It was not a great beginning: our GPS took us to a locked gate, then to an unmarked building across the road. Only the sparkle of chandeliers through an upper-story window alerted us that we had arrived at our destination: Restaurant São Gião. We were met by waiters in white shirt and black bowtie, tables set with linen, sparkling glassware and china, wine coolers beside each one.
São Gião is a Guimarães Mecca of 'international fusion', its signature approach, a mix of local and imported foods. Our nine-course tasting menu was impeccably prepared and presented: lettuce hearts dressed with anchovies and slices of tuna; imported fois gras with apple jam from Portugal; house-smoked salmon; and more. For me, the most intriguing course was 'flavor of the forest': partridge, shredded with fois gras and black truffles and mushrooms.
Dessert was a platter with crisp pastry, priest's pudding from Braga and mandarin ice cream. Wines included a Vinho Verde from the restaurant's own vineyard, a Douro red and a glass of Madeira with our coffee.
The restaurant, located in a suburb ten kilometers or so outside Guimarães, is revered by locals. This Guimarães institution offers a blend of style and food we've not seen elsewhere in northern Portugal. Low-key elegance and friendly service make São Gião well worth a trek out from town.
If you go, call ahead for a reservation, and be sure to have the restaurant's telephone number at hand--you may well need it!