eating, sleeping & shopping lisbon

This, my friends, is how I prepare for a trip. Pins, maps, lists, more lists, spread sheets. I do my research. Make a plan. And then execute — albeit sometimes completely differently than planned. But for me, researching and planning is half the fun!

For this trip, I pretty much skipped the hotel research and requested bookings at two places I had pinned in my “one day” file figuring whichever could accommodate me would be the right place. That place was Santa Clara 1728, a small, 6 room, boutique hotel beautiful beyond compare  — if minimalism is your thing (it’s mine but I know not for everyone).Pricier than my other option (and indeed pricier than many accommodations in a very affordable city), I was willing to take the plunge. Just look at that view! That bathtub! That dining room! In addition to all that unparalleled beauty here is what you get:

  • An incredibly comfortable bed with a view, made with the most luxurious, crisp white linens. You won’t want to get out from between the sheets each day, but do . . .
  • The best reason to get out of bed in the morning, has got to be the hotel breakfast. Normally I don’t advocate eating in the hotel but here my friends — do not miss breakfast! A multi-course affair served at a 20 foot common table:  yogurt with homemade granola, fresh pressed juice — a different combination each day, fresh baked bread (honestly the best bread ever!) with your choice of cheese, jam, butter, curds or all of the above, a savory egg dish, followed by a fresh fruit course.
  • The most beautiful collection of wares to eat and drink from. I was so taken I immediately researched the brands and ordered a teapot, drinking glasses and dishes for my own home.
  • Free airport transfers in both directions. I love not having to worry about transport when i arrive in a foreign city.
  • Home made cakes and savories each afternoon along with wine, tea or coffee as desired from the help yourself pantry. It can even substitute for a light dinner if need be — and indeed one night, a piece of lasagna followed by a slice of almond cake was just what the doctor ordered instead of a night out.
  • A charming garden to read, chat, eat or just relax in.
  • Kind owners who live upstairs with their family and promote a “my house is your house” type atmosphere.

All that said, there are a few things you should be aware of before you spend the extra money.

  • This is Europe — no AC at the inn. Which should have been OK for a late October visit except it was unseasonably warm with 97% humidity when I arrived. The rooms all have ample french windows for fresh air, but no cross ventilation. Copious amounts of raw wood in the rooms added to the humidity lingering. I would think high summer might be quite challenging.
  • If you want to leave those windows open at night to take advantage of the fresh air, be warned there is an event venue across the street (which amounts to two car widths away) that can be quite loud. Two of five nights had very loud events, including a wedding that went until 4:30 AM. Even closing the sound proof windows and wooden shutters didn’t block out the loud music and booming PA system — and only resulted in a very hot room.
  • Two days a week, the largest flea market in Lisbon sets up on the streets of the neighborhood. Set up starts around 5:30 AM meaning once again, noise. The neighborhood becomes impassible other than by foot on those days until late afternoon.
  • The rooms are natural light filled during the day but artificial lighting is as minimal as the design. Most are narrow spot lights, soft floor lights or otherwise non-existent. You’ll find yourself showering in the dark, struggling to put make up on (luckily I had brought a lighted mirror just by happenstance which turned out to be a godsend). You can bathe by candlelight if you supply your own matches.
  • When I’m paying double the going rate to stay in luxury, I expect impeccable service. For the most part I would say the service was good, the small staff friendly. But something felt off to me in this area. Just little things that struck me again and again but were easy enough to ignore as I’m pretty self-sufficient. However, when at breakfast on my 5th day, I heard the guest relations girl telling new arrivals how they offer a day trip to Sintra with a lunch stop along the beach to guests staying more than 3 days, I was floored. Nobody offered any day trips to me.

Depending upon your budget and preferences, you may wish to check out The Lisboans. Well designed and appointed apartments that are more centrally located and offer a charming breakfast service of their own — a bag of fresh goodies left on your doorknob each morning — soon to be a part of a larger complex including a shop, restaurant and grocery.  But as I said, Lisbon is a very affordable city and there are a plethora of lovely and surprisingly affordable accommodations to choose from all over town.

I tried not to make this vacation all about food for a change. Although a girl has got to eat! With the ample morning meal, I opted for just a small afternoon snack each day instead of lunch — more of that fantastic bread swiped from the breakfast table, a couple of egg tarts (don’t be fooled they are heavy little suckers) and one day, a chocolate sorbetto that might just be one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life.Thanks to my research I headed straight to a tiny little coffee/chocolate shop in Principe Real called Bettina & Niccolo (Rua da Escola politécnica 4). A place i easily would have passed by without having read about it first. Research pays!  Imagine my surprise when I saw their chocolate was the same single origin chocolate from a small maker in Africa (turns out a previous Portuguese territory) that I had profiled back in 2013 here. They put that chocolate to good use with an entire chocolate menu. But trust me, order the sorbet. Somehow this made to order frozen concoction was both cool and warm at the same time. Incredibly rich but not overly sweet. For an afternoon treat on my final day it was between here and nearby Nannarella Gelati (another research find, seconded by my hotel staff). But I think I made the right choice!

