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My Site: Day 47: Portugal

My Site

 
 

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.

Natas Pastries
13317 Ventura Blvd # D
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
(818) 788-8050

Food Breakdown: 2 non-alcoholic beverages, 3 savory pastries, 2 soups, 6 sweet pastries (had to bring some home for GirlfriendBites)
Price: $38
Distance From My House: 16.1 miles

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Comments

  1. Mamabites · Oct 22, 03:33 PM

    This place is really great. If it were close to where we live, I’d be having that soup for dinner a lot this winter. The latte was so good. It was miles better than the one I often grab at starbucks’s down the street on the way to get my hair cut (not nails, Noah. There is no need in L.A. to drive 16 miles for a manicure, but a good haircut is a different thing). I think Noah is on to something with the pastries. I can’t think of a better place to find freshly baked sweets. These women take so much pride in their baking and the cafe. I was also taken by how clean it was. The place seemed to sparkle. This will be one of my favorite places to go for a coffee in Sherman Oaks … and I will try to resist the pastry! They have been open for 3 years, so I have driven by this gem of a place all that time and I get in a long line at Starbuck’s for my coffee. Not anymore. I LOVE THIS PROJECT!

  2. Noah · Oct 22, 05:00 PM

    Hair, nails…I knew it was something girly.

  3. Mr. Meatballs · Oct 22, 07:10 PM

    Portugal doesn’t touch the Mediterranean. But, that sounds mighty tasty, nevertheless. I don’t think my brain would EVER turn down something involving shrimp, breading, and deep-frying. OOH, and they have those little fruit-topped custard tarts that I freakin’ live/die/live for.

  4. Noah · Oct 22, 08:43 PM

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_cuisine

    “Portuguese cuisine is characterised by rich, filling and full-flavoured dishes and is an example of a Mediterranean cuisine.”

  5. Gabriella · Oct 23, 09:37 AM

    Noah- when do you plan to try Hungarian food?

  6. Noah · Oct 23, 09:44 AM

    Hey, Gabriella. Thanks for writing in. Hungarian food is coming soon. It may be happening next week. Do you have any suggestions?

  7. ExileKiss · Oct 24, 08:58 AM

    Hi Noah,

    Another great review! :) Those baked goods sound so good, especially the natas pastry you describe with the creme brulee filling. Thanks!

  8. Tim Kelly · Dec 03, 11:44 AM

    The Portuguese are an ethnic group that has been in California for a long time, indeed the first European to explore California was a Portuguese sea captain working for the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) Jao Cabral (better know in the Spanish version of his name, Juan Cabrillo) who died on the way back and is buried on one of islands off the southern California coast. Portuguese American dairymen still produce over half the milk in the state and our signature cheese, Monterey Jack is made after the white cheese common in the Acores Islands in the mid Atlantic where most California Portuguese Americans originate. One the restaurant scene there are and have been few with a Portuguese menu even in the area — Central California — where Portuguese Americans are or were a significant part of the population. Even where there is an old established restaurant like Duarte’s near Half Moon Bay they serve traditional California dishes made in a clearly Portuguese manner. For example, their Chippino doesn’t follow the usual Italian style in two important ways, it is made with tomatoes but with white not red wine. Also where the Italian syle uses many herbs, it uses cumin. (The Duarte family are shirttail relatives by marriage, the Founding Mrs Duarte was a sister of my Grandfather’s brother in law and best friend.) Besides Monterey Jack, the other significant Portuguese American contribution is the original Santa Maria BBQ which begins with grilled linguica sausages followed by tri-tip wet marinated in red wine vinigar and spices. It is accompanied by Portuguese style bean soup and a mild fresh tomato salsa and “french” bread. The other influence is in Central California where many local drive in’s and restaurants include linguica omlets on their breakfast menu and offer hearty linguica sandwiches on cruchy crusted french rolls called “Bolios” in both Portuguese and Mexican Spanish.

    Because the Acorian Portuguese are a pretty insular and private people
    they never showed much interest in the restaurant business. However, in many areas Basques settled near the Portuguese. When I was growing up in Central California we would got to Basque places for large hearty meals that were very close in many ways to our home cooking.

    Another place where Portuguese items show up surprisingly is traditional Japanese bakeries where they make a light lemon chiffon cake called cassata or Nagasaki Cake. This dates from the 1560’s when Portugal became the first European nation to trade with Japan. The other item is one the Japanese ate in Hawaii, malasadas (Pronounced: mal-ah’-sah’-d’ash —draw out the end of the word.) These are square yeast doughnuts dusted lightly with sugar. Emeril Lagasse often mentioned them on his show as his boyhood favorite.

    Around the state there are a dozen or so Portuguese bakeries or sausage factgories. They will usually sell linguica both hot and mild, choriso (pronounced char-eeshhhhh) a spice smoked sausage, morcilla blood sausage (Portuguese pronouniation is mor-sell -ah, Spanish is mor-see’ah.)

    Perhaps more on this subject later.

  9. Noah · Dec 03, 11:47 AM

    Wow! Thanks, Tim!