Lisbon is changing every day. That change is noticeable all around the city in different ways. On any given day, a new Hollywood celebrity might be joining the ranks of current residents Madonna, Michael Fassbender and Monica Bellucci. This famous person will likely buy an enormous loft in a neighborhood where long-established shops are giving way to all-white, contemporary stores that look like they belong in Scandanavia. These shops are probably just down the street from an abandoned building recently acquired by a private equity real estate fund, whose investors will never know how good the local tascas were because they all closed their doors due to rising rents.
A Ideal is safe for now. The location helps. “This is not the greatest street to have a restaurant, no one walks around here,” says António Esteves, the manager. He’s right: The street is steep and gloomy at night, with no other significant attractions anywhere nearby. But that just might be a blessing in disguise. The times, like Bob Dylan sang, they are a changin’. And they have changed a lot since António came from Minho to Lisbon, to work here, at his uncle’s tasca, back in 1969.
“This restaurant was very different back then. It was always crowded, especially with construction workers. They ate and drank a lot. So, we offered hearty dishes daily that nowadays we only do sporadically,” says António. He is referring to traditional recipes like mão de vaca com grão (cow’s feet with chickpeas), feijoada à transmontana (‘Trás-os-Montes-style’ bean and meat stew) and dobrada com feijão branco (tripe and white bean stew), all of which are usually served in substantial portions. “People now work with computers. If we served them that they would fall asleep after lunch,” he explains, laughing.
“This is not the greatest street to have a restaurant.”
In that same song, Dylan sings, “If your time to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.” António started swimming some time ago. He has been in charge of the place for more than 30 years and overseen two major renovations, one in 1991, the other in 2006. “It was a bit more cramped before because we used part of the dining room as a storehouse,” he says.
The menu has changed as well, catering to the needs and tastes of new clients. “We are serving bacalhau à lagareiro (grilled codfish with olive oil) daily, because it’s something people like and ask for a lot,” he explains. It’s not hard to understand why – bacalhau is, indeed, one the house specialties, whether à lagareiro, com natas (creamed, served every Tuesday) or à Brás (scrambled with eggs and fried potatoes, every Wednesday).
António does all the shopping himself, so sometimes he ends up improvising a bit, depending on what’s on offer at the market. “Whenever I find very good jaquinzinhos (baby horse mackerel), I buy them and put them on the menu,” he says. He serves them fried with tomato rice, a Portuguese classic. Others, like the arroz de pato (duck rice) or pernil de porco (pork shank), also show up with regularity.
Lately, António has been working a lot with porco preto, the black Iberian pig, and its different cuts – loin, stripes and cheeks, often grilled. “People are avoiding stews, casserole food in general. So we’re grilling a lot more food these days,” he explains. Does he miss the old times? Yes, he does. “But we can’t keep doing the same stuff if people aren’t asking for it anymore. We have to adapt. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is.” The irony is not lost on us.
Editor’s note: This piece is part of our regular feature, Tasca Tables, which covers Lisbon’s tasca scene. Tiago Pais is the author of “The 50 Best Tascas of Lisbon.”