Friday, July 25, 2014

Samuel Adams Backyard BBQ at The Workshop By Latitude

I live in the far reaches of Toronto's east end so to get me to make my way to the far reaches of the west end requires something special to tempt me out of my lair. The Workshop By Latitude was just that kind of place. A restaurant that is focused on cheese, beer and wine with a resident cheese master on site? Rumours of cheese soaked in beer for months? 

Oh yes, that will get me out to the west end.

I was invited to attend The Workshop’s Samuel Adams Backyard Barbecue last Sunday for a cheese and charcuterie extravaganza. For $25, you got a beautiful cheese board, a pint of Samuel Adams ale or their Boston Lager and a grilled lamb burger. 

photo: me 

In the early 80's Samuel Adams was doing the craft beer thing long before craft beer became mainstream and quickly went from a small batch brewed up in a Boston kitchen to winning the crown of Best Beer at the Great American Beer Festival just a year later. 

Shack had the ale so I ordered the Boston Lager so we could taste both and discovered that I seem to really like beers that have a touch of a bitter finish. It's like the negroni experience but in a beer. Usually, I just go for ale automatically but I am glad that I tried the lager because I ended up preferring it. I am going to be honest because I am primarily a wine gal but the beer went really well with the cheese, which took me by surprise, especially the lager. Who knew?

Well, the cheese board was hand delivered to each table by the evening's host, the Cheese Master himself, Afrim Pristine. Pristine, a Maitre Fromager of The Cheese Boutique, lovingly described each cheese on the board, told us where it was from with a little bit of backstory on each cheese, which was a really nice touch. To round the board out, there was a delicious bundle of chorizo, made in house, some Spanish Marcona almonds, a couple of cherries and some crisp radish slices. 

 cheese soaked in beer, topped with a shmear of reduced beer, washed down with the same beer                         photo: me

The real star of the board was a hard cheese that Afrim had dropped into a container of Samuel Adams Boston Lager for 90 days and served with a reduction of the same beer that he whipped up that morning. Wash that down with a pint of the Boston Lager and you are experiencing an intense cheese beer marriage that works on a whole new level. 

I love a hidden gem of a secluded patio so I was really tickled to make my through the restaurant to find that it opened up to reveal just that. Because we got there later in the evening as the sun was setting, the staff had just started to turn on all of the twinkly lights and I a sucker for twinkly white lights. Sometimes it's fun to sit on a front patio and people watch, immersed in the energy of the neighbourhood but, other times, I really just want to relax, tucked away from the sound of traffic, have a nice chat with my dinner companion and kick back. If this place were closer to my house, it would absolutely be added to the roster of my favourite local haunts. I can't wait for an excuse to come out to Roncesvalles so we can stop in again before the summer ends.

I have to tell you, the milk bun that housed my tasty grilled lamb burger with haloumi was one of the tastiest buns I have had in ages - I would like to know where these little wonders came from. Shack doesn't care for lamb so they let him sub in some cheesy stuffed pasta instead, which was nice. His lack of enthusiasm for lamb did not stop him from stealing most of the very fresh, tasty side salads that accompanied my burger and after he finished his pint of ale, my Boston Lager's days were numbered too.

would you look at the shine on that bun? swoon

Executive Chef Mathew Sutherland and Cheese Master Afrim Pristine
FYI: I was invited to this event by Branding and Buzzing and was paid to write this post. All photos, unless noted, are by Mauricio Calero of MJC Photography. As always, my opinions are very much own.

The Workshop By Latitude
331 Roncesvalles

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Long Weekend in Lisbon, Day 2

Get up nice and early and go get your coffee and breakfast treat (see day 1) . Today will be a day full of great architecture, history, churching up and eating and you will need something in your belly. The fact that will also feel like you walked an uphill marathon by bedtime should just be a given by now.

Tower of Belem and The Discoveries Monument

Huge monument to the important figures in the history of Portugal

Make your way to the Praca de Figueira to catch the #15 tram out to Belem.  Like on the 28 tram, keep alert, hold your purse or backpack in the front and, for the love of pearl,  try not to look like a tourist.

Get off at the Belem stop and make your way across the street to the waterfront and start walking west along the walkway. In a few minutes you will see the Monument to the Discoveries up ahead. It is pretty impressive when you get right up close to it. You can also pay to go inside to see whatever temporary exhibit that happens to be going on, a film about Lisbon and then go up to the top for an amazing view of Belem.

