It Was a Very Good Year: Restaurant 1942
The Restaurant 1942 at Santa Luzia Hotel in Elvas takes its name from the year the hotel opened. An á la carte menu and a degustation or “tasting” menu are both available. The tasting menu at Restaurant 1942 is for two persons and reasonably priced at just €26 per person. We dined at t
his historic restaurant in May, 2015 after visiting the UNESCO world heritage site of the fortified garrison town, just steps away from the hotel. (Please see the accompanying review on the Santa Luzia Hotel here.)
The degustation menu consists of four appetizers, two main courses, and a selection from six dessert options, all representing the finest in Portuguese cuisine. Wine pairings are available upon request.
An amusé bouche of horse mackerel with green peppers was served. At first, I wasn’t sure that I had heard our server correctly, so I repeated, more than once, that it was, indeed, “horse” mackerel. Our server kept insisting that it was. Later, he came to our table and had written on a piece of paper, “horse mackerel,” with the word “carapau,” the Portuguese equivalent. We both thought it an unusual term and agreed that he had been correct.
Three local, “Alentejo” wines were served with our meal, a perfect sampling opportunity to taste white, rosé and red wines. The first wine, a 2014 Terras de Estremoz white with 13.5% alcohol content, was a blend of grapes from the “slopes” (terras) of Estremoz. The vineyards of “Encostas de Estremoz” were founded by José Castro Duarte and his wife, Joan, who began production of wine around 2001. It has been said that the exact identity of the varieties in a Portugal’s wine and the proportions they represent in the final blend may not be known even to the winemakers themselves. In Portugal, vineyards are often co-planted with many different grape varieties, and made into field blends. A Portuguese white wine may have a number of grape varieties used in its production. Our first wine was light in color with elegant aromas of pineapple and coconut. There were also notes of tropical fruits, mango and passion fruit, and the mild citrus flavors left a fresh, crisp mouth feel.
Four appetizers were then brought to the table on a single tray. Stuffed mushrooms with nuts were served sliced thinly and cooked in butter with nuts added. Next, mussels with onions and parsley were presented simply and deliciously. Tiny sliced cubes of sheep cheese served with olives in delicate olive oil came next, along with thinly sliced black pork sausage from the grill. Portions were presented in four serving dishes, perfect for sharing.
Our second wine, a rosé, was another Alentejo blend, providing us with an opportunity to sample a wine that is less common than the better known reds. This was a 2011 E.A. rosé produced by Adega da Cartuxa of Évora. The family of Eugenio de Almeida acquired the former Jesuit Cartuxa Monastery in the 19th century and turned it into a significant wine cellar. Today this winery produces over three million bottles of wine annually.
The next two items, the main courses, were certainly the hit of the evening. Now, before one goes to any restaurant and learns that such a restaurant is famous for one particular dish, isn’t that thought often greeted with a bit of skepticism or condescension? “Surely this menu item, served to so many people for so many years must truly be pedestrian.” At least those were my honest thoughts prior to dining at Restaurant 1942, especially when I heard that their famous “Bacalhau Dourado recipe had been created at the Pousada d’Elvas in 1947.” Indeed, this is exactly as it appears on the menu. Well, what is it? Very simply, it is shredded codfish, eggs, olive oil and cheveux d’ange potatoes served with a shot of gazpacho and olive paste. The consistency is moist but sturdy enough to be piled high on a plate in a round. Immediately one tastes the rich potatoes, almost flavored by the fish, very soft, very delicate, very rich. While it is presented as “Golden Cod,” and one’s tastebuds are expecting a palpable fish texture and taste, the reality is more like a casserole, without the blended, mass-produced kind of item that may result from a production line. No, this was prepared with thoughtfulness, creativity, but years of experience as well. Restaurant 1942 may be justifiably proud of its unique creation.
For our third and final wine, the 2014 Terras de Estremoz red was served. Made from Aragonez, Castelao/Periquita and Trincadeira grapes, the 14% alcohol content blend had a ripe fruitiness and soft finish, perfect for our next course.
For the meat course, the cheek of stewed pork in the red wine of Borba was served. This entrée had been slow cooked and served with new potatoes along with roast vegetables with olive oil. This second entrée paired nicely with the bacalhau dourado, providing a perfect counterpoint of turf matched with surf. The servings were, in typical Portuguese fashion, generous.
A dessert trolley was rolled out by our server who told us of six wonderful desserts, all Portuguese favorites. I did not have opportunity to write down all their names and descriptions, but I did have opportunity to taste them all! From that I can truthfully say it would be impossible to make a wrong choice.
The Restaurant 1942 is a great choice for dinner, whether you choose to stay at the Hotel Santa Luzia or not. The capacity of their sizeable restaurant is ideal for hosting groups for all occasions. The food is excellent, the service is professional and informative, the portions are generous, and the local wines are affordable and delicious.
SL Hotel—Santa Luzia
Ava. De Badajoz, Edificio Pousada de Sta. Luzia
7350-097 Elvas, Portugal
Tel. +351 268 637 470/472
Fax. +351 268 622 127