As Buffalo, NY continues to make a name in the culinary world, it will continue to see chefs and restaurant owners expand consumers palates by pushing the boundaries of what is possible, what is unfamiliar, and what is creative.
Bica e Vinho in East Aurora, NY is one such restaurant that pushes these boundaries, introducing restaurant goers to different styles and flavors of food. What many may not know by the name itself or having read the sparse articles out there about Bica, is that Bica is a Portuguese restaurant. What does that mean?
While the small country of Portugal is home to more than 10 million people, its size is compact. Situated between the Atlantic ocean and Spain, Portugal’s different histories and landscapes have created distinctly different cooking styles and dishes.
Portugal has a broad range of terrains and climates. There are rocky coastlines on the western shores, and fine sandy beaches to the south. The islands of Madeira are semi-tropical while the plains of the Alentejo are dry and home to olive groves and cork trees. In the north are cool mountains and running brooks. As you can see, the vast nature of the landscape alone inspires Portugal’s many creative and innovative culinary dishes. Each of the provinces of Portugal contains its own culinary traditions based on the terrain and the foods available. For example, in Tras-os-Montes, which is sheep and goat grazing country, meat dishes are prevalent. Madeira is famous for its black scabbard fish (found only in this region), and fried bananas. The town of Alcobaca is known for jugged chicken with ham.
Having opened its doors in October, Bica e Vinho takes its inspiration from both the Portuguese, and from California and Europe’s urban decadent style. On one side of the restaurant is beautiful wood trimmed tables and bar seats accented with wood trim and brick walls, and crystal chandeliers. On the other side, tucked into a small corner of the restaurant are leather lined sofa seats, tall back velvet booths, and what look to be hand carved barn wood style tables. The decor is dripping with elegance, while at the same time inviting patrons to relax and enjoy the experience.
A change to the way patrons are served happened just 3 weeks ago; something we weren’t privy to until making our reservations. If you want to make a reservation you are automatically seated in their “tasting” section, where per-select menus are paired with wines for either a 3 course option ($50.00 a person) or a six course option ($90.00 a person). Now I did not say, a la carte–I said tasting. So while enjoying different variations of the menu and having some nice regional wines with it, you are getting just that…a taste. For such a price, I can say that after spending over $240.00 for 4 people, we left needing to find somewhere else to eat because we were so hungry. Especially the husbands. I myself was good–for about an hour, then the stomach started grumbling–that should not be the case after a $240 meal.
If you choose to forgo a reservation, then you can sit near the bar at one of the high-top tables and get a full meal (roughly $26-$40 per person). But, Bica gets busy so you take your chances and wait for a table to open up or sit at the bar and eat (not exactly the experience you want, especially for first timers).
However, after sitting and finding out from our waitress that it was a tasting menu we decided to give it a shot. We each did the 3 course tasting; starting with the artisan charcuterie board: Flamengo, Manchengo (cheeses), olives, bread, and select Portuguese meats; Portuguese Panzanella: tomato, cucumber, red onion, Sao Jorge (cheese), crusty bread, and Portuguese meats (ie: Chorizo). This was paired with a Rose (a very light blush wine). Next was “from the sea.” All four of us received all three dishes in this category: Ceviche de Bacalhau: Cod with lemon, onion, and coriander; Black Tiger Shrimp with sauce (Molho cru–a Chimichurri sauce), and pan seared octopus from the coast of Portugal.
These were exceptional. The flavors of the coastal regions, the lemon, the Molho cru all blended and paired very well. However, you literally get two bites of each. The tasting portions are very very small.
Last was “from the countryside.” I made the assumption that this would be a larger portion due to it being the “main course.” All four of us got the grilled Portuguese Sausage. First let me say that the sausage is a dry pork sausage similar to the more popular Spanish chorizo, but not quite as spicy. Chourico is garlicky, red-pink in color, with paprika, and sold in links about 10 inches long. It has a great smokey flavor, and typically cured or fermented. Bica entertains you with this dish, as it is lit on fire right at your table. It sits on a mini spigot and you rotate it until the flame goes out. This is a fun dish and the sausage is absolutely delicious. But again, nothing is served with it; it is just the sausage.
My overall impression is this–I love the atmosphere, and the food is a 9 out of 10, but the switch over to a reservation only for tasting menu may leave patrons hesitant to come back. Not many people want to wait for a seat near the bar every time they come in, especially in the cold weather. And since the prices don’t differ greatly from the tasting menu, I’m torn on how I feel about my experience. I love the idea of more Portuguese restaurants, as well as other cultural flavors being introduced in Buffalo. Consumers need to expand their palates beyond the “norm.”
I say, check it out once (if your wallet permits) and decide for yourselves.