Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lehigh Dinner Club Does Dinner at Pao!

Pao in New York, NY
Photo courtesy of GoLisbon

Pao!
322 Spring Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 334-5464 | Map

One of these nights, before the weather gets too chilly to wander aimlessly around the neighborhoods of New York, I encourage you to take the C or the E downtown and get off at Spring Street. Once there, walk west along Spring until you reach Greenwich Street. There you'll find a charming little restaurant specializing in Portuguese food called Pao!. Feeling the pressure after last month's highly successful Lehigh Dinner Club meeting at the Heidelberg Restaurant, Brian chose Portuguese over Ethiopian, and I'm really glad he did since this was the first time I've tried Portuguese food that didn't come out of my grandmother's kitchen.




Pao! offers indoor and outdoor seating, and when I arrived, most of the tables on the sidewalk were full. We opted to eat indoors at one of the tables right next to the open window -- the best of both worlds. The interior is quite cozy (read: small) and would be perfect for a romantic dinner... if you and your date didn't have plans to talk to one another or didn't want to look at each other over the course of your meal. The music was way too loud for that size space and the restaurant was way too dark. It would have been nice to see the food we were enjoying! (We later decided that Pao! would probably be an ideal lunch spot since you could use the natural light to see the food.)

After a bit of a wait, our server finally brought us our menus, which were each framed in rustic picture frames. Nice touch. To start, Kym ordered the Rissois De Camaro (Shrimp Turnovers, $8.95) while Brian and I decided to split the Ameijoas a Bulhao Pato (Clams in Garlic & Cilantro Broth, $11.95). All of our starters were delicious. The shrimp turnovers were creamy on the inside but crispy on the outside. Marvelous, really. I told Kym the turnover was what I would imagine would result if someone took a big spoonful of shrimp bisque, breaded it, and deep-fried it. The clams arrived in a small pot and were perfectly prepared. I thought they would be missing something without a little squeeze of lemon juice (lemon did not accompany the clams), but they really didn't need it.

Brian and I didn't have time to finish the clams before our server brought out our next course. I knew my grandmother would kill me if I didn't try the Caldo Verde (Soup made of Shredded Kale, Potato, and Linguica, $6.95), known in our family simply as "Portuguese Soup," so I ordered bowl of it. Brian did, as well. It was a little awkward trying to negotiate all the dishes on our table when the soup came out, especially since Brian and I weren't about to give up the clams we hadn't eaten yet, but our server assured us that he wasn't rushing us... He just didn't want Kym to have to wait too long for her main course while Brian and I were being gluttons. Sweet, right?

Now, Caldo Verde is something I've grown up eating, so I have a strong opinion about it. While the flavor was good, my grandmother's version is exponentially better. The description on the menu says the soup has "potato" in it, but given its consistency, I think they should change that description to read "pureed potato" instead. There were no tantalizing chunks of potato in this soup like there is in my grandmother's. The only ingredient providing a contrasting texture was the linguica. My grandmother uses chorizo... So, yeah, I was expecting something different. The serving is generous, though, so you're getting your money's worth with this one.

Next, the main course! The Lehigh Dinner Club has finally found our groove in that each of us ordered a different type of protein for the main course: Kym ordered the Bife a Marrare Com Porto (Steak in a Light Port Cream Sauce, $20.95), which included a side of
Batata Frita (Homemade Potato Chips) and a side of Esparregado (Broccoli Rape Mousse); Brian ordered the Bacalhau & Braz (Sauteed Cod with Egg, Onion & Straw Potatoes, $17.95) and a side of Acorde (Shellfish Bread Pudding, $4.50); and I ordered the Peito De Prango Com Queijo Da Serra (Sauteed Chicken & Serra Cheese Gratin with Spinach & Mashed Potatoes, $16.95). Whew!

