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Tasca Tasca: The Azores on the Pacific

by Tara Q. Thomas
July 15, 2016

Why the national obsession with rosé in the summertime when you can have Vinho Verde?

This I wonder while at the bar at Tasca Tasca, a new restaurant in Sonoma, California, drinking Vinho Verde with plates of salty olives and fried potatoes tossed in fiery piri piri sauce. Sitting in the whitewashed space, a game of futból on the TV, there is nothing better at this very moment—less pretentious, more refreshing or more summery.

“I’ve been a fan of Vinho Verde forever,” says Manuel Azevedo, who opened this bar off of Sonoma’s main square last May. Born on São Jorge, an island in Portugal’s Azores, Azevedo has been showing off his country’s cuisine at LaSalette, a Michelin-starred restaurant on the square, since 1998. The scene was different back then, though: “When we opened 18 years ago, we couldn’t find any Portuguese wine out here. The East Coast always had more access, but here we had Mateus and Casa Cadaval. That was it.” Azevedo and his wife, Kim, focused their list on California, but have added more Portuguese wines as they’ve become available.

“It’s the ultimate summer relaxation drink.”
—Manuel Azevedo of Tasca Tasca on Vinho Verde
“Now we have access to so many Portuguese wines that Kim ran out of places to put them,” Azevedo says. And what he’s really wanted for the last ten years is a place where he can feed people the way he likes to eat: “I enjoy just snacking with a friend, opening a bottle of wine, rummaging in the fridge, spreading out snacks on the table.” This, he points out, is how so many dinner parties start—congregating in the kitchen over snacks, glasses of wine in hand.

So at Tasca Tasca, it’s only small plates, and only Portuguese wines, the list leading off with an array of Vinho Verde. Sure, you can get a bottle of Dirk Niepoort’s Redoma, a rich, elegant white from the Douro, or Luis Pato’s gravelly, tannic Beiras red. But when friends come in, Azevedo always starts them off with a bottle of Vinho Verde. “Nice, clean, acidic and minerally—it goes with so many things,” he says. “Grilled sardines are ideal with it; sardine pâté as well.” And if the customers never move on from Vinho Verde, that’s okay. “It’s the ultimate summer relaxation drink,” he says. “The few times I get to sit in my hammock, I bring out a nice cold bottle and drink it ’til it’s done or it gets too warm to drink.”

In the spirit of relaxed entertaining, Azevedo offers his recipe for pâté de sardinha, a popular starter in Portugal and a terrific make-ahead snack. “A little spread on fresh bread is one of the country’s favorite petiscos, Azevado says, adding that many restaurants bring a small tub of it to the table before you’ve even ordered. Normally he uses fresh sardines, “but El Niño has been messing with things, so we’re not getting local ones right now. But the nice thing about this recipe is that, while it’s great with fresh ones—just grill them, then follow the recipe—it’s also good with quality tinned sardines.” That flexibility, he adds, is part of what makes it so Portuguese.

photos by Erik Castro

This feature appears in the print edition of August 2016.
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Pâté de Sardinha (Sardine Pâté)

adapted from chef Manuel Azevedo, Tasca Tasca, Sonoma, CA