Love, Fast Cars, Food Halls and Wine in Portugal

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Take this girl out of the Northwest, pop her into Portugal for two weeks and you can be sure I’ll use my PR savvy to hunt down the best food, wine, and accommodations. I also indulged my love of cars and got a sneak peek at an exclusive unveiling of the sexy new BMW 3 series. Jealous yet?? 

This trip was arguably multifaceted. My husband and I were married a year ago, so our two-week Portugal sojourn in February was part anniversary trip, part work, part research, and mostly food, drink, sightseeing and fun. One we arrived and acclimated to the time zone it was time to take care of business.

LISBON

BMW Northwest; New 3 Series Unveil
The trip began in Lisbon, which is the capital city of Portugal and one of the oldest cities in the world. It has been undergoing a modern makeover and construction cranes once again fill the city skyline, transforming the global city into a fantastic--and tasteful--mix of old and new. It’s a city for any kind of traveler--whether food and drink is your focus or you prefer to spend your days exploring ancient architecture and modern art. Historic buildings are being transformed into hipster hangouts while gourmet food courts are taking over the culinary scene, and new, luxury boutique hotels abound and it’s undoubtedly the best value for the money in all of the EU.

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My husband owns BMW Northwest, who is also one of my clients, and we were invited to join the new product committee for the reveal of the new 2019-2020 BMW 3 series

This car hits the mark; and I am not the only one who thinks that - Car.com said the BMW 3 is luxury sports sedan royalty and Rob Report proclaimed the new 3 has recaptured the magic. That’s exciting for all of us 3 drivers and starting March it’s in inventory at BMW Northwest.

Destination Osprey Pointe: Food Hall R&D
One of the biggest tourist attractions in Lisbon, especially for the foodie-minded traveler, is the TimeOut Market, a centrally-located, 75,000 square foot public market and gourmet food hall featuring the best of the best of Lisbon’s cuisine. I am working on a similar culinary project Destination Osprey Pointe in the Tri-Cities, Washington so I set off to do some R&D 

The Market is made up of 24 restaurants, 8 food kiosks, 3 Michelin Star chefs, 8 bars, 1 nightclub, 4 shops (selling mostly culinary goodies), community-style seating for 800, a live music venue, cooking classes, and more.

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The Pros:
The Market really is the best of the best in Lisbon and caters to locals and tourists alike.  If you only have a day or two to dine, this is where you need to come for the most variety and highest quality culinary offerings. The concept is interesting in that the food hall and public market are in the same building One the left the other on the right. Each has a totally different vibe with essentially separate spaces but convenient to have them both under one roof. Also notable that all the food was served on real dishware vs disposable containers. When was the last time you saw that!?

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The Cons:
Aesthetically I thought the food hall side seemed a too uniform but from the crowds of people didn’t seem to mind one bit that TimeOut’s logo and branding were everywhere. From the plates to the signage. Nothing wrong with that really and good for Time Out but it gave the space a commercial feeling and left me wanting for more of the character I’d seen in Madrid and London Food Halls like San Miguel Market and Borough Market where vendors display their own branded space.

Food portions were full-sized. This is okay if you have a specific restaurant or dish in mind, but was a bit prohibitive when you’d prefer to sample many different items. So, make it your meal destination or plan on sharing because it’s not set for grazing. 

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Gourmet food halls and markets are one of the biggest culinary trends happening right now. Community eating has existed since the beginning of time, of course, but no longer is it relegated to family reunions and shopping mall food courts. Dining halls are popping up in global cities around the world (TimeOut has four alone, with a fifth opening in NYC this spring); think well-known Italian marketplace Eataly, which is now open in 6 locations around the U.S., and the bustling Melrose Market in Seattle.

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PORTO

While I have a strong background representing wine clients, it has admittedly been less of a focus lately, but no less fun, that’s for certain. Porto and Portugal for that matter, are known for, well, Ports, but their wine scene has a lot more going on than just that. In fact, I had a little love affair with Portugal wines in the early 2000s, when I represented and organized The Porto Wine Institute tour and tastings in Seattle and Portland, so I had a good base knowledge and was ready to learn more.   

One of the biggest trends are port cocktails. I sampled a few different styles but the standouts were a white port with lemon juice and tonic and a tawny port with Amaro and Brandy.

And while Ports get most of the attention, it’s absolutely worth mentioning that Portugal offers a wide range of delicious, balanced and easy-sipping (not to mention affordable!) wines. My best advice is not to over-think the offerings by trying to relate the grape varieties to familiar French Italian or Spanish grapes and just relax into it, take the servers recommendations and drink the local region specialties. I found them all to be consistently good quality.

One Portugal wine you probably are familiar with is the crisp, juicy and refreshing Vinho Verde (which literally means “green wine”). These can now be widely found in most U.S. grocery stores and are fun, bright options to pair with appetizers or lighter fare. Portuguese wines are in a world all their own (the reds are often blends with nutty and earth-like tones). No matter that you can’t read the bottle labels or pronounce any of the grape varietals, just sip, savor and repeat. For a well-done overview of Portugal wines, click here.

At the risk of totally overwhelming you with all things Portugal, I’ll make my recommendations for Lisbon and Porto short and sweet.

Lisbon:
Groovy Roof Top Bar for a drink at sunset: PARK   

Old school authentic seafood dinner experience that is favored by local politicians. (And the cleanest restaurant kitchen I’ve ever seen!): Pabe

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For lunch or dinner. Bring your appetite: TimeOut Market

To get the lay of the land try a self guided tour of the city and download Rick Steves’ Walking Audio Tour of Lisbon. (Notable places along the walking tour worth a stop are the Porto Institute and ginjinha bars.)

For beautiful clothes at incredibly reasonable prices: Massimo Dutti located just outside of the 2nd level of Armazens do Chiado Mall

There is an amazing leather glove shop: Luvaria Ulisses

Porto:
Port house tasting and lunch: Vinum at Graham’s

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For unique small plates in the evening and to experience one of the restaurant concepts from Portugal’s famed chef Jose Avillez stop at Mini Bar

Our best dinner and experience by far: Tapabento. (Have the hotel make a reservation – the place is small and busy.)

If you dare to seek out the famed sandwich called Francesinha find your way to Café Santiago and go early or be prepared to wait.

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I can’t say enough about how pleased we were with the accommodations, service and location at Hotel Infante Sagres. If you do stay there, have the hotel book your city tours and/or lunch/tours; they get better pricing and are happy to do it.

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To get the lay of the land book a half-day tour with Simply B Walking Tour. Our guide Marco was very knowledgeable without being too detailed. I’m told all of the  guides are equally excellent.   

With two weeks’ time we also were able to visit the Algarve region and stayed seaside in the charming white village of Carvoeiro beaches and took worthwhile side trips out of Lisbon and Porto to Sintra & Cascais, Belem, and Aveiro.

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Overall, I’d say it was a successful trip on all fronts. Portugal’s Henry the Explorer would be happy to hear his loved country Portugal is steeped in history, abundant with quality fresh seafood and wine, a surprisingly good travel value and easy to navigate!

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Lori Randall