Day 47: Portugal
“That’s what I love about this food project,” says MamaBites as we drive down Ventura Boulevard, “I’m finding all of these new places to eat that I never would have gone to before. Hey look, that’s where I get my nails done!” It sounds like she’s already hoping that Natas Pastries in Sherman Oaks, CA is a hit, because if it is, she’s got a place to eat lunch on manicure days. Originally, I was going to patronize Euro Café in Claremont today, since their website boasts that they are “The Only Portuguese Restaurant in the L.A. Area”, but after doing more research and finding Natas Pastries, I am going to avoid Euro just on the principle of false advertising. Our car pulls into the tiny strip mall parking lot and we take a look at the charming pastry shop exterior with outdoor tables and a blue awning. Once stepping inside we immediately like what we see.
Gorgeous pastries and two very friendly bakers stand behind the counter. One is Portuguese and the other is Belgian, with both coming from a family of bakers. Between the two of them and one other baker (who has the day off), they make “everything but the bagels”. We decide to start things off with some savory baked goods and a couple of bowls of traditional Portuguese soups. After ordering at the counter we head a few steps over to the indoor dining area. I sip my Portuguese pineapple soda, which, amazingly, has fruit juice in it, and start digging into the warm, crispy treats. There is a large beef pastry which is simple and satisfying and a small, extremely crunchy seafood croquette, but the absolute standout is the breaded and fried, disc shaped rissois. Inside of this wonderful treat is an orange, creamy filling of shrimp and crab. It’s exactly the type of thing I usually hate for being overly rich and tasting only vaguely reminiscent of what would be considered seafood. But this stuff is the real deal. The seafood is fresh, the sauce is light and well seasoned and the croquette is crispy. Like a crab cake, this seems like something that can either go very well or very poorly. Here, it goes very well.
Mom’s caldo verde, a kale and mashed potato soup, arrives and after her first bite she excitedly compares it to the Italian version from her childhood, which uses white beans instead of potatoes. But her sense memory has kicked in all the same and she’s loving it. I decide to first go after the fresh baked bread, served with oil, vinegar and olives, making my way through all three and feeling quite happily Mediterranean in the process. But now it’s time for the sopa de pedra (literally “stone soup”), which the menu says includes “at least ten vegetables”. A good, rustic vegetable soup isn’t about precise ingredients. It’s about water or stock, care, attention, herbs, time and whatever vegetables you can get your hands on. This stuff hits the mark. It’s not a soup you would expect to find at a restaurant that wipes the rims of their plates before they serve you, but rather at someone’s home. Right now, that homemade flavor is extremely satisfying.
Lunch was a warm, calming affair, but this is a pastry shop, so it’s time to go after some Portuguese pastries. Apple brasileira, a soft, sweet apple tart with crunchy toasted almonds on top is pretty brilliant, and the filhós (a sort of banana squash doughnut) is a wonderfully soft alternative to the sweeter options— but the natas, for which the shop is named, is what I will be picking up for dinner parties in the future. The menu accurately refers to it as a “Flaky puff pastry shell with a special custard type créme brulee filling”. It’s roughly the size of a single-bite mini quiche, but you’re going to want to take your time enjoying this treat. It has a buttery shell and yellow, brown crusted, concave filling with flavors much more delicate and layered than you would expect. They sell other versions of natas, with such things as coconut or chocolate with roasted nuts, but the original simply can’t be beat. MamaBites points out that she may have to start hitting the gym before she gets her nails done, otherwise, the nail salon’s close proximity to such a delightful little gem of a pastry shop may become dangerous. It is a risk, I believe, that is worth gambling on.
13317 Ventura Blvd # D
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Food Breakdown: 2 non-alcoholic beverages, 3 savory pastries, 2 soups, 6 sweet pastries (had to bring some home for GirlfriendBites)
Distance From My House: 16.1 miles