235 Healdsburg Ave., Suite 105
Healdsburg, Calif. 95448
New Portuguese Cuisine
Monday-Friday: 11:30-9 p.m.
(Closed 2:30-5:30 p.m.)
Weekends: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday Brunch: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
If you’re looking for a unique experience or authentic Portuguese cuisine, try Café Lucia, a hidden gem of a restaurant tucked in a tranquil space in walking distance of Healdsburg’s town square. The restaurant, owned and operated by brother-sister team, Manuel Azevedo and Lucia Azevedo Fincher, offers new Portuguese cuisine—or as they say in Portugal, cozinha nova Portuguesa.
Café Lucia offers a relaxing dining experience. We arrived at 6:30 one evening and sat in the courtyard, which features soft white lights overhead. Our host for the evening was Tiffany Stienbach, who brought us a tray with two shot glasses, filled with a clear liquid and garnished with diced bell pepper, cucumber, Serrano ham and a drizzle of olive oil. Since we hadn’t placed our order, other than two glasses of a light red Portuguese wine, we looked at her inquiringly. “Petisco,” she says. “This is a palette cleanser.” The petisco is made by pureeing tomatoes and garlic, then straining the concoction through a cheesecloth. When dining in a Portuguese restaurant, do as the Portuguese, so we downed our petisco, which was refreshing.
Stienbach recommends we start with a tasting plate, and in the spirit of fully embracing our cozinha nova Portuguesa experience, we ask her for guidance. She suggests the queijo fresco, which is simple, creamy cheese lushness and topped with tomato jam, the house-smoked sturgeon and linguiça sausage, which is rich and smoky.
Next, Stienbeck brings a basket with two rolls, fragrant and still warm from the oven. I usually pass on bread, but these were homemade and so fragrant, I couldn’t resist. The rolls are light and delicate with a subtle touch of spice—paprika, cinnamon and surprisingly, cumin. My dinner companion (whom I sometimes refer to as Mr. Marshall) never passes on bread and was effusive with praise. “Light, airy and unbelievable,” he says. Known at Café Lucia as the “LaSalette roll,” these are made from a recipe handed down from Manuel and Lucia’s mother, LaSalette.
As we’re waiting for the next course and enjoying the soft music of Portugal playing in the background, an older couple approach our table, advising us to prepare for a wonderful experience. We make introductions. Mel and his wife, Laverne, are visiting from San Francisco and celebrating 54 years of marriage. “We come here four to five times a year,” he says. “We love Portuguese food and there’s no Portuguese food in San Francisco. The Portuguese don’t go to restaurants much,” he adds, mentioning that Laverne is 100 percent Portuguese.
“Why not?” I ask Laverne. “We like to cook,” she says. “We don’t believe in going to restaurants.” Alex and I wish them a happy anniversary and then two starters arrive—the albacore tuna ceviche and the chouriço-crusted day boat scallops. The ceviche is refreshing, served with cucumbers, Fresno peppers, shallots and cilantro in a citrus marinade. The scallops are pan seared and served with a sweet potato puree. Light and bright—this dish is a taste of heaven and one you don’t want to miss.
For the main course, we share the three most popular entrees. Portuguese cuisine has many Mediterranean influences and one dish that encompasses this is the bacalhau no forno—a traditional baked casserole of North Atlantic salt cod, potatoes, onions and olives, served on a plate in a puddle of olive oil. This is an elegant plate of comfort food. We also shared the caldeirada—a fisherman’s stew of sea bass scallops, mussels, clams, fingerling potatoes, linguiça and lobster fumet. This is smoky and rich, and served with a housemade piri piri hot sauce that offers a touch of heat. We also try the feijoada completa, stewed beef, pork, smoked sausage and black beans, a beautiful Brazilian national dish, which is hearty and satisfying.
For dessert, we shared the rice pudding—arroz doce—served with Madeira braised figs and caramel sauce, which is lovely and fragrant. Just as I was remarking that it was the perfect end to our experience there, a tray with two handmade candies are delivered tableside. “Obrigadinho,” says Stienbach. The candies are made with cashews, passion fruit and white chocolate, and we learn that obrigadinho means “little thank you.” It’s the small gracious touches like this that make Café Lucia a memorable dining experience. Be sure to bring a hearty appetite, and as they say in Portuguese—bom apetite!
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