Generally speaking, restaurant servers are completely full of s#!t. I worked as a waiter for nearly a decade, and was specifically trained to lie through my teeth. A typical waiter-customer interaction goes something like this:
Waiter: “Today’s special is the chef’s magnificent dark gravy stew.”
Customer: “Oh. What’s in it? Is it good?”
Waiter: “It’s made from runny, lukewarm poo mixed with shards of broken glass, but it’s really quite outstanding. I had it for dinner tonight myself. I highly recommend it.”
I hate it when waiters say “everything here is good” when you ask for a recommendation. That’s bulls#!t. Nearly every restaurant has at least a few relatively crappy dishes. As an ex-full-of-s#!t waiter, I enormously respect the rare, honest servers who have the balls to steer customers away from menu items that are relatively sucky.
O Lavrador, a vaguely legendary Portuguese restaurant at the end of the
Earth subway line in Queens, may or may not have relatively sucky dishes. I wouldn’t know. Our wonderful waiter wouldn’t let us order any of them.
At the very least, none of our appetizers were remotely sucky. We started with boiled octopus with paprika and olive oil ($13), which was probably even more tender than the severely beaten stuff we ate at a Spanish restaurant in Astoria. (Perhaps our dapper Portuguese-American waiter had let his fury out on the octopus before we arrived, and that’s why both he and the octopus were so warm and friendly?) We also munched clams steamed in a white wine-garlic-parsley brine ($9) and shrimp stewed in mildly spicy piri-piri sauce ($8).
The octopus, clams, and shrimp were all pretty darned tasty. But the most exciting of our appetizers was… drum roll please… flaming homemade sausage (chourico caseiro, $15).
(Right now, every male reader of my blog is squirming.)
Yes, they set our sausages aflame, right next to our table. Once I finished squirming at the thought of seeing another sausage-shaped item receive the business end of a torch, I realized that the flaming sausage was going to be pretty damned tasty. The flames gave the sausage an appealingly crispy casing, not unlike a good Puerto Rican morcilla; the sausage itself was firm, salty, and not particularly spicy, and reminded me of some homemade ham I ate on a visit to Poland.
As the four of us were finishing up our (excessive) appetizers, our brilliant waiter began to take control again. We were a chatty, curious group, and asked him about almost everything on the menu. And the waiter was bizarrely, wonderfully honest: he would either say “yes, that’s always good” or “you know, I can’t guarantee that you’ll love that dish.” Once, he even said, “you know, I think that dish is made from chimp feces and yak hair.”
OK, fine. I’m making that last part up.
We finally settled on three entrees. The grilled salt cod, served with grilled peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and potatoes ($20), was appealing enough, thanks in large part to the deliciously charred peppers and the garlicky olive oil we slathered on the potatoes. The seafood stew ($21), consisting of lobster, shrimp, clams, and mussels in a creamy parsley sauce, was equally solid, thanks to the generous dose of parsley. And I loved the seemingly incongruous pairing of clams and cubed pork, served with fried potatoes in a thick, brown gravy (carne de porco a alentejana, $16). It turns out that clams and dead pigs were probably meant to be together.
Were our entrees mind-blowing? Nope. But they were good. And the unusually cheap ($17) bottles of Portuguese red wine were great. And we pretty much forced our wonderful server to hang out at our table all night, answering every question we could possibly have about Portuguese food… though I’ll admit that I was focused on stuffing my face, and really didn’t pay much attention to the conversation.
Somehow, while I was focused on sopping up the last bits of pig-and-clam-flavored gravy, my companions arranged for a round of desserts. We shared a warm poached pear with vanilla ice cream, some perfectly appealing crème brulee, and a surprisingly delicious cream-and-cookie parfait called serradura. It was the simplest dessert ever: alternating layers of crushed vanilla cookies and cream. And it was better than the crème brulee, for my taste.
And since our waiter’s generosity knows no boundaries, he brought us complimentary glasses of port (white and red), despite the fact that he had already spent nearly the entire evening at our table, and we probably owed him a few drinks at that point. And then he brought out a bottle of… well, moonshine, pretty much. It was a bottle of homemade aguardente, with a large, bloated pear somehow wedged into the bottle.
It tasted surprisingly good, but packed one hell of a punch; it was the alcoholic equivalent of a pleasant-smelling woman who makes soothing noises right before kicking you in the balls. Apparently, I like that sort of thing, at least in its alcoholic form.
Anyway, O Lavrador is a classy place, and I’m sure that none of their dishes ever actually contain runny poo with bits of broken glass in it. But I still think it’s pretty cool that our waiter made sure that we didn’t find out.
O Lavrador Restaurant & Bar
138-40 101st Ave., Jamaica, Queens
Subway: Sutphin-Archer (E, J, Z trains)