Monday, May 30, 2016

Seabra's Marisqueira

Ever since we changed the way we approach our WorldEats challenge, we've been mostly visiting places out of "convenience," like happening to be somewhere and realizing it would work for WorldEats, or doing some other challenges like the Women's World Cup challenge (which we still need to finish recapping). While it's been great to try lots of new foods that way, there was something about the intentional trip to somewhere new that we missed. We remedied that this weekend. Instead of falling into the old trap of going someplace easy and convenient, M pulled out her trusty random number generator and let the numbers dictate where we would go. The numbers sent us to Portugal (technically, they sent us to Malawi first, but we are not aware of any Malawian food in NYC), and off we went to the Ironbound District in Newark specifically to explore Portuguese cuisine and culture.

Once the numbers popped up with Portugal, we immediately knew the place we wanted to visit in the Ironbound was Seabra's Marisqueira. We've been hearing about this seafood place for years, and it's actually the place we wanted to visit for the 2014 World Cup challenge until there were torrential downpours the night we planned to go. After looking through a lot of pictures and recommendations, we were relatively sure about what we wanted to order and were really excited for our Sunday supper.

After being seated in the dining room, they brought over a bread basket. The reviews that we read stated that it was a "crusty loafed bread" which made us think of something akin to a French baguette with a hard, crusty exterior. This couldn't be further from the truth as the crust itself was extremely pliable and matched the soft, spongy, and absorbent interior. We only ate a little of the bread before the food arrived, because we knew that it would be wiser to save the bread for soaking up all the delicious sauces of the dishes we ordered.

It was in the 80s and pretty humid outside, so a half-pitcher of sangria ($17.50) sounded perfect. Also, it seemed like every other table had a pitcher or half-pitcher of sangria, so who were we to break the trend? This really was refreshing. It had a nice mild sweetness from the added fruit juices, and just the right amount of hit from the wine. We each had some of the apple that was added in as well, and that was a nice, crisp way to end everything.

The first dish to arrive was the salada de polvo ($14), a cold salad of octopus in vinaigrette sauce. According to this Serious Eats piece, the octopus is flown in from Portugal and then poached. Joining the octopus in the salad were onions, garlic, parsley, and a light dressing of oil and vinegar. This was amazing, definitely in the top 3 for octopus dishes we've had. Every single piece was tender, and although the flavors were a simple combination, the quality and execution was just incredible. It was a great start to the meal. The remaining sauce on the bottom of the plate also made for an excellent dip for the bread.

Next up was berbigão à bolhão pato ($16), cockles in a garlic, wine, and cilantro sauce. This dish as a whole was incredibly tasty. The cockles themselves were soft and easy to pry out of the shell with or without utensils, but it was the sauce that was the star of this show. It was a simple broth/cooking stock consisting of water, garlic, white wine, olive oil, and cilantro, but it soaked into the bread so well, and it was amazingly delicious. They also offer clams cooked in a similar fashion, and while we were there it seemed like every table had at least one of these metal tins full of cockles or clams.

The last dish we got, and it was enormous, was the açorda de marisco ($21), "a traditional Alentejo 'dry soup' consisting of a hearty mix of shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops, and cubed Portuguese bread. Flavored with an olive oil, garlic, and fresh coriander sauce, crowned with a poached egg." This was a rich, decadent, creamy, thick stew once the server finished mixing the raw egg and bread into the rest of the soup. When we first looked at it, it didn't look impossible to finish, but pretty soon after we started spooning it out, we realized that the dish was really, really deep, and because of all the bread, it was really, really filling. The 2 other dishes with the bread probably wouldn't have been enough for our meal, but this dry soup definitely filled us up (and we ended up taking the rest home).

Of all of the seafood, we thought the shrimp was the best part. The mussels and scallops seemed tougher and chewier, but they still had very good flavor. You also couldn't always tell the difference between the scallops and pieces of bread by looking at them, but everything was tasty. The egg was also interesting because, since it was added right at the end and mixed in, the yolk added an extra layer of richness to the soup, while the egg whites added a soft, creamy texture to everything. Overall this was a very rich and garlicky soup/stew chock full of delicious seafood.

We loved our meal at Seabra's and while eating, were already planning out what we might order when we came back as we looked at all the dishes arriving at tables around us. (There were, as mentioned, lots of cockles and plenty of octopus, but we already knew those were winners.) We had a wonderful experience, and we definitely want to return for some more excellent Portuguese seafood.

Seabra's Marisqueira is located 87 Madison Street in the Ironbound District of Newark.

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