I made a great choice in the chicken. All of the flavors worked well together, which was a bit of a relief to me because I had never had serra cheese before and wasn't sure I'd like it. The chicken was served on the bone and stuffed with spinach, the whole lot of it resting on a pile of mashed potatoes and even more spinach. My only criticism about the chicken was that it dried out while I was eating it. The first bites were moist and tender, but by the time I returned to the chicken after sampling Kym and Brian's food, the chicken was dry and tough. Too bad... I really wanted to eat all of it!

Of the bites I had of the other entrees, I can offer the following brief opinions. The light port cream sauce with Kym's steak was delicious but the broccoli rape mousse was not a table favorite and didn't look all that appealing on the plate. Brian's cod was supposed to be served with a poached egg per the description of the dish by the server, but the egg was definitely not poached. The fish was very fresh and flavorful, though. The shellfish bread pudding, on the other hand, was something I wish I hadn't tried. The smoky flavor just didn't agree with me and the texture of the dish made me feel like I had just put a huge spoonful of paste in my mouth. One bite of that was more than enough for me. Thankfully, Brian seemed to enjoy it.

And, what would a Lehigh Dinner Club meeting be without dessert? Kym and I both
Align Center ordered the chocolate mousse while Brian braved the "chocolate salami." (I'm not kidding... That's what the dish was called on the menu.) Unfortunately, I forgot to write down how much the desserts were, but I think they were each between $6-$7. For the second time, Kym and I never received the coffee we ordered (the same thing happened at the Heidelberg). I'm wondering whether we'll ever enjoy post-dinner coffee together again. Both desserts were very rich, so if you manage to eat as much food as we did, it may be in your best interest to split a dessert.

All in all, another successful Lehigh Dinner Club meeting. I encourage Kym and Brian to leave some comments on this post for the purpose of offering more substantial descriptions of their dining experience at Pao! (hint, hint). And, I look forward to Kym's choice for our October meeting!



Pao! on Urbanspoon

Portuguese Caldo Verde on Foodista

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4 comments:

Matt Casey said...

Reading this post made me think that it would be really funny if you did an April Fools' post with a similarly-detailed description of a visit to Burger King or something.

Michelle said...

Matt - Haha! Actually, I think a funny April Fools' post would have the subject line "Lehigh Dinner Club Does Dallas."

Maybe we should do a review of fast food joints in Manhattan: Burger King, McDonald's, Taco Bell, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A... I could follow the food review with a dramatic retelling of having our stomach's pumped.

modulo31 said...

It's true that this would be a good lunch spot. Besides the additional light, it's a pretty chill and out-of-the-way downtown location. The neighborhood (technically neither TriBeCa nor SoHo) is just northwest of the Holland Tunnel entrances but not quite to the West Side Highway and shares the sort of industrial-residential chic of the those districts. It looked like I stepped into an iPod commercial, broken by the occasional motorcycle and UPS truck (yeah, there must be a UPS place nearby). Certainly, it's convenient if you need to skip out of town on the tunnel nearby, which appears on maps to run right beneath the place!

And when you go, hopefully it won't be busy -- the cozy bar inside seats four, and it'll feel like you're the guest at the home of the robust, white-bearded patriarch behind the bar that anchored the warm and laid-back staff on our night there.

As for the food, I think Michelle pretty much covered the bases. The steamed clams were the best I've ever had. The cod in the bacalhau was good, although the other textures in the dish itself were a bit odd. The shellfish bread pudding (which I had to get based on Eric Asimov's 1996 New York Times review) was more pudding than bread, and, although interesting, the chorizo flavor was unexpected for me.

If you have some time and are in the area, stop by the bar and order a glass of vinho verde, or bring a date and buy the bottle.

Michelle, my next pick will be Chipotle. I'm getting the carnitas burrito bol, and you guys can cover the chicken and barbacoa and post your reviews. ;)

Michelle said...

Modulo31 - Thanks for submitting your comments, Brian! I always feel a little strange speaking for you and Kym in my reviews, so I hope this is the beginning of a trend!

And, I'm thrilled that we will be wrapping up our dining year at Chipotle. Just as long as I can smother guacamole on everything I order! That stuff is so good, makes me wonder what's really in it... ;-)