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Thursday
Jun232011

Douro: Portugese-Mediterranean in Greenwich

Greenwich: just say that word and you can see fancy convertibles cars slowly driving through the Avenue, white gloved policeman directing traffic, and people carrying shopping bags awaiting for a whistle command to cross the streets. On and surrounding this fashionable Avenue, you will also see lots of eateries, among them Douro, a Portuguese inspired restaurant that opened doors in September of 2009.

With its typical blue tile sign outside the entrance, terracotta floors, and dark wooden tables, Douro might appear to be just another trendy Greenwich restaurant. Good looking people and a good looking staff fill this charming place. Douro sets its standards and fits its West Putman Avenue location like a glove, but this Portuguese/Mediterranean venue  is more than it seems.

One minute you’re nibbling on Almondegas (Portuguese word for meatballs) with a spicy touch served on a smoky tomato sauce, and the next you’re served Chorizo, the queen of Portuguese sausages. Fried appetizers are not greasy at all, exteriors are thin and light, allowing the filling to do the heavy lifting in terms of flavors. This is the case with the Rissois, fried empanadas with a creamy shrimp filling and a perfectly dry and crunchy outside. The same goes for Bolinhos de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Fritter), a mixture of salt cod and mashed potatoes, on par with what you’d find in Portugal.

Rui Correia is the chef and owner behind this elegantly exotic restaurant. He was born in Porto, in the Douro region of Portugal and came to the US at the age of 9, in 1980 with the rest of his family. In his youth, he won a college scholarship for professional soccer, but an knee injury pointed his career to his other passion – for cooking. Lucky for us! He studied at The New York Restaurant School and went on to work for some culinary legends such as Bobby Flay, Danny Meyers, and Alfred Portale. He stands in the kitchen with one foot set in Portuguese traditions, and another in Mediterranean cuisine. The result is food that is elegantly prepared without being fussy. 

“I am a chief, not an Indian,” said Mr. Correia, so when the time was right and the opportunity came, he opened his own place, honoring his native country.

Although people don’t have much interest in Portuguese food  (it’s sad but true; Portuguese cuisine hasn’t yet achieved the glories that its close neighbours – Spain, Italy, and France has) well, that just might change after you eat at Douro.  

The menu is structured in a relatively safe manner, presenting only a few popular classics. The line up of the dishes are done so with plenty of wiggle room, as if Mr. Correia knows exactly where Portuguese cuisine stands in this country. 

“I have to cater to the American palate,” he said with a positive but careful look in his eyes, “and I incorporate Portuguese into the Mediterranean cuisine with influences that combine,” he explained.  This can be found in dishes such as the Dana salad (in honor of his wife Dana) composed by thinly pounded chicken breast, crumbled feta, sliced red onions, and green beans. While there is nothing extravagant about it, it is executed with precision and honesty.

But it this really Portuguese cuisine? Yes and no. Does it really matter? It does to me but that’s only because I am Brazilian. It’s mostly delicious and in the restaurant industry, what should prevail after all: authenticity, tradition, flavor, or business?

Another outstanding dish is the falafel pita, a grilled pita wrap stuffed with chicken falafel, hummus, tahini, and baby greens. Very Mediterranean indeed, and a great lunch course.

But my favorite dishes are the ones that speak to me in Portuguese, making me feel a little closer to home, like the Piri-Piri Chicken, a simple grilled chicken breast served with Portuguese potatoes and Chef Rui’s signature piri-piri sauce. The flavors in this dish, and throughout the menu, are nuanced without hitting you over the head, well balanced with just the right amount of heat.

Even better, is the Marisco Paelha (written in the Portuguese language, and cooked in it as well), an individual mixture of rice and shellfish with wonderful smokiness that lingers in your mouth. Or one of the other paellas, like the chicken, or the vegetables. I had one for lunch, and another for dinner, and I still can’t decide which one if my favorite. A truly delicious problem. 

Desserts are far from all over the world, and proves an old cliche in the restaurant industry that some chefs do much better with savory than sweets. Not that these sweets are not excellent, but Mr. Correia doesn’t offer much in terms of Portuguese sweets, opting instead for general choices, leaving the menu free of character. “Portuguese desserts lack the depth and has a lot of similar flavors”, he explained. 

The best of the desserts include Cookies and Cream, it comes in a glass jar – a little extra charm to an incredible airy and silky condensed milk mousse, paired with crumbled brownies and cookies, and layered with caramel sauce. You might have trouble controlling yourself with this dessert. I did. On a visit for lunch, my friends tasted the bread pudding called “ Coco”, which is soaked in coconut milk, with chunks of dark chocolate, drizzled with dulce de leche, and garnished with toasted coconut. Another fun option is the Pipocas, or popcorn, coated lightly with dark chocolate, toasted coconut flakes, and caramel sauce. Personally, I thought the popcorn was a little soggy, but my friend said that the taste was so good, she didn’t mind the sogginess. 

Still, the overall experience of the restaurant is just lovely.  Hit the menu’s strong spots and you’ll have a terrific meal at a great price. And in this recession minded environment, this is the kind of place where I want to spend my money. Douro offers incredible deals such as the Chef’s Lunch – a two course meal for $15. By the way, Mr. Correia also owns Piri Q, located in Mamaroneck with a menu focused on BBQ and grilled fare.

While Mr. Coreia plays a safe bet with Douro’s menu, he doesn’t stop promoting his native cuisine in other ways. With great looks and a camera-ready attitude, he has been on The Today Show three times in the past year, always featuring classic Portuguese dishes such as Caldo Verde, Pizza Portuguesa, and Paella. And he is expected to show a fourth time in August, preparing Bacalhau a Bras, another fantastic dish. It is clear by now that Rui Correia is a chef whose talents will continue to expand while we continue to enjoy his delicious food at Douro. 

Douro 28 West Putnum Avenue, Greenwich. 203.869.7622

Hours
Lunch - Mon - Fri 11:30am - 3:00pm

Dinner
Sun 5:00pm - 9:30pm
Mon - Thurs 5:00pm - 10:00pm    Fri - Sat 5:00pm - 10:30pm

Douro Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

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