When most people think about Portuguese food, they think of churrasco and piri-piri sauce. The Portuguese food scene in Toronto is unfortunately no different, with handfuls of churrasqueiras, a limited number of fine dining restaurants, and nothing really in between. But there is a whole world of Portuguese cuisine out there, which everyone should have the chance to get to know at least once during their lifetime!
That’s exactly what our friends at Cantinho Portuguese Kitchen & Bar are aiming to do! On March 21st, we went to the Cantinho Portuguese Pop-Up, an 8-course dining experience created to immerse us in the flavours of Portugal, with a modern twist!
Cantinho was started by Aaron Okada, former lead line cook at Little Sister Indonesian Food Bar. Aaron is responsible for the vision behind the pop-up (which he hopes to eventually turn into a full restaurant and bar), and for putting together and executing the menu. Head bartender at Little Sister, Jeremy Walker, also came on-board to run front of house and create the bar menu. The event was hosted at Lamesa Filipino Kitchen, where Aaron works part-time in the kitchen.
Part of the inspiration for Cantinho comes from Aaron’s wife, Susete, who was born in the Açores and speaks Portuguese fluently. Aaron and Susete traveled throughout Portugal twice last year, which inspired Aaron and allowed him to really learn the cuisine first-hand. Cantinho was also partly inspired by acclaimed Portuguese chef, José Avillez, who takes a modern approach to Portuguese cooking at his restaurants. “Cantinho” means canteen in Portuguese and also describes the type of restaurant or style of cooking (like a Trattoria or Ristorante in Italian).
The food menu highlighted Portugal’s regional cuisines through a series of petiscos (small dishes similar to tapas), and the bar menu featured unique cocktails and wines from the often overlooked Douro and Dao regions. Karen started off with The Pink Phink, a mixed berry cocktail with white port and pisco. It was also made with egg whites, which she loved since it made this sweet cocktail frothy. The second drink she had was a glass of red, Sogrape Vila Regia Reserva 2013 from the Douro region. It was interesting to learn that every area of Portugal has its own wine region, but they keep all their wine within the country. So this means that the rest of the world unfortunately doesn’t get to try all of Portugal’s wine, but this also means that all local wine is cheap! Can’t say no to that!
Now, onto the delicious food…
First up were the Peixinhos da Horta (tempura-battered green beans) with house-made smoked paprika mayo.
When dipped in the smoked paprika mayo, these were like little clouds of deep-fried goodness, with just the right amount of crunch and salt!
Then came the Farinheira com Ovo (Farinheira sausage with poached egg). The egg had an unexpected fluffy texture from being poached sous vide. We broke the yolk and mixed the egg with the bread crumbs and crispy Farinheira sausage to make a tiny pudding-like concoction. Surprised by the texture of the runny egg yolk mixed with the bread crumbs, this dish was one of Karen’s favourites from the menu.
The next two dishes on the menu were the Favas com Morcela (fava beans with blood sausage) and the Couve-flor com touçinho (roasted cauliflower with bacon).
Here is a close-up picture of the fava beans with blood sausage. Blood sausage might be intimidating to some, but it was taken out of the casing and mixed with the fava beans (so if you are averse to it, you wouldn’t even know you were eating it).
The cauliflower and bacon (which was cured for more than 5 days) was one of our favourite dishes. It was savoury and flavourful, with a bit of freshness from the refogado sauce and cilantro – a delicious crunch in every bite!
We quickly finished the Bacalhau (salted cod), which had been soaking for several days before. It was not too salty, like many salted cod dishes can be, and had the right amount of flakiness.
The bits of potato, olives and scrambled egg provided a nice contrast in flavour and texture throughout the dish.
The last dish was a Portuguese twist on chicken and waffles with a piri-piri sauce topped with pickled red onions. The chicken was so tender with so much flavour! We loved this dish and would definitely order it again if we had the chance.
As for desserts, we were given two: a strawberry cheesecake in a cup and Avela Gelado com Espuma da Avela (hazelnut gelato topped with hazelnut foam). Unfortunately, Krystle is not a fan of sweets, so Karen had to eat the desserts herself – how unfortunate 😉
Too bad Karen doesn’t like cheesecake, so neither of us tried the strawberry cheesecake in a cup. On the other hand, Karen did try the hazelnut gelato and it was such a sweet ending to the whole meal.
Overall, we were both very pleased with this meal by Cantinho. We had a great time chatting away while the dishes came one after another. Although the meal consisted of a series of shared petiscos, we both left with our stomachs full and content. We can’t wait for Cantinho to open up shop in Toronto!!