Jun 26, 2011

Chez Doval restaurant: grilled fish and chicken, Portuguese-style

by Alexandra Forbes
I sit at the bar and watch the grill behind it, where ten large hens spit, crackle and roll above bright orange coals. “Mais duas cervejas, Mané,” booms the waiter with the heavy, dark moustache and gold bracelet. Two cold beers slide down the worn counter. He puts them on his tray without a glance at me and hurries away. 
I have learned to arrive early at the impossibly noisy Chez Doval, Montreal’s most popular Portuguese restaurant, and to greet the waiters in Portuguese. They seem to like Brazilian girls like myself and even take the time to smile back and direct me to the bar. Six o’clock on a Thursday and the roar of customers is already in full swing, while an impatient, watchful line forms in a little corner by the door.

Grilled chicken—spicy or not spicy are the choices—is the pièce de résistance at Chez Doval. A chap with pearls of sweat lined up along his forehead tends the massive old grill where the chickens are turning a deep golden brown. If you ask the waiter what else there is, you may hear something that sounds like “sardines on the grill” or “veal with vegetables,” but don’t expect a list of side dishes or an opinion on what’s good. 
No help will be offered in deciphering the short, non-descriptive chalkboard of daily specials—written in Portuguese at lunch and French at dinner—nor will your waiter hang around while you figure out your order. Better choose. Fast.

Many customers, understandably, are unhappy with the service. My friend Nicolas Coté, a regular for ten years, says, “It’s cheap and always a good time, but only the Portuguese are rewarded with immediate service.” Another customer says: “The boss pays no attention to his clients, preferring to sip his wine behind the bar.”

The boss was certainly too busy when I met him to be sipping wine (three dollars a glass, by the way, and quite drinkable). Fernando Rodrigues  was working the bar and espresso machine simultaneously, producing drinks at a rate of four or five per minute. With his dark-haired, Mediterranean good looks and impish half-smile, Fernando was also keeping an eye on every plate that left the kitchen. Between rounds, he told me the story of how he and his two partners João and Carlos (both waiters there for years) had bought the Plateau landmark from the retiring owner, a Portuguese gentleman who owned it for sixteen years.

“What changed since you became the owners?” I ask. Fernando, too busy to even look up as he filled two carafes with house wine: “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

My grilled shrimp appetizer all gone—it was crisp and pleasantly salty —I order the pork chops with fries; one of the less interesting daily specials, as it turns out. I don’t share the Portuguese taste for overcooking meats and sometimes find the signature chicken too dry.

Fortunately, the cooks have a lighter hand with fish. The sardines are done to perfection, with lots of grill marks on the crunchy skin and fatty white flesh falling off the meager bones. 
Same with the squid, its charred surface protecting the slippery white flesh, so tasty with a generous squeeze of lemon and some lettuce leaves. I finish by mopping up the juices with a warm chunk of bread.
Portuguese restaurateur Carlos Ferreira (at right) takes a group of Braziians
to Chez Doval, including Rio chef Roberta Sudbrack (in gray sweater)

It is food that cries out for a glass of cold beer, and the combination leaves me tipsy and happy, like at a Sunday family lunch in Brazil. At the end of my meal, João Gonçalves, the gentle-mannered, blue-eyed co-owner, brings me two pastéis de nata, dreamy tartlets filled with an almost too sweet egg custard and sprinkled with cinnamon—they aren’t on the menu and waiters rarely mention that a fresh batch has come in.

Yet who cares if the waiters (all male, bien entendu) are a bit brusque? That doesn’t seem to discourage the crowds waiting for a table. Most customers seem happy just for the cheap grilled fare and cheap wine. It is no easy task to keep a dining room humming seven days a week, but the three partners seem to have what it takes. As Fernando puts it, “A restaurant is like a woman—if you leave her alone, someone will come along when you are away and take her.

150 Marie-Anne St. East,
Tel: (514) 843.3390

1 comment:

  1. I don't see the point of your web site: you publish only the comments of your friends and your articles sound mostly like advertisements for those restaurants. What's the point?