Neighbourhood: St. James
Address: 1060 Ellice Ave.
Phone: (204) 783-9090
(Editor’s Note – This business is no longer open.)
The Fernandes family—Estela, Armando and daughter Sandra—have been cooking and serving high-quality, traditional, Portuguese food for more than 18 years at Chave D’Ouro (or “golden key.) Originally located on Sargent Avenue, the restaurant reopened in July 2009 after a three-year hiatus, moving into a vibrant yellow building on Ellice Avenue and Wall Street.
The atmosphere at Chave D’Ouro is a familial one. Seating around 40 people, white tablecloths cover the few tables, and a display case highlights the tempting variety of house-made desserts. Little touches such as a sign at the entrance asking patrons to please wipe their feet, and pictures of Portugual’s landscapes lend the restaurant a warm, homey feeling.
Chave D’Ouro has few competitors in the Portuguese cuisine market locally; however, two features that set this restaurant even further apart is the freshness of the food, and how much effort the family invests in each dish. As the owners and sole employees, they are responsible for all aspects of business, including hours spent creating labour-intensive dishes from scratch.
The highlight of the appetizer selections is bolinhos de bacalhau, or cod fish cakes. It is a shame they are not always available (popular and labour intensive, they quickly sell out) because they are a delightful indulgence. Shredded dried and salted cod (bacalhau), first soaked in water to remove the salt, is dipped in a mixture of egg and mashed potato, then deep fried. The relatively intense, earthy flavour of the cod is offset by the subtlety of the coating.
Chave D’Ouro lives up to the reputation of having one of the best rotisserie chickens in town; chickens are roasted on site daily for almost two hours. A half chicken dinner comes with tossed salad, delicious flaky rolls from Lisbon bakery and roasted potatoes. Chef/owner Estela Fernandes elevates the humble spud to new heights. Cooked under the rotisserie chickens, the golden nuggets absorb the meat’s juices, leaving them slightly crisp on the outside and satisfyingly dense and soft inside. Piri-piri, a small, hot pepper popular in Portuguese cuisine, sparks the palate in the chicken’s accompanying sauce.
Bacalhau appears again in an entrée, this time scrambled with eggs and julienne fries, in the bacalhau à brás. Served with olives and lemon, it is substantial comfort food. The eggs help to fuse the disparate flavours together, creating a fresh taste.
Perhaps an odd pairing for Western tastes, carne alentejana, or pork and clams, nevertheless works beautifully in this decadent dish. Served with olives and lemon, the moist pork and clams are bathed in a delicate tomato sauce that leaves a lingering heat.
Bife Chave D’Ouro offers a generous serving of New York steak, upon which an egg is cooked. Nicely marbled, the steak is huge (enough to share), while the egg’s centre is soft, yet firm enough to hold its shape, riding horseback upon the meat.
If, after all of this, you can manage a house-made dessert, you won’t go wrong with the Bolo do Diablo (Devil’s cake). Kahlúa® and butter cream chocolate icing hold the layers of dense, rich chocolate cake together in this sinful selection.
Chave D’Ouro is open Tue-Sat 11 am-2 pm; 5 pm-8 pm.