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Secrets of the Chefs: A Star Chef and an All-Star Portuguese Menu
Friday, 20 July 2012 14:06
By Janice Llanes Fabry
Douro Restaurant Bar has been a Greenwich favorite for three years now. When the Portuguese hotspot moved from Putnam Avenue to 363 Greenwich Avenue last December, co-owners Rui and Maria Correia, who are cousins, gave it a more stylish, contemporary appearance. However, they kept the menu pretty much the same. Why tamper with a good thing?
Chef Rui Correia, who has appeared as a guest chef on the “Today” show six times, may soon have his own show on the Food Network. He infuses his Portuguese cuisine with a Mediterranean influence and a modern twist. “I have taken my heritage and incorporated it into my training. I always cook with light, fresh ingredients, often from local farmers,” explained the chef, who was born in Douro, a wine region of Portugal centered on the Douro River.
When he was a boy, his grandparents owned a restaurant near that very riverbank, depicted in a photograph in the Greenwich dining room. Correia recalled, “I would run bread to the tables. My grandmother was my first influence and piqued my interest in food. I learned prepping from her.”
After more formal training, he honed his culinary skills in the kitchens of New York City at such notable establishments as Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern, as well as Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. Most recently, he was head chef at Oporto, a Portuguese eatery in Hartsdale. After five years, he left to open Douro and two years ago, he opened Piri Q in Mamaroneck.
“It was very rewarding to see the restaurants’ success through one’s own creativity. I learned a lot from others, but I always knew I wanted to go into business for myself,” he said. “I settled in Greenwich because it is a dining destination that attracts customers, who are foodies with sophisticated palates. Our clientele comes from Rye, Harrison, Scarsdale, Darien, and Stamford, as well as Greenwich.”
The chef starts off his menu with Mediterranean “small plates”: hummus and grilled pitas; codfish and potato fritters; smoky meatballs; chicken falafel with tahini; garlic shrimp; fried calamari; and char grilled spicy tuna. Dishes are typically drizzled with piri- piri, a flavorful Portuguese hot red pepper sauce. Traditional Portuguese dishes on the menu include “frango”, wood charcoal, fire-roasted chicken and saffron rice, and “bitoque”, Angus strip steak, potato chips topped with a fried egg.
Patrons love Correia’s signature “paelhas,” Portuguese paellas with saffron rice and the distinctive Portuguese sausage, “chourico”. In addition to the customary Valencia paelha with roast chicken on the bone and Marisco (seafood) paelha, the chef also offers a spicy Louisiana paelha, as well as a Brazilian variation. Half orders are available, too. No Portuguese restaurant worth its salt would be complete without Iberian culinary staples from the sea, such as sardines, “bacalhau” and grilled octopus.
Lighter fare includes an array of salads, as well as the “Dana”, grilled chicken breast with a lemon honey yogurt sauce, named for the chef’s wife and Douro’s manager. On Sundays through Wednesdays, parties of six or more may call ahead and order a roasted pig dinner three days in advance.
The Correias offer a family style menu on Sundays and live background music on Thursday nights. They are open for lunch on weekdays, and for dinner every night.
This month, they’re offering 25% off all wines on Monday nights. Look for more events coming up in the fall. For more information and/or reservations, call 203-869-7622 or log on to www.dourorestaurantbar.com.
Saffron rice ingredients
2 large Spanish onions, finely chopped
15 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 gallon dried long-grain rice
2 gallons water
6 bay leaves
2-3 pounds South American shrimp (15 pieces per pound), or other shrimp from fish market
2 pounds South American baby shrimp or rock shrimp
1 pound Portuguese chourico
3 pounds medium-size calamari tubes
4-5 pound littleneck clams
8 ounces fresh peas
3-4 large roasted bell peppers, cut into small pieces
1 bunch of fresh-picked cilantro
4-5 pounds saffron rice
Piri-piri to drizzle on top (the sauce will be available at Douro)
Sauté onions, garlic and bay leaves in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add dry rice and stir to coat. Add water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cover to simmer until all liquid evaporates. In a paella pan, sauté all seafood and Portuguese chourico.
Once it is all cooked, add rice and stir well, until the bottom of the pan forms a slight crust. Turn off heat, add cilantro to finish and drizzle with piri-piri.