A Celebration of Wine and Food At Adega — San Jose’s First Michelin-Starred Restaurant
Last Thursday, a mere two days after Adega scored the first Michelin star in all of San Jose, the vibe was still celebratory and one of complete shock.
Co-owner Carlos Carreira recounted that after they got the early morning phone call with the announcement, his daughter, Pastry Chef Jessica Carreira, who along with her fiance Chef David Costa, oversee the kitchen, were so dumbfounded that they thought it might have been a prank call.
Carlos Carreira assured her it couldn’t have been. But he also thought to himself, “What did we just do?”
Merely make history by becoming the first restaurant in San Jose to score a coveted Michelin star, and only the second Portuguese restaurant in the United States to garner such acclaim (following New York’s Aldea).
All this for a restaurant that only opened last year, in the frill-free, working-class neighborhood known as Little Portugal.
Last Thursday’s event ($99 per person) in conjunction with Esporaro Wines of Portugal, was the restaurant’s first wine dinner. It was planned months ago, and sold out quickly. Adega specializes in Portuguese wines. Esporao, founded in 1973 just southeast of Lisbon, is one of the most well known producers, crafting wines and olive oils using sustainable practices.
Most of the attendees were already regulars at the restaurant and glad they had already scored their seats since reservations to this 66-seat restaurant have become the hottest ticket in town now.
I was lucky enough to have been invited weeks ago to the wine dinner. Who knew the occasion would take on such importance? Even the Esporaro reps were congratulating themselves for having the luck and foresight to pick Adega for their event.
This was my first time dining at Adega. So what was the food like? Don’t come expecting fancy, overly stylized, tweezer food. They don’t even cook sous vide here, preferring to use time-honored techniques instead. It’s food that pays tribute and respect to the often humble ingredients that are the backbone of Portuguese food. And it’s done with warmth and soul.
The restaurant bakes its own bread daily. The light yet crusty loaf, along the lines of ciabatta without as many air holes, is placed on the table with butter, olives, and a regularly changing hummus.
The evening began with an amuse, an espresso cup of smooth golden pumpkin soup, that was the perfect note on a rainy evening.
Two plump, lovely seared scallops arrived next, crowned with a crumbly curry crust, and celery and green apple puree. The curry, which unfortunately had a tendency to fall off when cutting into the scallop, gave the shellfish a subtle earthiness that didn’t overpower its natural sweetness. It was paired with a crisp 2015 Esporao Verdelho, a lively white with leafy green and tangerine on the palate.
Next came perhaps our table’s favorite dish — creme of chestnut soup with lobster. Chestnut has a wonderful way of adding both nuttiness, creaminess and body to a soup, so much so that it elevates it with luxuriousness. Of course, the chunks of tender lobster added to that. You can easily imagine enjoying this soup for Christmas dinner by candlelight. It’s that special tasting with its rich seafood flavor.
The Portuguese-Americans at our table joked that there are 3,000 ways to cook salt cod in Portugal. It always makes an appearance. And surprisingly, it always does so traditionally with a red wine. The 2013 Esporao Reserva Red, velvety with the notes of dark berries and balsamic, might look jarring against the pristine white bacalhau. But it’s an ideal match for the rich, full-bodied fish that was pan-seared with a light parsley sauce alongside a sweet, nutty, thick puree of garbanzos, carrot, turnip and potato, all rolled up inside a kale leaf.
Each portion of roasted partridge included a talon standing at attention on the plate. It included the breast as well as a confit leg, so fall-apart-tender that it was like the Sunday supper stew you wished you had grown up with. It was accompanied by a soft mound of Portuguese charcuterie bread stuffing. It was like a mini Portuguese version of Thanksgiving. With it was one of the night’s most intriguing wines — the 2010 Quinta das Murcas Douro Reserva Red. The grapes are sourced from vines in the Douro that are 70 years old, all growing in a vineyard that boasts 20 different varietals. The award-winning wine is deeply rich and complex, with so much going on that your palate continues to pick up nuances long after you swallow. It’s deep dark fruits, with a brambly characteristic, and enough structure and acidity to stand up to the dark meat-slightly gamey pigeon dish.
When a pastry chef is co-owner of the restaurant, you expect more than one dessert. Jessica Carreira delivered on two. First, an elegantly plated dish of chocolate ice cream, caramel flan and chocolate crumbs with a sprinkle of fleur de sel to bring out the savory, earthiness of the chocolate.
That was followed by espresso served with perfect Portuguese custard tarts, with creamy, eggy centers and crusts so flaky that you could hear the audible crackle whenever someone at the table took a bite.
That might have been the last dish. But for this family-owned restaurant, the story has only begun.