Unless we're fortunate enough to know a Portuguese family, many people in Southern California haven't had a chance to taste the cuisine of Portugal. But now we can at the Navigator in Artesia.
Gilbert Goncalves, who had successfully run a Portuguese bakery down the street, knew he was surrounded by 10,000 Portuguese in the area, and decided it was time for the restaurant, which he opened last June. Tucked in a row of Pioneer Boulevard storefronts, it's a fresh, inviting room with deep blue carpet softening white walls. White cloths, blue napkins and fresh carnations grace the tables.
I found the menu, conceived by Aide De Carvalho and executed by chef Francesco Machado, filled with food of robust flavor. Although it bears some kinship to other cuisines of Southern Europe, it is different. There's a lot of marinating and a heavy accent of garlic, olive oil, lemon, coriander and oregano.
Plenty of Seafood
As you'd expect, there's also a lot of seafood. The Navigator does wonderful things like grilling sardines over charcoal until they're crisp on the outside, succulent but firm inside. A plateful, served with boiled potatoes and grilled strips of green peppers, plus soup or salad, is just $6.50. You also may have the fish of the day prepared in the same manner.
Shellfish dishes include crab, Portuguese style, served in a hot sauce with rice and vegetables. Prawns are prepared in garlic sauce, and clams or mussels in a sauce of fresh onions, white wine and garlic, whereas octopus appears in a mildly spiced sauce of onions, garlic and both white and red wine.
I particularly liked the squid in mustard. The tender slices were delicately seasoned with white wine, mustard, lemon juice and egg yolk. The squid was $9.95.
Intriguing, too, was the Alentago pork with clams at $8.50. Cubes of lean boneless pork were marinated in wine, garlic and bay leaf, then sauteed in olive oil and cooked with tomato. It's served here not with rice but French fries, with the clams in their shells and wedges of orange creating a colorful contrast to the meat. Although I found the clams a bit chewy and the meat a little dry, the flavors were tantalizing.
Other meat dishes at the Navigator include Lisbon liver, thinly sliced beef liver marinated in wine, herbs and spices and sauteed in butter; spicy-hot Azorean-style pork; chicken fricassee with a sauce of onions, garlic, eggs and lemon juice.
Daily specials include caldeira , a bouillabaisse from Algarve, on Fridays. It's described as a fish stew with sardines, clams, lobster, crab, wine and tomatoes.
Of the appetizers at the Navigator, the Portuguese like the garlic sausage grilled on a spit. I preferred the hot shrimp, in butter and garlic sauce, and the codfish croquettes, gently flavored, fried to a golden brown and served with lemon wedges.
In the house salad dressing, pepper and hot sauce provide the flavor boost in the olive oil and lemon base further spiced with coriander and oregano.
The bread from Goncalves' bakery--A whole crusty loaf at each table--was outstanding at lunch, a bit dry for dinner. Of the desserts, I was not enthralled with an orange roll which was very eggy, a bit like a cold omelet. However, the almond cake, which was almost a confection, full of finely choped almonds, was great. It's sometimes topped with cooked and highly sweetened threads of egg yolk.
The restaurant serves beer and wine, including several pleasant selections from Portugal.
The Navigator, 18614 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, (213) 402-8778. Lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner Tuesday through Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m. Street parking. Accepts Visa, MasterCard and American Express.