that is its namesake. The Graça district is one of the oldest suburbs in Lisbon, just a few blocks from the Castelo de Sao Jorge and a short walk from our apartment in the Sao Vincente neighborhood of Alfama.
Every component of our meal was right on point. As soon as we were seated, we were offered a glass of sparking wine and a selection of their artisanal breads and house-made variations of compound butter. Sarah is quite a champagne connoisseur, but we were both incredibly impressed with the Portuguese version of sparking wine, or Espumante. Espumante is produced throughout Portugal, from the northern wet region of Vinho Verde to the southern region of Alentejo, but even Espumosos, essentially sparkling table wine, is delightful. We’ll go more in-depth on Portuguese wines in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say that Cava isn’t the only superstar of Iberian Peninsula.
The breads included plain Portuguese-style bread, a sweeter version with raisins and pine nuts, and of course our favorite, Pão com Chouriço (bread with sausage). Although not complimentary, this start to the evening was only five euro per person, and it’s worth every cent.
Starters consisted of mainly seafood dishes. Tiger prawns were a highlight throughout, but we also saw scallops, razor clams and of course, my guilty pleasure, Foie Gras Torchon with sweet Portuguese toast, red berries and an ‘explosion’ of Porto – essentially, a syrup of traditional Port. Salads, cheese plates and traditional soups summed up this well-rounded selection of starters. As a side note, I didn’t get to have the foie gras because my dining partner wasn’t feeling adventurous (shocker), but I will go back immediately because I saw it pass by me multiple times and I immediately regretted passing it up. If you go here, GET THE FOIE GRAS for God’s sake.
The drink menu was vast, with three pages of Portuguese wines , spirits and beers. We were pleasantly surprised at how affordable the bottles of wine were for such a nice restaurant, but that’s right in line with what we love so much about Portugal – quality without the pretense. Although we’ve been perfectly happy with our three-euro bottles from the grocery store, I’m glad we decided to splurge for a 2014 single-variety Vinho Verde, which is aged longer than most giving it a more complex character. It’s a bit harder to find these wines on the market because Vinho Verde is such a young wine traditionally, so producers deliver the wine as soon as it’s bottled. Again, more on wine later, but if you have an opportunity to try a single-varietal Vinho Verde (Alvarinho and/or Loureiro), do so. And when we say splurge, this wine was still under 30 euro for the bottle, which seemed to be the average price point here. SUCH a bargain.
Our Mains, as expected, were the highlights of the night. I scoured the dining room to see as many dishes coming out as possible, and since we like to sit closer to the kitchen, we got to see a lot of them. Elegant pairings and wonderful, rich sauces on every dish seemed to be the theme, and that was exactly what we were looking for. Although not a vegetarian, Sarah isn’t a huge meat eater, so she opted for the roasted squash risotto with ricotta and a parmesan crisp. Very rich and filling, with a fairly large portion. She loved it, and I thought it was very good, however it needed a tiny bit of acidity to cut through the richness of the risotto to the ricotta and parmesan crip. It was only 18 euro, and I would highly recommend it to the vegetarian in the group. They also had a Tagliatelle pasta with slow-cooked egg, topped with an arugula salad and parsley sauce – I saw one of those pass by and it was stunning.
I was panicking as I usually do when it’s my turn to choose what I want to eat. Mainly because I see my evenings going in different directions depending on what I choose. I could go with the confit cod with citrus puree and orange vapors, which would take me back home to Florida with the citrus, and I would need to order another Espumante or Sauvignon Blanc to go with it. Or, I could get a little flare out of the average Portuguese dish and go with the curry grouper, and try my hand at pairing because I thought it would go nicely with the wine we already had, so it was a little experiment to go with the experience. OR, I could take the opposite route of my dining companion and go with one of their fantastic meat options, ranging from kid goat and suckling pig to racks of lamb and braised veal cheeks, knowing full well that I would then have to pick a Vino Tinto (red wine) to go with it.
I ended up going with the curry grouper, which featured a violet puree, coriander mousse, pan-fried courgettes (zucchini) and crispy onions, served with a yellow curry sauce table side. Perfect layers of flavor throughout, highlighted by a large portion (easily seven ounces) of fresh grouper. And a perfect pairing for my slightly less bubbly and more full-bodied white wine, if I do say so myself. Again, a huge bargain for only 22 euro.
Desserts were a little bit hit and miss. I got the apple pastry, consisting of three puff pastries filled with stewed apples in a bowl with cinnamon and apple crumble, and apple sorbet. Rockstar dessert. It hit all the markers for what makes a dessert great, and was a fairly large portion as well, so we could have easily split it. Sarah, the crepe guru, ordered the crepe flambés in an orange liqueur and ginger sauce. I saw the idea behind it, but our server slightly failed to cook out enough alcohol to really enjoy it. Every bite was a little overwhelmed with the liqueur, kind of like taking half of a shot with a little bit of crepe. I didn’t mind as much as Sarah did, but not the best.
The service throughout our meal was fantastic. It seemed like we had three our four servers, and everyone could speak a little bit of English which obviously made things easier for us. Even the few who didn’t speak English made every effort to, probably to stop us from our embarrassing attempts to speak in Portuguese for them (which still isn’t going very well but I’m recognizing foods on menus now!). Someone was always by to ask how things were and make sure our waters were never empty and wine glasses didn’t go below half. Chef Joao Bandeira would be out often cruising the dining room, shaking hands with regulars and friends, and stopping at each table to make sure things were up to standards. The entire meal was around $100, which we thought was an incredible bargain (I know, I’m being redundant). Everything about the experience was great, from when we walked in to when we left, which can be so difficult for a restaurant to pull off these days no matter where you are in the world. So that’s commendable in its own right.
If Lisbon is a destination for you, we highly recommend Via Graça. And get the foie gras!!!!
Reservations: (+351) 91 966 20 77
Location: Rua Damasceno Monteiro 9-B, 1170-108 Lisboa
Monday to Friday
12.30h to 19.30h to 23.00h 15.00he
Saturdays, Sundays & Holidays
19.30h to 23.00h