Within a house on a corner below a castle is a warm fireplace around which we dine by candlelight. Clay pots of fresh fish steaming in aromatic white port wine; in-house cured meats; warm crunchy bread dipped in herbaceous emerald Portuguese olive oil. Is this an Iberian castle town along the river? It could very well be. This is our romance with Toronto restaurant, Flor de Sal, and the wholesome traditions of the old-country kitchen of Cristina Da Costa’s Portugal. Embraced by contemporary Mediterranean flavours with Portuguese flare, we are enchanted.
What is Portuguese cuisine? Fresh fish, fresh ingredients, fresh daily (never frozen). Olive oil imported directly from source in Portugal placed in little bottles on each table. Delicate flor de sal from the Iberian Peninsula used as a finishing sprinkle on all the dishes for an essence of the sea. Port wine. Family recipes.
Chef Roberto Fracchioni is renowned for his versatility, his savoury sauces, his deftness and finesse with sophisticated dishes. Together with Da Costa, their menu reflects both Italian and Portuguese heritage with dishes like in-house made fettuccini chock full of scallops, clams, shrimp, lobster, fresh herbs, shallots, and ambrosial olive oil.
The antidote to winter is Da Costa’s Feijoada. Paired with a lush Mar de Lisboa blended red, I feel like a kid at the counter after a long day, blissfully scooping this hearty bowl of warmth and goodness in silence. For this dish, the kitchen prepares the ingredients, Da Costa takes them home, and does her alchemy in her own kitchen with love. A savoury Portuguese cassoulet, the Feijoada is a velvety stew of smoked pork, white bean and lemon thyme. All the flavours coalesce beautifully and comfort my palate to the last drop.
Other notables include the grilled octopus. Luxuriating in a clay pot with white port wine in the way Da Costa’s Mom used to make it, “We let it get drunk overnight,” she winks. Grilled sardines, salt cod with chickpeas—these are classic Portuguese dishes, but my heart is with the Cataplana. A copper pot seals in all the goodness of clams, shrimp, daily fish, sweet peppers, tomato and white port wine. The server removes the cataplana lid at tableside, and we are overcome by the savoury perfumes of all the wonderful flavours of the Mediterranean. Oh Meu Deus! This is one of those dishes that transports me to some cove along the Algarve, never wanting to return.
Regulars love to sit at the bar, but the several rooms offer an ambient range for cozy romantic evenings. In part, because this is a house, and in part, because of the approachability of the servers, I really do feel like I’m in Da Costa’s welcoming home.
In addition to Muscatel and grappa, there is a vast selection of port wine; perhaps one of the largest selections of port wines in Ontario. A Twenty-year old Pocas Tawny is poured and sings for Portuguese custard tarts dusted with fresh grated cinnamon. I choose the richly textured chocolate cheesecake with caramel, pecans and fresh berries and am a very happy man for it.
White linen, professional service and intimate ambience reflects the passion of the kitchen and the culture, those who appreciate and those aiming to impress.
~Flor de Sal, 501 Davenport Road, 416-923-2604~
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.