For this review, we were as keen to sample some seafood as we were to discover a new restaurant that only just recently opened. When you cast your mind around the planet with seafood high on it, it doesn't take long to land in Portugal. There's more, after all, to the cuisine of this country than merely sardines and grilled chicken. When Helena Loureiro, the chef at Portus Calle, opened her eponymous restaurant, the event ranked as one of the most anticipated in the world of Montreal gastronomy. We heard news of the restaurant's imminent opening for many months before the big day finally arrived. Would our patience be rewarded? It most certainly was.
When we finally gained entry to the place and I saw its interior, I had new sympathy for the delay. Plates of Portuguese origin hung on the walls as charming counterpoints to the harmony of wood and stone that describes the old building. An elaborate suspended ceiling crowns the whole decor. The restaurant has large windows that let in the strong daylight copiously. A long marble bar accommodates those guests who want to have a drink while waiting for their table. The name of the chef, Helena, is prominent throughout the place, showing up on the napkins and bread plates. On this particular August day, the atmosphere was dynamic and more than half of the clientele was made up of businesspeople from nearby offices.
A glance at the menu reveals the chef's taste for the classics. Cod croquettes, tapas and caldo verde are prominent players thereon. To start, I chose the grilled asparagus with toasted almonds and a few thin slices of Serrano ham. It's a simple dish, but the asparagus is crisp and the mix of flavours is perfect. For the main course, I ordered a platter of grilled seafood. While the end result was something short of fantastic, it was entirely satisfying. Much needs to be said about food that is fresh and prepared with love by Helena herself. The presentation was not spectacular, but the large scallops, huge shrimps, cuttlefish and octopus were abundant and tasty. I was not expecting anything less from Helena. For dessert, the chocolate cake with almonds served with a citrus sorbet was very good and soft - a perfect match.
The wine list is fairly comprehensive and, not surprisingly, includes several private imports from Portugal. The waiter knew his menu and wine equally well, and performed his job with the utmost of professionalism.
The value for lunch money a person enjoys here is especially remarkable. When we visited, the table d'hôte started at $22.
The service at Helena over the course of our visit was courteous, from our over-the-phone-placed reservations to the delivery of the cheque.