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January 2004 Tavira

Tavira offers wonderful interpretations of Portuguese cuisine.

The lower level of a bank building seems an unlikely spot for a restaurant, but Tavira offers wonderful interpretations of Portuguese cuisine, rare in these parts.

Traditional starters include salt-cod fritters; caldo verde, the potato, kale, and sausage soup; and fragrant clams and chorizo sautéed in white wine and olive oil. Less conventional but no less memorable are warm roasted red peppers stuffed with goat cheese and spritzed with sherry vinaigrette. Salt cod, a Portuguese staple, gets attention in two more substantial plates, one a melange of onions, straw potatoes, olives, and boiled eggs, the other a pared-down version with onions and garlic. Both are delicious—and the essence of Portuguese cuisine. Ditto for grilled chicken with the hot-pepper sauce known as piri piri and pork cubes with clams and fried potatoes. For a showy seafood platter, try arroz Valenciana. Really a paella, the seafood stew of shrimp, clams, mussels, and scallops arrives redolent of the sea; ;it's served with bread rubbed with garlic, olive oil, and coriander.

The gracious dining room, with its majolica plates, white linens, and small tapas bar, is perfect for a quiet rendevous. Linger over the strong native coffee and sweets like pan-fried milk, orange pudding, and a winey poached pear sporting a scoop of honey-cinammon ice cream.