Keep walking in the same direction and next you will see the Belem Tower in the distance. If you get there early enough, you can pay the €6 to go inside the tower because I hear it's worth it. Unfortunately, we got there way too late the day because we had a 15 year old with jet lag who slept in until 11am and the line up was massive so we just looked at it from the outside but it was still worth a visit.  This is a great example of Manueline architecture and just gorgeous. Built in 1515 to guard the city of Lisbon's harbour, it's now a Unesco Heritage Site and it is easy to imagine what it might have felt like to be a young sailor leaving the safety of his homeland, probably never to return, watching the fortress fade away in the distance. Not a bad last site if you have to have a last site.

Learn by my mistakes and do NOT go into the little military museum right next door because that is NOT the lovely Maritime museum. The Maritime museum is housed in the same building as the Jeronimos Monastery. If you have small kids with you, the little military museum does have a room of lego models in the very back until Sept of this year and it's kind of funny, so there is that. The less we say about the repurposed Jesus mannequin that now stands in for a POW in the bunker section, the better.

Make your way back towards the direction you came in and when you get to the Jardim da Praca do Imperio, make your way north. If you are interested, there is a museum of contemporary art beside the park but since I can see contemporary art anywhere, we skipped it and went straight to the Monastery.

Jeronimos Monastery 

As I said earlier, the Maritime Museum is basically in the same building as the actual Monastery and it's worth a gander. After that, go into the Monastery, which is another Unesco World Heritage Site,  pay your fee of €10 (The Kid was cheaper since Mr Dudley Do-Right brought his student card with him on vacation which ended up being the smartest thing any of us did) and spend the next couple of hours exploring the Monastery.

The intricately carved cloisters are breathtaking and incredibly well preserved. The monastery also houses a stunning church where the remains of Vasco de Gama now rest. Anyone who has ever taken a geography course can't help but feel a bit nostalgic about old Vasco, as he was usually the very first explorer we ever did a school project on and I have a vague memory of some sort of summer camp song about him.  I really could have spent hours in here, taking photos and examining every inch of this place.

Pasteis de Belem

When you are done with Jeronimos, leave and make your way to the Pasteis de Belem which is basically next door.

The famous egg custard tarts were first made by the Catholic monks of the monastery you just came from  back before the 18th century as a way to use up the egg yolks that were left over after they used the whites to starch the nun's habits. After the Liberal Revolution of 1820, which resulted in the closure of many of the monasteries and convents, the monks started selling their pastries out of a local sugar refinery to try to survive and have a source of revenue. When the monastery was finally closed in 1834, the monks were forced to sell the recipe to the owners of the refinery. That family went on to open the Pasteis de Belem and their descendants own it to this day. The actual recipe is surrounded by secrecy and rumours - I have read that only three living people are allowed to know it at any given time which led to much debate about what would happen if all three of those people died simultaneously.

When you get to the bakery, don't be scared off by the huge lineup because you can just go inside and grab a table. The line up is for take out pastry and there is no need for that. Sit down, have a pastel de nata and a coffee (or a beer, I don't judge) and take a load off. You have done a lot of walking this morning. There are other delicious pastries to be had as well but they are famous for the egg custard tarts and you have come an awfully long way so that is really what you should have. Make sure to go to the washroom because the place is like a crazy maze with more and more rooms unfolding as you make your way to the toilets in the back of the place.

this was a real pilgrimage for me after 30 years of custard tart love
The tart comes to the table warm and I saw others putting a bit of cinnamon and/or what looked like powdered sugar on them but they need nothing. The dough is much like a filo pastry, with lots of buttery, flaky layers and are not as sweet as the version I have grown up with in Toronto. I had many wonderful pasteis de nata during our ten day trip but this one was the best so don't miss out.

Now, well rested with pastry in your belly, get back on the tram 15 and take it downtown. If you want to get as close as possible to the castle, grab the bus 37 but both trams 28 and 12 (both out of the Praca de Figuara where you will get OFF the tram 15 from Belem) are much more charming and will get you close enough - you will just have to do a bit more steep hill walking. Since it is impossible to go anywhere in Lisbon without doing a huge amount of steep hill walking, what is a bit more at this point?

Explore the Medieval Castle of St Jorge, take pictures of the amazing view of the city and the Tagus River and soak up all of that ancient, Moorish majesticness for a while. It is all very Game of Thrones.

