Cozinha da Clara

Cozinha da Clara (Pinhão, Portugal)

After 6 days of trekking on foot through the various towns and quintas of the Douro wine valley, we ended up back where we started in Pinhão. For our last two nights in the Alto Douro, we were staying at another quinta, Quinta de la Rosa, located just west of Pinhão right on the banks of the river. And when I say we were staying at the quinta, in this case it’s pretty literal, Quinta de la Rosa is actually quite an active Quinta (indeed, getting to the guest rooms means literally walking right by the vats where they are stomping the grapes), and they’ve also got a nice variety of vineyards and hiking trails to explore as well. And, with their latest renovation, they added a modern tasting room and a restaurant, Cozinha da Clara

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Quinta do Portal

Quinta do Portal (Celeirós, Portugal)

Our first day of hiking in the Douro valley involved hiking from our hotel in Pinhão, up the Pinhão river valley, climbing out of the valley to the village of São Cristovão do Douro, then further climbing up to the ridge to the scenic town of Provesende, and then returning to the Pinhão river valley through the town of Vilarinho de São Romão to eventually end up in Celeirós at Quinta do Portal, one of the area’s larger wineries. In addition to operating the winery itself, in their attached vineyard Quinta do Portal runs two different guest houses (Casa das Pipas, the “House of Pipes”, and Casa do lagar, a former olive pressing house), a restaurant, and tours of the winery and cellars. Casa das Pipas itself is quite a nice, inviting guest house, literally in the middle of the vineyards (the vines come all the way up to the swimming pool), and with our reservations in the room came quite a few amenities: free tours of the Quinta, a discount on purchased wine and olive oil, packed picnic lunches each day, and, most importantly of all, dinner.

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LBV 79

Restaurante Bar LBV 79 (Pinhão, Portugal)

Compared to the rest of the Douro, which generally is quite calm and free of a lot of tourist traffic, Pinhão is the epicenter of activity in the Alto Douro; almost every day there’s at least one river cruise ship coming or going (day trips from Porto are popular, as are cruises headed further up the Douro to Spain), and it’s also the largest concentration of both hotels and restuarants (although the Douro valley still seems to be catching up with tourism; most Quintas having to implement reservations, and several places having recently added accommodations). Enjoying the sunset After completing a tour and a very enjoyable port tasting at Quinta do Bomfim, and eyeing the bountiful picnic baskets that some other guests had reserved there (we’d come back and do that later in our trip), we were actually getting a bit hungry, so as the sun started to set we were looking around Pinhão’s harbor for dinner. The first place we looked for, Bar Restaurante Veladouro, apparently was temporarily closed (they were open the next weekend when we returned to Pinhão), so we ended up at the place next door, Restaurant LBV 79 (run by the same people running the LBV Guesthouse that we were staying at up the hill… if you are wondering about the name, LBV is short for “Late Bottle Vintage”, a regular Port wine term).

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Ó-Por-Co (Pinhão, Portugal)

After a night in Porto, it was time to head out for the main purpose of our trip, a week-long hiking trip in the Douro Wine Valley. After waking, having a pleasant breakfast at our hotel, and heading out to the train station, we hit the first complication: a “greve” (Labor strike). All of the trains and ticket offices were shut down, but the folks arranging our trip at Portugal Green Walks were able to easily arrange alternative transportation, so instead of a scenic train ride up the Douro river valley, we instead had a surprisingly scenic drive across Portugal, seeing the Serra do Marão mountains and passing through the recently-opened Marão tunnel and Vila Real, getting dropped off at our guest house in Pinhão mid-afternoon. In all that shuffle, we hadn’t really had a chance to grab lunch, so we headed down into Pinhão to try and find a light snack to tide us over to a later Portuguese dinner. This is always a bit of a challenge in Portugal, since while various travel guides insist that Portugal doesn’t do the siesta of neighboring Spain, especially in the rural parts of Portugal, they essentially do observe it: the vast majority of restaurants, and a good fraction of other businesses, will be closed in the afternoon, with a smattering of cafés starting to open in the mid-afternoon if you want to sit around drinking coffee or beer while watching futebol. But we found one major exception to this on just down from Pinhão’s train station: Ó-Por-Co, a simple little café serving an assortment of wine and petiscos (small plates).

