The Incredible Restaurant That Charges, Wait, How Much?
How much should a true gem cost you?
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I don't adore walking up steep hills.
Not unless there's some sort of incentive. (Wine usually does it.)
But here I was agreeing to walk up one of Lisbon's steepest in order to try something that might not work out so well, especially if I could no longer walk when I got there.
My girlfriend and I had read about this place in a guide book, one that didn't appear entirely full of listings that had bribed the authors of the guide book.
This place was said to be tiny. It takes no reservations. There's no guarantee that if you get to the top of the hill, you'll even get in.
For a fleeting moment, I feared we might get attitude.
This would have been a first, as Lisbon is by far the most sane and wonderful city in the world and its people are generally paragons of realism and tolerance.
But you know how it is with restaurants that have something of a reputation.
We were warned that at A Taberna Da Rua Das Flores, there would be lines outside.
And, as I hissed up toward the door there was, indeed, a crowd waiting.
We wandered into the tiny corridor of what is nothing more than the ground floor of a very narrow house. A woman greeted us and we asked how long before we could get a table.
"An hour. An hour and twenty minutes," she said. "But come back in 40."
We explained that we're obedient sorts (we obey food). We promised to be back on time.
When we came back, two glasses of white wine emerged and we stood outside, balancing the glasses on a tiny ledge outside the restaurant.
Then we watched the comings and goings.
The woman would emerge on occasion, just to stand in the doorway. There was a constant stream of people wandering up to the door.
They'd all ask the same question.
"Two hours," she would say. And they'd nod, say: "Great" and give their names.
Well, except for two or three parties who huffed, puffed, left and, oddly, all turned out to be French.
A Taberna Da Rua Das Flores offered no ceremony, no pose. Sane place that Lisbon is, here were eight or ten people sitting around the sidewalk, sipping wine and waiting for their turn to eat.
We were invited in at exactly the time the woman had originally promised.
We sat up against a wall and could almost touch the couple on the other side of the corridor. There was even one couple eating on the stairs, contenting themselves with cushions instead of chairs.
Our server arrived with a blackboard. His beard was so perfectly bushy that it looked like it had been tended to by Portugal's finest horticulturalist.
He suggested we share three dishes. We chose. He offered two choices of red wine. One was a local Merlot. The other? A blend, he told us.
"Of what?" I asked.
"I'm sorry, I don't know. It just comes to us in bags from the winery," he replied.
We tried a glass of each. The bag wine was excellent. So we ordered a carafe of it.
The food arrived -- an exalted ceviche, then some blue marlin with house-made potato chips that don't deserve to be called potato chips because they were so much more.
Then came the beautifully battered vegetables.
Everything was unhurried. The pleasant pace of food delivery and the smooth pace of the wine entering my body revived my legs.
Then the most interesting server in Lisbon asked if we liked port.
Our eyes nodded before our heads and he explained that this wasn't exactly port.
"We call it Vinho Generoso," he said. It wouldn't be generous to drink it without dessert, would it?
If I told you that we ordered a chocolate cake and a chocolate mousse, it might sound mundane.
If I told you that these were two of the best desserts we'd ever eaten in our lives, that might tell you how mundane it wasn't.
We could eat no more. Which was a pity, as there were so many dishes we wanted to try.
Then the check came.
Go on, guess. $200? $300? Close.
It was 45 Euros. Or, according to today's volatile exchange rate, $47.40.
A reminder: We had three large shared plates, four glasses of wine, a carafe of wine, two desserts, two glasses of Generous Wine and excellent, understated service. All in the very heart of Lisbon.
We left wide-eyed. We rolled back down the hill. And then we returned to the Bay Area, many times remembering that night and retelling its story.
Yes, of course economies are different the world over. Bay Area restaurants struggle to find cooks, because cooks struggle to pay Bay Area rents.
But when we see food not remotely as good costing five times as much as we paid that night, we reach for a Portuguese cookbook.
It's the best we can do.