Our last afternoon in Portugal, we walked leisurely along the banks of Vila Nova de Gaia, across the steely blue bridge spanning the Duoro, and down along the waterfront of Porto. The sun warmed our shoulders and cast a magical glow on this day where we drug our feet a bit regretting that we’d ever have to leave. This week has been absolute magic and that’s not just the port talking.
We walked slowly along the path between the river and an endless line of restaurants. You know where one ends and another begins only by the change in umbrellas and chair back colors at these little places where there is more seating outside than in. I stopped at each placard to read the menu seeing if there might be something appealing for everyone in our group of eight and when we did, we found ourselves at Chez Lapin, a local icon for over 70 years.
Our waiter brought bread to our table accompanied by a delicious white bean vegetable salad and a garlic tuna “pate.” At this the table became silent except for “mmmm,” and “we need to get more of this.” The tuna was light and creamy almost like the stuff I put on sandwiches as a kid, but it had a more complex taste. Olive oil, a hint of garlic? It was so delicious that we did order another plate and my 5 year old ate that for her meal.
French onion soup, good salads, beef dishes, pasta – everything that came to our table was good, but my meal? Exquisite. I thought that rabbit at Chez Lapin ought to be good, after all, it’s the namesake, so I ordered the Coelho Chez Lapin (rabbit cooked in a port wine sauce) and proved myself right. Tender, flavorful, complex. The sauce took on the body of the port wine without any excess sweetness and the rabbit practically fell off the bones.
This was one of those food moments when you find yourself in such love with your meal that you try to ignore the pleading looks from your companions. “If I don’t look up, may be I won’t have to be polite and offer a bite.” To spare one bite of this is truly a gift.
The plates emptied and table cleared, it was time to take my little ones to the WC. We followed the signs through an old stone gate and into the narrow alleyway facing the cozy indoor portion of Chez Lapin where a vast array of oddities covered the walls and ceiling. There sat two stacked rabbit hutches. The top one was empty. The bottom held a very fat, very cute white rabbit. A brief flash of my succulent lunch went through my mind. Five minutes later we returned to our table looking back as we walked by. The top hutch now held a long-haired grey rabbit and the white rabbit was gone.
Well, at least I know my lunch was fresh.