From sorbet heaven I walked down the street (also downhill — well planned indeed!) towards downtown, stopping and shopping through a series of neighborhoods along the way. A nice stroll, I wouldn’t say the shopping is great but you will definitely find things to look at if not buy. Here’s just a handful of stores I can suggest:

Equador Chcolate Shop
Rue da Misericordia 72 — from their main shop in Porto these chocolate bars are filled with flavorful ganache inspired by local flavors (Port Wine, Cherry Ginja, etc…) and come beautifully wrapped. They were my gift of choice for friends and co-workers. And that white chocolate passion fruit combo is the bomb!

 

 

  • Mini by Luna, Rua Dom Pedro V 74 — a sweet clothing, homewares and baby boutique mix with both local and international brands alike. I bought a recycled blanket from Japan (I’m a big advocate – if you see it, like it, buy it regardless of origin)
  • Fabrica Features, Rua Garret 83 — on the 5th floor in the heart of Chiado above  Benetton of all places, is this little design shop with a graphic leaning, specializing in Portuguese goods. It felt akin to a small, museum gift shop.
  • A Vida Portuguesa, Rua da Anchieta 11 — with stores dotted around the city, it’s like a general store of all things Portuguese. Great for gifts and souvenirs from food to baskets to books and more . . .
  • +351 Designed in Lisbon, Rua da Anchieta 7 – a local label of casual t-shirts and beach inspired clothing mostly for men but easily unisex.
  • Teresa Pavao, Rua de São João da Praça 120 — I found out about this artisan from the one fine dining establishment I went to during my stay. Every single diner  inquired about the beautiful tiles and dishes the food was served on. Locally made, wonderfully minimal and modern ceramics with the workshop right in the Alfama district. (Closed Mondays)

The meal served on Teresa’s dishes at a little place called Leopold was phenomenal. An eight course tasting menu (plus a special treat) created in an open kitchen before your eyes from local ingredients. The restaurant is all of 4 tables, including a 10 seat chef’s table — making it easy for singles to partake. Heavily umami leaning thanks to an abundance of seaweed, each course was better than the last. The beef was the most tender I have ever, ever had. The mushroom broth with the fish — you’ll want to lick the plate. We were a collection of Brits, Americans, Italians and one Singaporian all enjoying the meal together. I would say the locals don’t know what they are missing out on. Sublime!

Lastly, what’s a vacation without a little pizza. Just down the hill from the hotel along the river (and often a cruise ship) is a nice little pizza joint with authentic Italian thin crust pizza of the knife and fork variety. The place gets mighty busy so be prepared for a wait. Restaurante Casanova, Av Infante Dom Henrique Loja 

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ice cream challenge

Today’s Contender:  Nancy’s Fancy by Nancy Silverton
Location:  Los Angeles, CA
Flavor:  Butterscotch Budino

The Butterscotch Budino at Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza is undoubtedly one of my favorite desserts in town (one she stole by the way from restaurant Jar and then made famous) and now she has interpreted that same amazing dessert into a gelato version. WOW!  Just WOW!  It’s f-in amazing. Rich and thick and smooth and creamy.  Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!  And it’s available in your grocery store — although I hear scoop shops are in the works.

There isn’t anything Nancy Silverton does that isn’t the best in class. I dream of her pizza. Now she’s tackled my other favorite food and it too is worthy of dreams. Even though super rich, I couldn’t stop eating it. You will be marveled at the texture — and let’s face it, ice cream or gelato is all about the texture. This version is like nothing I’ve ever had in the smoothness category. In the richness category, it’s akin to Magee Beer’s ice cream from Australia (another grocery store favorite). The flavor is deep yet subtle, sophisticated and luscious. Well worth the $8.99 price tag for a 4 oz container.

Next her Roasted Banana flavor . . .

Not from LA?  For mail order Fancy Nancy’s go here.

 

 

go bananas

When you don’t want sugar or dairy but you do want creamy goodness try some Hakuna Banana. Happened across this perfectly lovely frozen treat in my local Whole Foods store. Turns out it’s the creation of two Angelenos and while only available in the general Los Angeles area for now, look for it to go wide one day soon. It’s the no fuss nice cream you’ll love at first bite. Available in four tempting flavors:

ice cream challenge

QuenelleToday’s Contender:  Quenelle
Location:  Burbank, CA
Flavor: Rocky Road Malted & Mexican Hot Chocolate

In a very crowded ice cream market, Quenelle more than holds it’s own — if you happen to find yourself over the hill (and in LA that doesn’t mean old, that means literally over the hill in the San Fernando Valley). I’ve always kind of liked Burbank. It’s a bit like the town time forgot with it’s small town storefronts along streets that surround the studios. It’s nice to see some new life on these streets.

