Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Portugal adventure includes Chapel of Bones, Night Sky stargazing spot

The Chapel of Bones in tucked away inside an ancient church in Evora.

Portugal is one of the least visited of European countries, but its attractions are simply amazing. Some of them are chronicled in the Feb. 8 Travel section, including the
Chapel of Bones in Evora. Click on the contrasting print to read the whole story.

The Chapel of Bones was built in the 1500s by Franciscan  monks  who disinterred the remains from a dozen cemeteries around Evora. The town, begun centuries before that by the Romans, needed to expand.

That small city, capital of the inland Alentejo region, an area of vast plains about a 90-minute drive from Lisbon, was one of the treasures uncovered for me during my November motorcoach tour with Insight Vacations. Our spacious Mercedes Benz coach  had been reconfigured to seat just 40 travelers, all with extra legroom. There were just 29 of us on my trip so we all were able to spread out.

Excellent guides joined us at every stop, giving us a bit of history and a walking tour to help us become oriented for forays on our own.

In exploring the coastal towns around Lisbon we made a stop en route to Estoril where we got off the coach to stroll near to the Atlantic, which whipped its spray into a frenzy that drove several of us back into the bus. In the distance we could see Cabo de Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe. It was easy to imagine that Vasco de Gama and other early explorers believed  sea  monsters lived beyond the horizon.
Poseidon astride a sea monster is depicted in marble near the monument to the explorers. 

Some of those monsters are depicted on a giant marble map carrying Posiedon. It which lies in front of the seaside Padrao  dos Descobrimentos, a huge stone monument dedicated to the many explorers who departed on their voyages of discovery from Lisbon.

 I  especially want to return to Lake Aqueva, a 97-square mile artificial lake created in 2010 by the damming of a river. It spans Portugal's border with Spain and has become a major destination for dark sky tourism, so called because of the area's record number of clear days and lack of light pollution. Telescopes are available at several guest houses in the region and astronomy experts are on hand to show amateur stargazers the celestial sites.

I hope you enjoy this latest story from my Iberian adventure with Insight. Learn more about the company's upcoming adventures at 800-582-8380;

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Previewing Pastina, Mentor newest restaurant

My smoked salmon chips were a delightful combination of chile cream cheese, capers, chives and pickled onion served on top of huge potato chips 
The hottest new tables around are at Pastina, which opens Monday Feb. 9 in a stunning new space at 9354 Mentor Ave. I was among those invited for a soft opening preview - a time to fine tune both service and food - and both my friend and I were super impressed.

Meet Tina Greci, affable proprietor at Pastina, Mentor's newest restaurant.

The 200 seat restaurant is the latest in the offerings from the Longo family with its Longo's just west on Mentor Avenue and and Joey's Italian Grille locations in Chardon and Madison Township.

However, this place is Tina's as in Tina Greci, Joe's sister, and it has her touch in everything from the amber like jewel tone chandeliers  to the layout. Her husband, Ray Greci, oversees the making of the pizza crusts, the breads and the light and delicate homemade pastas. But everything here is made from scratch.
The whole family was on hand to welcome invited guests who filled booths big enough to accommodate eight smaller people and six with more ample proportions. Tables also are available but folks seemed to prefer the cushy booths.

The shrimp and polenta small plate has an interesting and quite delicious combo of flavors. 

The bar, which has 100 more seats for dining, also were filled. This place has 6,000 square feet and is served by a large kitchen.

My friend and I ordered from the small plates part of the menu and then split a margherita pizza ($10).

She ordered the shrimp and polenta, priced at $11, while I went with the smoked salmon chips at $9. Her shrimp were huge and wonderful tasting atop a lovely cake of polenta, napped by  a lemon butter fondue.  It was served in a pretty squarish half plate, half bowl. My house smoked salmon had chile cream cheese, capers, chives and pickled onion  set atop homemade potato chips made from large Idaho potatoes and set on a board.  I was surprised to discover it was cold but there were six of those really large chips.

We both agreed those so-called small plates were enough for a meal and when the pizza came we couldnt finish it. But the pizza had waht is perhaps the lightest crust I'd ever had and was simpoly prepared with tomato sauce house-made mozzarella and fresh basil.