Flavours of Aveiro – Connecting Land and Sea
Wild Orchid | Hamilton, Ontario
Jorge is the proprietor and Chef of the Wild Orchid restaurant . They are celebrating their 20th anniversary this coming June. Let’s look at what makes Jorge and his venue tick:
The place where Jorge’s family is originally from is called Aveiro. The culture of Aveiro is worth exploring further as it would frame the reasons why Jorge built a menu that while faithful to that area , he also added new ways to satisfy local tastes and expectations.
A historical city in the central region of Portugal on the western flank of the Iberian peninsula. Dubbed the Venice of the country due to its system of canals and boats ….. add to that Palm trees to complement the décor.
Aveiro is truly a beautiful locale with a typical of traditional Portuguese architecture in particular when it comes to Churches and Cathedrals as well more recent 19th century Art Nouveau Facades . Both styles translate into elegant ornaments and curves giving streetscapes their inimitable pleasant flair at anytime of the day but even more on a bright sunny day or at sunset.
Located by the Atlantic Ocean, it has a long maritime tradition, therefore you would expect fish and seafood to be the central ingredients in the local culinary culture. Of course cod is the mainstay, it is front and centre of the local cuisine and for that matter in the whole of Portugal. It has often been said that is amazing that the national fish of this country is sourced very far away from its coastlines. Yet , cod has been perfected in the way Portuguese cuisine uses it in so many different dishes and in so many ways , from deboned or on the bone, grilled or fried or baked and so on.
For Jorge, bringing the world he is familiar with, was the first goal he had in mind when planning the opening of the Wild Orchid. His decision to “go for it” was made in late 1995. A dream he had nurtured for awhile was finally coming true. First the name: he was inspired by his aunt’s name but to make sure no inference is made as to her personality he is the one who added the “wild”. The décor of the restaurant : uncluttered, taverna style with wooden tables and chairs. It is comfortable, relaxed and inviting. The atmosphere is enhanced by a dark space sparsely lit, allowing some privacy even with open space. In the background Brazilian and Portuguese music provide an additional touch of authenticity.
Like many of the brave and talented Chefs reviewed in this column, he learned how to cook from his mother but learned how to manage a kitchen from all the jobs he had in the restaurant industry around Hamilton. Along the way he learned the prepping , managing perishable food supplies and be attentive to customers feedback.
From the onset he focussed on developing signature dishes and give them names honoring actual places. Hence we have Pao de Aveiro (Aveiro Bread) , a hand made bread baked with slices of chorizo sausage rolled inside releasing a delicious smoky flavour. Or Carne Aletanjana . pan seared pork and clams topped with lemon. Alentejo is a Southern Portuguese area with very hearty wines are made from sun soaked grapes. When it all started, fish was mostly fried but in time, grilled options were added. Then about 2 years ago an actual charcoal barbeque was installed propelling the taste of the offerings to another level.
The menu is extensive and should satisfy the most discerning palates. It features both English and Portuguese language. There a number of groupings: Breads, Salads, Appetizers, seafood mains as well as fish. A section is dedicated to Cod dishes only. Five cod options are available!! Then you have meat dishes from the famous Portuguese Beef a Casa, to Roasted Rabbit and Lamb as well as Chicken and Pork. The are also group platters and a lunch menu option. And I almost missed them Massas i.e Pastas and the Cataplana. The latter is a traditional seafood stew in a copper cookware. One thing always amazed me, over the years and that is the consistency in taste and balance in seasoning.
The wine list offers enough to choose from with good value Portuguese wines , both red and white either by the glass or the bottle.
Finally with the good weather comes the use of the patio , another feature worth experiencing on a lazy sunny afternoon, when you may want to try the Sangria?. This place has truly become a destination and an institution, definitely worth visiting often!!