Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Exam Panic & Portuguese @ Portugalia

It’s the night before my end-of-semester test in Japanese class, and I’m panicking. Despite my Japanese husband, I find the language in this land impossible. Today, I even cried for the first time in school since Kindergarten, when Ben McCormack, my crush-of-the-week, ran away while I was chasing him for a kiss.

35 years later, both my heart and brain are pounding. Although I now have a man much hotter than Ben McCormack--who doesn’t make me chase him for kisses (although, being Japanese, he does discourage my penchant for public affection)--I’m facing another school-based crisis. I can’t tell my keigo from my jyusho or my ta form from my te form, and I’m miserably confused by i-keiyooshi and na-keiyooshi. Needing the kind of commiseration I know only my best friend J--an American in Osaka who doesn’t speak a word of Japanese--can offer, I do the next best thing to studying: I meet J for dinner and drinks. (Who but another American will feel totally comfortable with my completely un-PC need to complain about how the entire world doesn’t follow my lexicographical patterns?)

J and I head to Portugalia, where the food is incredible, the atmosphere chic, and the menu in English (and Japanese, if you care to try to read it, which we don’t). We get there at 9:30, and the place is still packed with a mix of well-healed expats and locals. J and I grab seats at the bar and order drinks while lingering over the menu, choosing from a wide range of wines (Y700-Y1000 a glass, Y5430-Y129,600 a bottle). We decide to start our meal with salad primavera (Y1050): fresh turnip, carrot, beet, cabbage, and cress, lightly but perfectly seasoned. Then we move on to the “Cherne à Mosteiro” a white fish-fillet fried with banana, olive oil, and Port wine (Y1890), the mix of sweet Port and bananas faultless against the salty fish and rich oil. Just as my eyes start rolling back in my head from the amazing taste (J. thinks I’m having a seizure from the stress of tomorrow’s test, until she realizes it’s just me, eating), Eduardo, Portugalia’s owner, and Clara, his charming chef, come over to chat. They explain that theirs is the only Portuguese restaurant in Japan with a Portuguese cook. They make everything from scratch, serving only authentic, all-natural dishes. In response, I order another entrée.

Actually, it’s an entrée for two. (My poor husband is at home, having worked an excruciatingly long day at his Japanese corporate job. What kind of wife would I be if I came home empty-handed?) Out comes “Frango na Púcara,” a chicken casserole simmered in a pot with white wine, Port, and brandy (Y3410). (Let’s just say that I arrive home later with less than a full serving left over.) For the finale, we have homemade Madeira ice-cream (Y600) and an espresso with a grappa chaser: sweetened coffee, drunk until it’s almost all espresso-infused sugar at cup’s bottom, then filled with a shot of liquor and downed in one fiery, delightful gulp.

Needless to say, the night is an unqualified success. I come home soothed by food, wine, and brandy--and completely unfazed by my impending test. A week later, I get my results: a 55. Yet, like my meal with J, all’s well that ends well. T, ever the supportive husband, says he’s proud of me that I understood more than half (the best perspective on an F I’ve ever heard), and we make reservations to celebrate, at Portugalia, that I have a break before the next semester of Japanese class resumes.


Plaza Umeshin Bekkan 1F
4-12-11, NishiTenma, Kita-ku, Osaka

Weekdays: Lunch, 11:30-15:00; Dinner, 18:00- 24:00
Saturdays & Holidays: Lunch, 11:30-14:30; Café, 14:30-17:30; Dinner, 18:00- 22:30
Closed Sundays

Menu in both Japanese and English; English-speaking staff.

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