Portugal is one of my favorite countries in the world. You can’t beat the gorgeous weather, the friendly people and the simple, tasty Mediterranean food, all of which come at reasonable prices. So when I heard that a new Portuguese restaurant called Cervo’s had opened up in Chinatown, I made reservations asap, anything to have a taste of the seafood-driven specialties of Porto and Lisbon that I enjoyed several summers ago.
Cervo’s occupies a hip stretch of Canal St that’s also home to trendy Millennial eateries like Dimes. When you step in, you do feel a cool kids’ vibe, minus the attitude and exclusivity. The staff members were all extremely nice and eager to provide us with recommendations on what to order. Need a Portuguese wine recommendation? Someone will pour out several bottles for you to try in an impromptu tasting session. Deciding between the anchodinas or the yellowtail? Someone will have an opinion about it, and they will not steer you wrong. As long as there is an open seat at the bar, every guest is welcome into the club. And the bar is definitely the place to be, where you can see all the action taking place in the kitchen–chefs cracking eggs that are sizzling over the cast-iron pan or searing a particularly handsome piece of swordfish.
The restaurant takes a simple approach to its seasonings – a little olive oil, salt, pepper and some lemon. Which is really all you need when the ingredients can sing so well on their own. Anchovies for instance are pretty strong to begin with, but Cervo’s isn’t afraid to let those flavors stand out in a way that isn’t overwhelming. The anchodinas or anchovies were plump, firm and wonderfully briney, balanced out by the thin slices of radishes that accompanied them. The standout dish by far was the grass-fed lamb burger, which comes with the add-on option of anchovies, although that should be mandatory, not a choice. Who knew that just a few fish could add so much savory and salty depth to a patty? It’s an unconventional but a game changing decision that Cervo’s should be given a lot of credit for.
The other star of our small plate selection was the tuna conserva with potatoes and hazelnuts. If you’ve ever had tapas and have known the pleasure of biting into a salt cod puree, then you’ll experience a similar pleasure when tasting the conserva. Fish treated in olive oil and paired with the starchy comfort of boiled potatoes gets me every time.
Everything we had was very good, but if we had to live without something, it would definitely be the bread, which we had to pay extra for but didn’t feel like it was worth the cost. The beef tartare with littleneck clams was an interesting, briney variation on a classic, but not necessarily a version for the books. If you have to round out your meal of the lamb burger and the tuna conserva with something lighter and more refreshing, then the sashimi grade yellowfin tuna with fermented chili and the chilled Louisiana white shrimp are good choices. The great thing about Cervo’s is it’s the type of place that you can and want to go back to again and again, so if certain things don’t work out, no big deal, you can right the wrongs on the next visit, and you’ll look forward to it each time.
43 Canal St (between Orchard and Ludlow St)
New York, NY 10002