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Taberninha Do Manel (Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal)

Carol and I try to pick a different, quirky destination every year to continue our geographic and culinary exploration. Originally, we planned to do a trip to the Azores this year, but various scheduling and logistical issues kept that from happening during the ideal weather months. But the idea of visiting Portuguese islands got us thinking a bit, and when looking into alternative destinations, we realized that October was actually quite a good time to visit Porto and the Douro river valley. So, with the assistance of Portugal Green Walks, a touring service that arranges itineraries and manages luggage transfers between hotels, we booked a two-week stay in Portugal. If you are into “walking holidays”, I highly recommend them. Arriving after a rather long day from a red-eye flight from Boston to Madrid, followed by a long layover and a short flight to Porto, we soon found ourselves settled into a hotel in Porto and setting out to do some modest exploration and dining before calling it and evening and leaving for Pinhão the next morning on the train. After a short walking tour checking out Lello (the famous bookstore), seeing the old city and Ribiera, and crossing over on the Dom Luís I Bridge, we spend our early evening relaxing and drinking port wine, and then decided that before we keeled over from hunger and exhaustion, we should probably get an early dinner and head back to the hotel. For those that aren’t aware of it, the Iberian peninsula is renowned for their generally late hour of dining, so looking for a table around 7pm is more than a little early, but being a tourist town, we found Taberninha Do Manel

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J. J. Hapgood General Store and Eatery (Peru, VT)

There are a lot of little corners of Vermont that I haven’t done much culinary exploration in, simply due to the fact that I seem to pass through those parts during the wrong time of day. Peru, VT is one of those little towns that I’ve driven through probably a hundred times (it’s on Route 11, one of my preferred east-west routes through Vermont), but it wasn’t until I had my parents visiting in September that I finally had a reason to stop and check out downtown Peru, which is just off of Route 11 (the highway diverts about a 1/10th of a mile around the downtown), and, arriving right before noon, we found ourselves at J.J. Hapgood General Store and Eatery in downtown Peru.

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2nd & High (Cleveland, OH)

While my Death March trip to Cleveland mostly involved revisiting (and taking friends to) old favorite hangouts, we did get to explore a bit. And we discovered a few little hidden gems. Like just two blocks away from Cleveland’s Public Square, tucked in just behind a parking garage around the corner from Quicken Loans Arena, there’s a small bar with some not-too-obvious signage: 2nd & High (which is also it’s location). But behind the subtle signage on a quiet back alley that many have probably walked right by, lies a bit of a secret: a surprisingly good Poke Bar.

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Health Check: Black Pig (Cleveland, OH)

Way back in 2013, I did a review of a relatively new addition to the Ohio City dining scene: Black Pig, which had been newly opened by chef Mike Nowak (who had previously been executive chef at several other Ohio City hot spots, including Bar Cento and Market Garden. Since that visit, a lot has changed with Black Pig. For starters, they’ve moved, from their relatively cozy location on W 25th to a substantially larger location on Bridge Ave that used to hold the revered Parker’s restaurant (meanwhile, their old location was taken over by neighbor Nano Brew, providing them a much-needed increase in space). With the move, they ended up retooling the menu a little bit; the focus is still definitely on “New American Cuisine” using locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients, particularly focusing on Ohio’s beef and pork products, but shifting a bit more towards a more regular menu; my two previous Black Pig visits had custom chef’s tastings, and while they’ve still got an impressive “Tasting Menu”, it’s generally now just a prix fixe menu with periodic seasonal updates. And with the substantially enlarged space, Black Pig does a lot more “Private Dining” events than they used to as well. But I continue to hear some really good word of mouth about Black Pig, so I figured that ending this year’s Death March there would be a great opportunity to check in on how they are doing.

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Health Check: Wonton Gourmet (Cleveland, OH)

I’ve got a number of reviews here that are, in the grand scale of the internet and blogging, well, ancient. For example, way, way back in 2009 I did a review of Wonton Gourmet in Cleveland, and while I’ve had many, many trips back to the Cleveland area, I haven’t actually been back to Wonton Gourmet in almost a decade. But with this year’s Cleveland “Death March”, not only was I revisiting Cleveland, but we were literally walking right by Wonton Gourmet at lunch time, so I decided it would be a good place to stop, take a break, and see if Wonton Gourmet was still as good as I remembered.

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Yours Truly (Cleveland, OH)

For our actual “Death March” in Cleveland, we started out at Shaker Square on the far East end of town on the border with Shaker Heights. Both the area and Shaker Square itself are pretty interesting: it was one of the United States’ first “Shopping Centers”, designed to mimic Europe’s town squares while integrating some relatively high density housing, transit (trains at the time, now buses), and provide a gateway to the suburbs, and a bit of an open space that serves nicely for the weekend farmers market. Built in a Colonial style, it’s definitely a little dated, but does provide a nice insight into what early 20th century urban planning looked like, and there’s now a theater and a bunch of smaller shops and restaurants around the square. One of these is a joint with a reputation for a good breakfast, Yours Truly, which also served as a nice gathering spot for our hiking crowd.

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