The rich flavors of Portugal come to Greenwich
Photograph by Bob Capazzo
Where is much buzz about Douro, a new restaurant in Greenwich. The fare is Portuguese and unlike the many homey Portuguese places in Danbury and Bridgeport, Douro shows off the more sophisticated side of this excellent cuisine, all the while keeping its charm. Douro is quite new to the busy Greenwich restaurant scene, and despite a short time in business, it was up and running and almost flawless when we visited. Soon after we were seated in the small, handsome room that features contemporary banquettes and a huge wall of wines, our young waiter was so anxious to please that he virtually trotted laps around the dining room, passing our table every thirty seconds, checking on the water glasses and breadbasket with serious intensity.
Chef Rui Correia is a native of the Douro Valley, cleaved by the Rio Douro—“River of Gold.” This fertile part of Portugal produces exceptional olives, almonds and the grapes that make port wine. We ordered an enormous amount of food and are happy to declare that aside from a few lackluster desserts, everything was just about perfect.
We started with Portuguese codfish and potato fritters. A friend, who speaks Portuguese and is a codfish fancier, brightened at the first bite, declaring the dish to be the best she had ever tasted. The non-cod fancier at the table ordered empanadas filled with shrimp mousse. The mousse was light and very well flavored, the thickness of the empanada balancing the delicacy of the filling. Mini meatballs in homemade barbecue sauce were presented simply: marble-sized, spicy but not drowned in their translucent tomato sauce, tasted as if they came from an old family recipe. Perhaps our favorite appetizer was littleneck clams in cilantro-flavored shellfish broth.
Salads were bright and fresh. Roasted beets with toasted pignoli nuts and goat cheese were glazed with reduced balsamic vinegar. Spicy calamari was flash fried and served on a bed of young greens, dressed with the piri-piri sauce that the Portuguese use the way Americans use ketchup. If you prefer a straightforward but delicious salad, order the Medi: greens, feta cheese and Bermuda onion in a lemon-honey-oregano dressing.
The menu lists several paelhas, the Portuguese version of the more commonly known Spanish paella. Marisco paelhas is the showstopper. The same great littleneck clams we had as an appetizer are added to shrimp, calamari, chourico sausage and green peas, all nestled in a lovely mound of saffron-infused rice. A variation on this theme is the Valencia paelhas, a similar base of ingredients that includes generous pieces of roast chicken on the bone.
The Portuguese do have a way with chicken. Witness the wonderful signature entrée called frango. It is half of a bird on the bone—marinated then roasted over a wood charcoal fire: the definition of a perfect cold-weather dish. One item that in fact is traditionally Portuguese but may seem odd to steak-eating American diners is bitoque. Unlike the hefty slabs of prime beef to which we are accustomed, this is a thin, butterflied shell steak that gets pan-seared in a garlicky wine sauce and served on a bed of fries with a fried egg on the top. It looks a bit like breakfast, but is hearty and delicious.
Whenever we eat Portuguese food we get a dish with the exotic name of Mozambique. Douro has the best version we have ever been served. Huge South American shrimp are perfectly cooked, lightly sautéed in the ubiquitous piri-piri sauce, and served around a little hill of mashed potatoes. There was not a single entrée that disappointed, but the standouts, aside from the ones already mentioned, were misto (shrimp, clams and calamari dusted with oregano-lemon panko crumbs), and a cumin rubbed pork chop slathered with garlic, lemon and cilantro.
Only the desserts were less than exciting. Nutella bread pudding was dense and chocolaty, but we could not taste the hazelnut punch of the Nutella. A caramelized grilled pineapple was unripe and not cooked enough. Cheesecake flan had not been set up properly to serve (said one of the waitstaff); and so it went. But the strong, perfect espresso made us smile once again.
Douro is a warm, friendly little restaurant that aims to bring a more sophisticated version of Portuguese food to town. We are positive that when word gets out about this new little gem, it will be hard to book a table. Go soon.
28 West Putman Avenue
HOURS: Lunch: Mon.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m
Dinner: Sun. 4:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m.
Mon.–Wed., 4:30 p.m.–10 p.m.
Thur.–Sat., 4:30 p.m.–11 p.m.