Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fatima's Wild Ride at Alexis Greek

Roasted pepper salad

Bolinhos de Bacalhau

Crab cakes, a la Fatima
Lula a Lisboa, calamari savory sweetness from the hands of Fatima

Frango piri piri(chicken in piri-piri sauce)

Bacalhau a Braz, one of the great cod recipes from Portugal

Would you care for some chouricos darlings?

Fatima, the Portuguese chef and wife of Alexis Kavvadias, the Greek chef and proprietor of Alexis Greek restaurant, is a force of nature. When I set up our dinner and asked her to say a few words to our group about Portuguese cuisine, we got that and alot more.Fatima has enough energy to light a small city.She's a culinary historian, cookbook author,sommelier,chef extraordinaire, entertainer, prolific conversationalist, and a fitness babe.Oh yeah, we got to see her lean physique, sculpted like an athlete appearing 20 years younger than her age indicates.

My experience with Portuguese cuisine has been through my trips to Brazil, where many dishes from Portugal were adopted by Brazilian gastronomy, unadulterated. Brazilians use bacalhau(salted cod)imported from Europe as much as the Portuguese, and dishes like bolinhos de bacalhau(cod balls)were brought to Brazil and have remained intact in their original recipe.Brazilian confeiterias(confectionery) feature Portuguese desserts like pastel de Belem(pastry from Belem), and pudim(pudding), and Sao Paulo has many Portuguese fine dining establishments like Antiquarius and Bela Sintra in the Jardins neighborhood.

I was turned on to Alexis by a Greek friend who told me it was her favorite Greek restaurant in LA.I was prepared to have a Greek food extravaganza before I went online and saw the Portuguese menu.I'd been scouring the net for a Portuguese restaurant in the LA area and only found Nata's, which has great desserts and a few savories, and Eurocafe with a few daily items like caldo verde(green soup) and a daily specials menu with a different entree each day, but all the way in Claremont.Fatima has a full menu of some of Portugals greatest hits everyday, and they are made with fresh ingredients, defty flavored by the hands of a Portuguese virtuoso.

The dinner:
We started off with the luscious caldo verde, a potato puree with collard greens and a little surprise on the bottom, a chouriço.The chouriço accented the soup with gentle yet deep pork flavor.This is a must have item when doing the Portuguese menu, and the likely house soup you would have in restaurants in Portugal.
The chouriço plate consisted of tender and satisfying pork diversion that's often set out to start a traditional meal.

The crab cakes and cod fish cakes stand alone and are paired beautifully with fresh salad and olives.These are the best cod fish cakes I've had in LA, Brazilian or Portuguese.

Chicken piri-piri, a monument to Portugal's empire as dictated by the Treaty of Tordesilhas of 1494.The main flavoring is from the malagueta pepper, discovered by a Portuguese settler in Brazil, planted in Portugal's African holdings, and rediscovered by Portuguese merchants traveling to Africa, and finally cultivated in Portugal as the piri piri pepper. The chicken is broiled to supple purity with this delicious and mildly, spicy bite.Malagueta is such a pleasing chile, a remarkable surprise to even the most ardent chile lover.

Lula Lisboa(calamari Lisbon style), baked in a crock with fresh tomato, pine nuts, herbs and cooked in a light wine sauce yielding a sweetness born from the chef's craft.There are some secret ingredients at work here.It's going in Fatima's cookbook!

I got to taste everyone else's choices, but now it was time for one of the famous Portuguese cod plates, Bacalhau a Braz,reconstituted salted cod, sautéed with olive oil, onions, potato, eggs and fresh herbs.Put this on your comfort food "best of" list.Salted cod is not easy to pull off for even the most experienced cook, but Fatima coaxes tenderness and heavenly flavor with ease.
I'm only sorry to say that in our fixation with Fatima and her tremendous hospitality, we forgot to order the Coelho estufado(rabbit stew)!! The sea bream, whole fish is also a part of Fatima's Portuguese menu, and that'll have to wait for the return visit.

Dessert was nothing short of transcendent, poached quinces from Fatima's own tree in port wine.Otimo!! The other desserts, a chocolate mousse, and another that escapes me were amazing.

We were given a couple bottles of Monte Velho wine of the Alentejo region, with fruit (blackberry) and slight hint of oak.This is a great red from the deep south of Portugal north of the Algarve coast, where Fatima spends time at her European retreat.A classic soft-centered, and full flavored wine.
Everything seasoned and balanced with expertise, made from scratch, and plated with love.The only canned items were the imported Portuguese sardines, which were still quite tasty. "Listen darling, if I had them shipped fresh they would be expensive and spoiled", chuckled Fatima.It will be hard to order Greek when I come back, eventhough Alexis' reputation proceeds him.I think I will just have to get this Portuguese menu out of my system.Go during the week and chat up Fatima, you will be thrilled by her charm and floored by her cooking.She also does a Portuguese feijoada, and a feijoada de bacalhau for groups.Muito obrigado, Fatima.Um beijo!

Alexis Greek and Portuguese Cuisine
9034 Tampa Ave
Northridge California 91324

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