When you have had your fill of the castle, walk out of the gate and start making your way down through the Alfama neighbourhood. Alfama is the oldest area of the city. Settled by the Romans, it was the Moors who really put their stamp on it, giving it it's name and they are responsible for the crazy web of narrow winding streets and alleys. Alfama is probably the most picturesque area of Lisbon and it's chock full of churches, gorgeous balconies, crumbling doorways and odd little shops. Again, the streets are very, very narrow, steep, windy and bumpy so comfy, flat shoes are a must.

We just wandered around, took pictures, stopped at a couple of little places for a drink and a snack and wandered some more, constantly going down, down, down treacherously steep and winding streets until we spotted a tram stop and got on, knowing that regardless of direction, it would eventually take us back to the Praca de Figuara. The 12 tram winds through Alfama, while the 28 tram sort of skirts around it so you can't lose either way.

Alfama photo: Shack

Alfama photo:shack

Alfama photo: Shack

Go back to your lodgings, have a rest and shower and then get to Cais de Sodre (Cais de Sodre metro stop) and catch the ferry to Cacilhas so you can make it to Ponto Final for your 8pm sunset dinner reservation. Your metro card covers the cost of the ferry, by the way. I don't like to plan too many things in advance and I also don't like to eat in all of the typical restaurants that everyone eats in but this was an exception. I remember reading that having dinner at the Ponto Final at sunset is something everyone should do once before they die. I have no idea where I read that or if I just dreamed that I read it but it was enough for me to make a reservation before we left Canada by email, although the night we went, we would have had no problems securing a table outside anyway for those of you who choose to wing it.

Ponto Final

these assholes stole my table but I do admit they look pretty good sitting out there

The trip from the ferry to the restaurant looks very sketchy and I was positive that I had taken us to the wrong place for the first leg of the walk down what was once a bustling fishing dock. Now, its just a long stretch of abandoned buildings along the river. According to my map we were on the right pathway so we kept going and when we finally rounded the corner, I saw the familiar yellow table umbrellas up ahead and I relaxed.

Once seated, I knew that this was going to be fabulous and it was. Once again, very little english is spoken here so you will need your translator to make sure you order what you think you are ordering. Our waiter was very gracious about our lack of Portuguese and we managed, once again, to order all of the right things, despite our best attempts to murder his mother tongue. The food was fresh and tasty and the servings were HUGE. Keep that in mind because the three of us could have easily shared two entrees and none of us finished our own dinners. If we went again, I would skip my grilled bacalhau all together.

The octopus salad was one of the best I have had and if I spent a good amount of time in Lisbon, I would most likely make the trip out just to watch the sunset, eat pulpo and share a bottle of wine on a weekly basis.

Standouts were the bacalhau fritters that came with a bubbling cauldron of tomato rice and beans that continued to bubble, toil and trouble for so long that I started to wonder if it was going to explode. If you aren't into things from the sea, the braised veal was also delicious and the portion is gigantic. If you are going to get dessert, please don't get the shredded egg with sugar you see up there. Trust me, just don't do it. The Kid ate most of it just to spite me but I took great enjoyment from watching him choke down the last few bites while pretending that he found it quite delightful.

delicious braised veal for the non fish eaters and the ubiquitous cod on the grill with potatoes and in fritters

bring sunglasses

once the sun has set, the lamps are lit, and it becomes even more romantic if that is even possible

Now that you know you are not going to be murdered on the wharf, walk back the way you came to catch the returning ferry. It's actually much busier after dark. There are men who come to fish, parking their cars out on the docks, kids on bikes, couples strolling and light seeping out from peeling doors cracked open, revealing signs of life inside of those ramshackle buildings that looked totally abandoned earlier on in the day. Perhaps people rent them to store their fishing gear or to hide from the world, who knows?

If you are still feeling peckish, how about a nice meat and cheese sandwich from the vending machine in the ferry terminal?

Take your ferry back to Lisbon, make your way to Rossio Square and find A Ginjhina  for a shot or two of this traditional cherry liqueur.

This old Amish guy is out to get you drunk so don't let the kindly beard fool you

these two brusque dudes sling nothing but shots of sticky cherry booze in plastic cups from morning til night
photo: Shack

It's basically just a little stall that sells nothing but €1 shots of this surprising potent booze in sticky plastic cups. You can have it with cherries or without but a word of warning: the cherries are really sour AND they take up valuable cup real estate. I would rather have more booze than sour cherries so I take mine without. Don't say I never give any useful advice.

they sell one drink and they sell one brand of that drink and this is it                                                 photo: Shack

Now, walk back to the Barrio Alto and go to bed because you have to up early. Tomorrow is a big day.

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