Quenelle is a tiny wood-clad storefront on Magnolia Blvd with an unmissable sign, right next to a screening room. The inside might fall a bit short on decor but ignore that and order some cream. Flavors are unique and constantly changing. The texture is a bit on the melty side but you can’t beat $4.75 for a double scoop waffle cone.

If you work at one of the valley studios or are nearby visiting a prop house or something similar, give it a try. Sunday is National Ice Cream Day so the timing is perfect!

nine things i can’t live without

must have list

Row 1 (left to right):  Aesop products & the lovely stores they sell them in   natural light flooding into my home   a Duxiana mattress

Row 2:  my favorite piece of art — a printed mailer received from a vendor in the early 90’s floating in a frame. it makes me smile to this day  |  ice cream in any form but especially one of the crazy flavors from Gelato Messina  |  Vogue Living Australia magazine —  i have a 20+ year collection!

Row 3:  morning hikes in the Santa Monica mountains  |  a good mid-century modern staple like this Saarinen dining table  |  Australia — just 19 when I first visited, my heart has belonged to the land down under ever since  ♥♥♥

ice cream challenge

Saffron_Rose

Today’s Contender:  Saffron & Rose Ice Cream
Location: 1387 Westwood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA
Flavor:  Amazing Almond & Caramel Crunch

This is the real deal my friends!  All natural organic Persian ice cream in the most intriguing flavors — white rose, cucumber, mango, guava, espresso bean, lavender, saffron pistachio and so many more. The woman behind the counter not only made me try most everything in the case but provided pairings that had to be eaten together which is how I ended up ordering a small cup with 1 scoop of Amazing Almond and 1 scoop of Caramel Crunch. It was creamy and soft, maybe a bit too sweet, but oh so good.

I was there mid-afternoon on a Thursday and there was a steady line the entire time. This place is a not so secret gem and I can only imagine a huge crowd on weekend evenings. Oh and look at the orange bio-degradable spoons they use — they’re ORANGE and they make me smile.

I think I will have to visit many more times to find my favorite flavor. Although I’ve already gotten a start by bringing home a pint of pomegranate to enjoy later on. It’s a seasonal flavor nearing the end of season so I just couldn’t resist.

With an ice cream boom happening in Los Angeles, I think this place tops the list in my book. It’s hot outside. We all deserve a little ice cream treat.

ice cream challenge

Handel's Ice Cream

Today’s Contender:  Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream
Location:  Ohio based with scattered USA locations including Redondo Beach, CA
Flavor:  Graham Central Station

This could be one of the best flavors of ice cream I have ever tasted. Graham flavored ice cream with graham cracker swirls and chocolate covered crunchies of some sort. It’s their most popular flavor and I understand why.  Even with its whipped-like texture (an airy, almost dry texture i don’t normally like or associate with premium ice cream) it’s damn good. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since i took that first bite. And that’s saying something.

If you ever find yourself near a Handel’s, stop by and have a scoop. Or better yet splurge on a sampler — 4 giant scoops in a take out box for just $5. And the best part, the people in line (there will be a line!) all compare notes and help each other decide on flavors. It’s not only good ice cream but a good time.

ice cream challenge

HoneyMeeToday’s Contender:  Honeymee
Location:  Los Angeles, CA
Flavor:  Vanilla with Honeycomb

On a 93 degree day with no air conditioning you bet I’m going to blow my no carb kick and go for ice cream. Honeymee is a fast growing chain of soft serve ice cream stores popping up in Asian neighborhoods throughout the greater the Los Angeles area. The menu consists of just 4 items — plain vanilla, vanilla with chocolate sauce & sea salt, vanilla with honey sauce and vanilla with a small square of pure honeycomb. And if you want you can have any of the above combos in a soft hotdog like bun — a true ice cream sandwich.

The ice cream itself is not too sweet. Just a clean cool taste with a nice density and creaminess. I appreciated the natural honeycomb but probably would have been more satisfied with a sauced version — or maybe that was just craving that came on with my first bite of sugar in 4 weeks.

All in all, I would say this is a nice little treat. Just the perfect size. Cute branding (always a plus) and just enough choice to keep it interesting but not overwhelming. The shop I visited was in Buena Park attached to a car wash. Odd little location but yummy just the same.

ice cream challenge

Matcha

Today’s Contender:  Matcha Love
Location:  Costa Mesa, CA
Flavor:  Matca Green Tea Soft Serve

I’m a fan just for the color alone! Matcha Love is a small food court vendor inside Mitsuwa Marketplace serving just 4 flavors of soft serve — Matcha, Black Sesame, Roasted Green Tea (Hoji-cha) and Vanilla. They say it’s the best Japanese inspired ice cream outside of Tokyo. I say not bad. Takes a bit of getting used to at first bite. But once you are past that initial burst of the green tea flavor, it’s creamy and just sweet enough. A nice change from traditional American soft serve flavors. I say what would be really great — dip in Yoku Moku cookies (my absolute favorite Japanese specialty sold at the vendor right next store). Oh how I long to go back to Tokyo . . .