Ceia, the preferred spot for dinner

The novelty of a fresh encounter can diminish over time, a psychological occurrence known as hedonic adaptation. Yet, this human characteristic does not seem to apply at Ceia, an eatery in Lisbon that consistently innovates, offering dishes that are always intriguing, novel, and delectable.

Currently, Chef Renato Bonfim leads Ceia’s culinary team, previously employed at Adega, a Michelin-starred Portuguese restaurant in California. The menu is influenced by the exceptional harvest from Herdade no Tempo, a picturesque estate in Alentejo following sustainable agriculture practices.

Part of the Silent Living initiative, Ceia is situated on the lower level of Santa Clara, an intimate hotel with panoramic views of the Tagus River and the Pantheon. Kristin Liebold, a team member of Silent Living, greeted us in the spacious courtyard of the historical 1728 building. Glasses of Ode, a crisp wine made near Lisbon from Arinto grapes, were presented to each of us. While mingling with fellow guests, Kristen whispered what seemed like a magical spell. Subsequently, a dining room, resembling a Vermeer painting, was unveiled as a door swung open.

Seated at the table, we were welcomed by Renato and his colleagues Ricardo Cruz and Tiago Ramos, bearing gifts reminiscent of the three wise men. Firstly, slices of sourdough bread accompanied by luxurious Azorean butter and a sumptuous spread made from butter and alheira sausage. Secondly, a crispy tartelette composed of finely seasoned lírio (greater amberjack) and vegetables. Lastly, exquisite polenta cubes crowned with aioli, garlic, and cheese, enclosed in wooden crates filled with bright yellow corn kernels. Dardas, a lively green wine created from the Avesso grape, kept us company.

As we deliberated on which offering captivated our taste buds the most, Ricardo unveiled a new stage in our culinary journey: an algae chowder. Inspired by shio koji, a salted Japanese delicacy encased in algae cooked in a Bulhão Pato manner. This preparation was adorned with a leaf of the rare Mertensia maritima. Instructions were provided to consume the leaf initially, relishing its distinctive oyster-like flavor, followed by blending a small cup of chowder with the algae. The result yielded an unexpectedly delightful symphony of flavors.

Accompanied by a smooth Dona Paulette from Quinta de Lemos in the Dão region, plates of charcoal-grilled octopus, garnished with kale and flavored with an innovative mole derived from grilled peppers and pomegranate were served—a unique yet flawless fusion of flavors and textures.

The subsequent dish featured crunchy sarraceno wheat combined with chanterelles and shiitake mushrooms seasoned with a sauce comprising shallots, beer yeast, dehydrated apricots, and raisins. The abundance of flavors led us to momentarily close our eyes, allowing our brains to savor the gastronomic experiences. Aneto, a delicate late harvest from the Douro Valley, complemented the earthy notes of the dish with a gentle, expressive sweetness.

A sparkling wine crafted by Sidónio de Sousa in Bairrada announced the arrival of a tender turbot from the Azores, delicately prepared and dressed with beurre blanc and kombucha. Topped with fermented turnip and kohlrabi, a few drops of garum, an ancient Roman condiment now restored in the Troia peninsula after a 15-century hiatus, enhanced the dish’s complexity.

The meat finale comprised succulent black pork accompanied by a velvety purée of Jerusalem artichokes, chestnuts, and purple onions. Paired with a robust vinhão, a red wine fashioned from the Sousão grape in the vinho verde region by Vale da Raposa.

The first dessert featured a medley of panna cotta, chocolate, and matcha powder, adorned with Madeira leaves exuding passion fruit-like flavors. Oliveirinha, a silky white port crafted by Alves de Sousa, imparted a velvety smoothness to this amalgamation of flavors.

The final dessert was ginger and pumpkin infused with Chinese spices, a praline made from pumpkin seeds, seasoned with pollen.

Closing our meal, we relished a revitalizing lemongrass tea, quindin, a Brazilian coconut pudding, and truffles fashioned from 70 percent pure chocolate sourced from the island of São Tomé.

Engaged in conversation with other guests at the table, we discussed the culinary odyssey we had just savored, laden with unforeseen pleasures and revelries, almost as if it were our initial visit to Ceia.

Ceia’s address is Campo de Santa Clara, 128, Lisbon. Visit the restaurant’s website here.

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Asraful Shohag

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