The Boston Phoenix
April 22 - 29, 1999

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O Cantinho

A tiny slice of Portugal in Inman Square

by John Buntin

Inman Square boasts a number of restaurants that cater to Cambridge's Portuguese community. The newest is O Cantinho, a small café whose proprietor, Joseph Cerqueira, also owns the excellent Portuguese restaurant Atasca. With its bright orange walls and flowers in hand-painted pots, O Cantinho has a cheerful, homey atmosphere that should give it instant crossover appeal.

As should the food. Moelas guisadas -- chicken giblets served in a spicy piri piri sauce ($3) -- will tempt even those who normally avoid internal organs. And when the table next to ours mistakenly received our bowl of polvo guisado ($4), octopus stewed in a red-wine sauce, they were understandably reluctant to part with it.

The café also serves a wide selection of salads and hot and cold sandwiches. The salada com pasteis de bacalhau ($4.95) -- warm black-eyed pea salad topped with fried salt-cod cakes -- was a particular favorite. Like most European-style sandwiches, O Cantinho's are meat-and-bread affairs, without condiments or other toppings. The moist febras de porco ($3.95) is made of thin slices of marinated pork loin served on a Portuguese bun; the quiejo São Jorge com presunto features home-cured ham topped with sharp St. Jorge cheese ($3.95).

O Cantinho's midnight closing time, along with its case of cakes, pastries, flans, and custards, suggests that this place has its sights on diners who want to continue dinnertime conversations begun elsewhere. Try an espresso and a queijada (a chewy Portuguese cupcake), lean back, and talk into the night.

O Cantinho, located at 1128 Cambridge Street (Inman Square), in Cambridge, is open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight. Call (617) 354-3443.

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