Inexpensive elegance
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  November 12, 2008

Usually, an ethnic restaurant in Rhode Island means one of two things: cheap eats or fancy surroundings. Estoril, in Fall River, offers a twofer — chandelier and cloth napkin elegance, plus good Portuguese food that’s surprisingly inexpensive.

Estoril | 508.677.1200 | 1577 Pleasant St, Fall River, MA | Wed-Thurs, 4-9 pm; Fri, 4-10 pm; Sat, 12-10 pm; Sun, 12-8 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level accessible
Outside, it looks inviting, with a colonnade façade and arched, curtained windows that reveal the fancy interior but don’t make the diners showpieces. Inside, large leather armchairs in the entrance bar-lounge are tempting, even if you’re not a weary traveler. There is a private alcove here, where a romantic couple can exchange moony gazes without amusing their neighbors.

The adjoining dining room has wine-red walls and matching scroll-top chairs, plush and padded. Estoril clearly invites you to linger. The bread, from a local bakery, is especially tasty. The wine list has about two-dozen by the bottle, mostly Portuguese, and eight by the glass.

The restaurant’s namesake is a seaport town, and this menu reflects that. More than a dozen items are listed under the fish and seafood categories, as all three pastas could be. The eight meat dishes include alentejana, which is always likely to raise the eyebrows of a diner unfamiliar with Portuguese cuisine, since it combines marinated pork with littleneck clams.

The top item on the latter list tempted me. Billed simply as Portuguese steak ($14.95), the sirloin was described as being topped with an egg and having “an amazing pan-gravy.” Our sweetly friendly waitress, Nancy, said that it received top honors in a recent local competition. Other meat choices include a shish-kebab, with chourico as well as beef, and a signature chicken dish with mushrooms and a sherry cream sauce. None are more than $15.95.

No Portuguese restaurant can get away without offering shrimp Mozambique, with its spicy garlic red sauce, as an appetizer anymore than an Italian restaurant can disregard fried calamari. All the starters are $8.95 and $9.95. Having considered the meat dishes first, I was primed to choose the flaming chourico. Nancy managed to arrive with eyebrows unsinged, holding outstretched a pig-shaped clay bowl of flames beneath an enormous, charring sausage. Gently blowing out the sterno, I managed to not set fire to the table and felt rewarded by my first spicy bite.

Johnnie had a bowl of caldo verde ($3.95), one of Estoril’s two prize-winning soups. Even though she asked for it without chourico, it had that hefty, almost meaty taste that results when potato broth and olive oil encounter. It was delicious. Fine shreds of kale were probably added at the end, because that component didn’t taste cabbagy.

We happen to arrive on one of two days, Wednesday and Thursday, when the restaurant has a $29.95 special for two, with a bottle of wine. Since three of the five choices were ones we had been seriously considering anyway, we went for it.

The Portuguese-style fish and chips ($12.95 à la carte) was attractive for being an interesting-sounding variation on a common opportunity. The cod was described as being seasoned with “a tasty saffron seafood sauce.” That was accurate enough, the sauce light and flavorful.

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