On our last night in Portugal, we stayed in Sintra to dine at a restaurant that received a Michelin star in November 2016. LAB opened in June 2015 and just 18 months later received international acclaim, with the Micheline Guide describing it as “a striking restaurant that brings the highly personalized cuisine of famous Spanish chef Sergi Arola to the Sintra region.”
LAB is located in the Penha Longa Resort, which was a summer retreat for the Portuguese Royal family in the 17th century. It now is a Ritz-Carlton resort.
From the time we entered the doors until we left, we were given constant attention. We entered the restaurant, and there standing at the entrance was the Michelin idol. The hostess escorted us to our table of seven in a 22-guest restaurant. If someone left to go to the bathroom, their napkin was picked up and another was presented when that person returned.
Chef Sergi was seated at a table next to us and was deeply concentrating on the dishes presented to him. He was taking pictures on his phone, taking notes and tasting. We felt honored that he was at LAB, as he could be at any of his other locations. His restaurants are located in Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, Barcelona and Madrid, after working at Ferran Adria’s world-famous El Bulli in Roses, Spain. We tried for years to get a reservation, and even went to Roses to look at the restaurant, but have never been able to get a seating.
At LAB, the chef is Milton Anes, who previously worked at le Bristol’s Epicure in Paris and at Belcanto, Lisbon’s first two Michelin star restaurants.
LAB offers three different tasting menus each month as well as a la carte options. It has an amazing wine list of more than 550 wines from around the world, with exclusive cognac and Armagnac selections and a tea menu with 40 different varieties. We chose the “Sergi Arola” PrixMenu with one tapa, two starters, a fish course, meat and two desserts.
Our Portuguese meal started with Messias Porto white dry, considered an aperitif. It was served with starters. The tapa was presented in a martini glass and looked like a green olive but actually was a citrus caviar with a gel of gin and Martini Bianco foam. The appetizers were called “Madness Journey” and included black calamari ink toasted bread with a veal potato croquette that was coated in Panko. On the same plate was smoked tuna pastries. The next appetizer was gel of fresh tomatoes, foam bread/butter and olive oil “caviar.” This appetizer was inspired by the chandelier at the chef’s mother’s house.
Breads were folar, tomato and white sesame seed and served with an olive oil emulsion, which made it thick and easy to eat with the bread.
The fish course was sous vide then roasted sardines, smoked potato puree and jus of sardines.
The meat course was veal sweetbread served with salsify that was coated with black olives.
The main course was rock fish with lentils, scallions with the liver of monkfish.
The dessert was caramel of black olive, beer ice cream, with a sprinkling of olive oil powder.
Chef’s signature dessert was what he called “Traveling Sardines” of panna cotta center that was coated with white chocolate, chestnut jam and pop rocks.
White chocolate “golf balls” then were presented to celebrate 25 years of the resort’s golf course. In the balls were fortunes like a fortune cookie. Mine read: “We have family but can choose our friends”
This special dinner took three and a half hours, but it was worth every second. There were so many “wow” moments throughout the meal. You cannot imagine the intense detail in each of the dishes until you try it yourself. It was well worth the Michelin star and, in fact, was worth three stars, which means to make a special trip to dine.
It is interesting to note that the number of Michelin stars awarded to restaurants in Portugal has increased from 17 in 2016 to 26 today. The caliber of chefs, many trained by the world-famous Ferran Adria, has bumped up the cuisine of Portugal and Spain tremendously.
Hula Hula Restaurant at the Grand Naniloa Hotel:
To celebrate a birthday of our friend Jane, we went out to dinner at Hula Hula Restaurant at the newly renovated Grand Naniloa Hotel in Hilo. The Hula Lounge was bustling with people and there was live music.
The dining room was busy with a mix of Big Island residents and tourists. The menu is locally inspired with salt and vinegar ulu fries, ahi poke, teriyaki steak, ti leaf wrapped sunfish and Okinawan yam gnocchi. The Italian influences in the menu include focaccia flatbreads with toppings and slow braised lamb Bolognese.
Jim and I sometimes like to have an assortment of pupus with a glass of wine for dinner. This way we are able to eat several different dishes instead of one entree.
Hula Hula has 10 appetizer selections and five toppings on the focaccia flatbread to give a good number of choices from which to choose.
The service was very good and the waiters were friendly and attentive. We certainly give Hula Hula a star for being a new kid in town and doing a great job.
Hawaii Community College’s Culinary Department:
Thank you to all of you who supported HCC’s Culinary Program. It is very important for the community to be behind such wonderful programs and show the students that we want them to succeed. Last service was Dec. 1 for the fall semester. I will let you know when the spring semester begins and the schedule for the Bamboo Hale.
Email Audrey Wilson at email@example.com.