Frutos do mar

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The cookbook is coming along slowly but surely.  Diane’s been on fire since she came back from Turkey and friends and family have started testing recipes.  It seems increasingly possible that we will finish.

Which means I don’t need to feel guilty about eating Portuguese seafood in Newark instead of cooking Korean food at home.  This past weekend, a good friend and I went hiking in New Jersey.  It was five hours of the same forest view, which is fine if you don’t have memories of the Marin headlands of northern California.  I was still happy to get out of New York, though, and even happier when we started eating dinner at Seabra’s Marisqueira in the Ironbound District.

The restaurant is casual and easy, with a celebratory air that doesn’t keep you from cracking lobsters and sucking clams with gusto.  It’s the kind of restaurant that’s practically extinct in gentrified Brooklyn and slicked up Manhattan, popular without being scene-y, without a drop of irony or self-consciousness.  Almost everyone had a table of sangria at their table, fizzy, light, and frivolous like all sangria should be.

We started by splitting their delicious shellfish soup, which was brought to us in two bowls with some moist towelettes, lobster crackers, and little forks to pull out the meat.  It was a very generous soup.  We thought the waiter had misunderstood and sent over two orders; it turned out the regularly giant bowl of soup had been split in two.  Becca couldn’t stop raving about it, and as she said herself, she normally doesn’t care that much about food.

The big bowl of cockles here was listed under appetizers.  A little gritty but effortlessly fresh and delicious.

I’ve never been to Portugal, but this is what I imagine Portuguese peasants used to eat everyday — salt cod baked with potatoes and olives.  I didn’t love it at first, but its unpretentious flavor grew on me.  I happily ate the leftovers cold two days running.

Our waiter was so charming and cute, I’m sorry we shocked him by declining dessert and coffee.  Instead, we went across the street to Riviera Bakery where I pretended there were 10 of us, instead of two, and bought two boxes of pastries.

The pastries were so-so.  The pastel de natas (top left corner) had a great crust but the egg custard tasted like fake vanilla.  A friend of mine told me a lot of Chinese pastries, including egg custard tarts, are originally Portuguese, from when Portugal controlled Macau.  They definitely look the same.

But I still loved the bakery with its pastries as big as your face, in a neighborhood full of middle-aged Portuguese men just walking around that warm night.  There was a store across the street full of Portuguese and Brazilian soccer knickknacks, ceramics, and lacy baby clothing.  Another sold what looked like Portuguese-brand vacuum cleaners.  It reminded me of similar stores in Fort Lee, New Jersey, except the appliances there are Korean.  I don’t know why immigrants feel a need to buy their country’s vacuum cleaners when this country has plenty of its own, but there’s clearly a business in it.

Becca and I are plotting a trip back soon with a larger group.  We want to order the seafood skewer, which judging by our neighbor’s meal, is a huge sword of squid and shrimp hung vertically on a stand over a ginormous platter of rice.

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7 Responses to “Frutos do mar”

  1. Diane Says:

    sounds like you are prepping to root for portugal during the world cup…

  2. Diane Says:

    (what a fun way to prep.)

  3. Grace Says:

    Are you kidding? After S. Korea (haven’t decided how I feel about N. Korea), it’s La Furia Roja all the way, baby!

  4. Anna Says:

    Sounds like fun! Wonder if the bakery sold sweet bread? I’ve never been a huge fan of those custard-based pastries– even in their dim sum incarnation– but love the light, sweeter than brioche but not too sweet, Portuguese holiday bread in its many forms, including its Hawaiian bread offspring. They sell it in the Portuguese bakeries and bakery sections that can be found throughout coastal New England.

  5. Grace Says:

    Is it called sweet bread? I know what you’re talking about, I think it’s delicious, but I don’t know what it really looks like. They definitely had loaves of bread, but nothing that looked particularly eggy-sweet. We should go check it out next time you’re here! It’s the kind of neighborhood that’s very family friendly!

  6. Anna Says:

    According to wikipedia (not the most reliable source), it’s called Massa Sovada, Massa, or Pão Doce
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_sweet_bread

    But in Connecticut and Rhode Island I always just saw it sold as “Portuguese sweet bread.”

    I’d definitely be into heading out there with you! I could introduce the kid to his Portuguese roots (Andrew’s a quarter Azorean).

  7. Grace Says:

    Really, Andrew’s a quarter Azorean? Will wonders never cease 🙂

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