Portuguese Fisherman takes diners to Portugal from their plate

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 1/10/16

Here in chilly New Jersey, we’re all dreaming of a seaside getaway. Thanks to the Portuguese Fisherman, a staple of Portuguese cuisine in the South River community for the last 40 years, you can escape to picturesque Portugal — without ever getting on a plane.

To take visitors on a much-needed post-holiday “trip,” The Portuguese Fisherman will host “A Tasting Dinner Through Portugal” on Thursday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m., a six-course meal with specifically paired wines for $125 per person, which includes tax and tip.

Although the full menu will only be discovered by attending guests on the date of the dinner, they can expect to taste items such as bacalhau, or Portuguese salt cod, octopus from Algarve, a region in Portugal, marmalade and cheese as well as game, such as goat, rabbit or duck.

Bacalhau, or Portuguese salt cod. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Portuguese Fisherman)

Bacalhau, or Portuguese salt cod. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Portuguese Fisherman)

“Because we have both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea bordering Portugal, the fish and seafood are much more varied,” said Mark Silva, owner of the Portuguese Fisherman. “Also, there are snowy mountains in the north yet only sunny days in the south, so the cuisine varies tremendously for such a little country. We have heavier dishes like tripe and beans in the north to lighter octopus salad in the south.”

The Fisherman has done about 10 tasting dinners since Silva and his late father, Manny Silva, took over the first Portuguese restaurant in South River in 2005.

“Conducting these dinners was a passionate goal that we had to differentiate the Portuguese Fisherman from other Portuguese restaurants in the state,” said Silva. “They were also a way for us to provide a much higher-quality experience in food, plating and atmosphere to our customers.”

The last tasting dinner at the Fisherman was held pre-superstorm Sandy, when the tasting menu reflected the work of Chef Manuel Alves as well as guest chefs to produce dishes that balanced old-school traditional Portuguese dishes with “new-school” items.

The Portuguese Fisherman in South River. (Photo courtesy of the Portuguese Fisherman)

The Portuguese Fisherman in South River. (Photo courtesy of the Portuguese Fisherman)

This time around, Cristiano Semiao will also be adding his touch to the menu. Semiao joined the Portuguese Fisherman team in early 2016 after training with the French Culinary Institute and respectable restaurants.

Besides the top-notch Portuguese food, the dinner will also focus on Portuguese wines.

“Portuguese wine gets a lot of slack because most people only know the mass-production vineyards such as Casal Garcia or Lancers,” said Silva. “Meanwhile, Portugal has been producing some of the best wines in the world for the past 25 years.”

The dinner will be set up in a group atmosphere that will help to induce discussion and interaction between guests in tables ranging from 4 to 20 seats. Silva said that in his experience, wine tastings and dinners are always better in a group setting.

“The Fisherman has been around for 40 years,” he said. “Customers become friends, which in turn become family over the years. Most guests coming to this dinner probably know each other or have met at other tastings.”

The Portuguese Fisherman in South River. (Photo courtesy of the Portuguese Fisherman)

The Portuguese Fisherman in South River. (Photo courtesy of the Portuguese Fisherman)

“A Tasting Dinner Through Portugal” will last for about three hours, but guests are more than welcome to stay as long as they please. Silva said that he has never kicked anyone out of the Fisherman before they are ready to leave and he doesn’t plan on starting now.

There are only 45 seats available at the dinner, so if you are interested in attending, make your reservation as soon as possible by emailing portfisherman@gmail.com or calling 732-238-5188. If you don’t get a spot, don’t be too disappointed — more tastings are expected to be held throughout the year.

“If you stand still in this business, you fail,” said Silva. “This is a way for us to continually innovate and try new things.  And they are a ton a fun to do!”

A Tasting Dinner Through Portugal

Where: The Portuguese Fisherman, 1 Jackson St., South River

When: Thursday, Jan. 19, from 7 to 10 p.m.

Cost: $125 per person, which includes tax and tip. Participants will be billed at the end of the dinner, no advance payment needed. 

Reservations: Call 732-238-5188 or email portfisherman@gmail.com

Attire: Smart casual (no jacket required for men)

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