What I Would Be Doing…
For the second year in a row, the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented Richard and me from traveling to Portugal. His class at the university begins tomorrow, but it is entirely online again this year. There are advantages to the online course. Whereas his classes in Lisbon have averaged about a dozen students, the online class has 27 in attendance from all over the world.
In fact, Portugal’s current rate of illness is among the lowest in the world despite the slow vaccine rollout in the EU. That hasn’t always been the case. The country was hit hard in January and February following the holiday season when families got together indoors and for the most part maskless. Then came a strict lockdown in early spring, with places only beginning to reopen at the end of April. We received a message from chef and entrepreneur José Avillez, whose restaurants (Belcanto, Minibar, Cantinho do Avillez, Bairro do Avillez, Páteo, Café Lisboa, and Pizzaria Lisboa) have reviews in our annual Lisbon and Porto restaurant roundups. All of his restaurants except for the upscale Belcanto opened in late April, with Belcanto now open as well.
Another chef we like with a local restaurant empire didn’t fare quite as well. Chef Kiko, owner of the popular Príncipe Real restaurant A Cerviceria, still has that restaurant — adding delivery to in-person dining — but O Asiático in nearby Bairro Alto is closed. His meat restaurant O Talho is also still open, but I don’t eat meat so we’ve never tried it, and O Poké in the seventh floor food court of Corte Inglês is also still there. Peixaria da Esquina, which bet on a strategy of gentrification in the Campo do Ourique neighborhood, is apparently only take out with a limited menu for now, with the chef’s other restaurant in the same neighborhood, Tasca da Esquina, offering indoor dining. Owner/chef Vitor Sobral has also opened several bakeries around Lisbon.
As in New York City, it seems that restaurants with a large takeout component before the pandemic have thrived and even expanded, while those dependent on indoor dining, tourists, or three-martini lunches have faded. I was happy to see that one of our favorite Lisbon restaurants, the Indian-via-Mozambique place Zaafran, is still around. The year before the pandemic, they opened a second location around the corner from their restaurant for take-out only.
Since Portugal is now one of the “green-light” countries for the UK and the EU, I suggest you check the website for any place recommended in our restaurant roundups to make sure they are still open and if their hours have changed. When we return in-person next year, we hope we don’t see too many of our favorite places among the “dearly departed.” I promise that we will search out new places and add them to our review list as well so it’s as up-to-date as possible.
Speaking of restaurants surviving the pandemic (and the importance of a take-out and delivery component among those that survived), several weeks ago, I visited my old friends at Joey Bats Cafe on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. This little bit of Portugal on Allen St. between Delancey and Rivington seems to be thriving, thanks to the city’s allowing restaurants to build outdoor seating on sidewalks and in streets. The old cafe was mainly a take-out place with three tiny tables. Now there’s a large shed with a dozen big tables outside. Best of all, someone hooked up a giant TV screen so diners can watch soccer games from all over the world. I imagine that Joey Bats Cafe will be a major destination for viewers of next year’s World Cup. Portugal has already qualified, so we know they’ll be there!