Quick Hits: Zarzuela at Portuguese Manor (Perth Amboy, NJ)

You know you want that.
You know you want that.

If you care to read why Portuguese Manor is one of the greatest restaurants on earth, then click here. To cut to the chase, keep on reading. In short, I’ve been coming here since I was like 10. There was a good stretch spanning more than a decade when I never had anything there other than the filet mignon. They offer it two ways: grilled straight up with a side of mushroom gravy or covered in ham and smothered in a garlic-wine sauce. Either one could qualify as my favorite steak of all-time.

I was never much into seafood. As someone who works on and near the beach for one of my jobs, I felt this needed to change. So a few months ago, I went with their Zarzuela. I had asked the maitre’d his recommendation. Mind you, this guy has been working there the entire time my family has been coming—about 15 years. He knows me. He knows I love spicy food. I don’t even have to ask for the special hot sauce anymore.

He told me the Zarzuela was the one seafood stew to try, even more so than the ubiquitous paella. It’s a combination of lobster, scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, and jalapeno peppers cooked in an out-of-this-world broth. It comes steaming in a kettle with a side of saffron rice. Needless to say, it was love at first bite. If God is real, chances are he exists in this dish. And all that for $20.

The shrimp are plentiful (probably 20 or 30), as are all the ingredients. Every scoop out of the kettle and onto your rice brings forth a melody of tiny morsels of seafood. Give the rice a minute to soak up all that broth, and your taste-buds will just explode. It’s an almost indescribable goodness. One of the best meals I’ve had in my life. The spice level is slightly hotter than mild, but then there’s always a bottle of the housemade hot sauce waiting to liven things up for you. The maitre’d makes it himself. He uses malagueta peppers, rock salt, and oil. That’s it. Just a few droplets will go a long way, but it works so well with both steaks and seafood. The result is a searing, mouth-ensconcing heat that will cause you to gasp for air. But it’s so worth it. The hot sauce (and all those tiny peppers) are pictured below next to a pitcher of sangria. Oh look, two of my favorite things. Though I advise if you suffer from acid reflux to avoid having them at the same time.

Portuguese Manor is located at 310 Elm Street in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.



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