Baleia Brings Seafood-Filled Portuguese Cuisine to the South End

Coda Restaurant Group—the team behind SRV, Gufo, and the Salty Pig—opens a madeira-soaked date-night spot in March.

A spread of Portuguese-inspired dishes sit on a light wooden table next to a pale yellow banquette.

A spread of dishes at Baleia. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

New England’s abundant seafood makes the region particularly hospitable to certain fish-rich cuisines from other countries—like Portuguese, with its salt cod, seafood stews, and sardines. But while you’ll find large pockets of Portuguese restaurants in parts of Massachusetts—Fall River is especially notable—Boston itself is a little short on options, at least when you compare the number of Portuguese restaurants here to, say, Italian or French. Enter Baleia, the newest addition to the Coda Restaurant Group (SRV, Gufo, and the Salty Pig), opening in the former Area Four space in Boston’s South End this March.

Thinly sliced fancy ham sits on a blue and white plate next to a side of green olives.

Baleia’s presunto cura (dry-cured ham) and olives with coriander, orange, and chili. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

While the group’s other venues are Italian-inspired, the Coda Group is heading west to Portugal with this one, as well as “port cities that have been heavily influenced by Portuguese cuisine,” says partner and director of operations Ted Hawkins. (You’ll find dishes like North African tagine, for instance.) “We wanted to pay homage to the [Portuguese] cuisine rooted in the area,” says Hawkins. “But we’re also realistic that this isn’t going to be the mom-and-pop type of Portuguese restaurant that people love.” Instead, Baleia will present more of a modern spin on the cuisine—think less rustic, more swanky, helped by the refined South End digs. It feels akin to the group’s special-occasion-worthy odes to Venetian and modern Italian cuisine at SRV and Gufo respectively.

Two small buns sit next to each other, stuffed with grilled pork topped with mustard and peppers.

Baleia’s bifana rolls with marinated, grilled pork; yellow mustard; and piri-piri. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

The impetus for the restaurant—which has been in the works for a few years—was essentially to make more room for talent to grow within the company. “Chef Andrew [Hebert] has been with the company for six-plus years,” says Hawkins, most recently as Gufo’s executive chef and previously at the Salty Pig and SRV. “He’s a super-talented guy. We always knew that we wanted to partner with him [on a restaurant].” When the opportunity for the new venue arose, the team asked Hebert what he felt passionately about cooking. During his first trip to Portugal about eight years ago, the cuisine took hold of him, and it’s stayed on his mind that he’d like to cook it. Now, lots of research—and lots of pastéis de nata (Portuguese egg tarts)—later, Hebert and the team are excited to open Baleia.

An empty restaurant space features pale yellow banquettes, light limewashed walls, and large spherical lights surrounded by big loops of copper beads.

Baleia. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

An empty restaurant kitchen features white tiling, gleaming pots and pans, and tagines.

Baleia. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Baleia means “whale,” a nod to Portugal’s great whale-watching. It’s particularly excellent in the Algarve, the country’s southernmost region, an area Hebert spent a lot of time exploring. One dish that stuck with him was cataplana, a pork and seafood stew “with whatever the fishermen brought in that day,” Hebert says; it’s cooked in a copper vessel also called a cataplana. “Every town [in the region] is like a fisherman village or a little beach town, and there are all these restaurants dotted along the coastline,” he says. “Everywhere you go, there’s a different cataplana,” and he’s excited to feature his take on the dish on Baleia’s opening menu, a hearty mix of braised pork, clams, mussels, and more.

Squid tossed in jet black squid ink sits atop a bed of black-eyed peas in a black plate.

Baleia’s squid in ink with black-eyed peas and celery. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Piri-piri chicken—spicy, charcoal-grilled chicken, served simply with fries and salad—is also big in the Algarve, and Hebert ate his fill of it in his travels, he says. At Baleia, he’s dialing down the spice level “a little bit” from the classic version and putting on his own spin with a mix of pomegranate molasses, paprika, Thai bird chiles, red Fresnos, and red bell peppers for a smoky-sweet-spicy balance. “On the back end, it’s hot,” he says. (You can cool down by dunking the fries in the accompanying roasted garlic aioli.) That piri-piri sauce also finds its way into a couple other dishes on the opening menu: as a condiment for the oyster of the day, and as a topping on the bifana rolls (grilled, marinated pork with mustard on Portuguese sweet rolls).

A seared filet of cod leans on a crispy rectangle of potato, with chunks of sausage in a pool of green sauce.

Baleia’s seared cod with caldo verde, crispy potato, and chouriço. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Also on the opening menu: starters like cured ham, salt cod bolinhos, and a salad showcasing queijo São Jorge, a cow’s-milk cheese from the Azores. (Hebert is particularly excited about another Portuguese cheese, too—queijo da Serra—which is featured in a roasted cauliflower dish and on the dessert menu with crackers and charred pineapple. That one is a soft sheep’s-milk cheese from the mountains that he describes as gooey, mild, and creamy.)

Grilled, spatchcocked chicken is accompanied by fries and a thick white sauce.

Baleia’s grilled piri-piri chicken with fries and roasted garlic aioli. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

After the starters, the menu moves onto small plates like grilled sardines with turmeric, chermoula, and preserved lemon; shrimp Mozambique with chili, lemon, and cerveja; and grilled mushrooms with harissa, charred onion crème, and fried shallots. And larger entrees follow, like the cataplana and piri-piri chicken, plus suckling pig with braised greens and crispy pigs’ ears; lamb shank or charred eggplant tagine; and more.

An empty restaurant space features a bar with colorful tiling behind it.

Part of the bar area at Baleia. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

An empty restaurant space features a tiled black-and-white floor, limewashed walls, and curved-back seats at a dark marble bar.

Part of the bar area at Baleia. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Baleia’s wine list is fully Portuguese, put together by the restaurant group’s wine director, Toni Maiorino. “It was super important for her and for us that every region was highlighted,” says Hawkins—not to mention showcasing Portugal’s “rich fortified wine culture.” That means plenty of port and madeira options (incorporated into cocktails, too). “I think sherry had a really big moment a while ago,” says Hawkins, “and we’re hoping to have a madeira and port moment here.”

Clams, mussels, shrimp, and broth sit in a big copper pot in front of a red tiled wall.

Baleia’s cataplana, a braised pork and seafood stew. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

From the madeira to the gorgeous, made-to-share seafood dishes, Baleia feels poised to throw a classy dinner party, and the lovely space—designed by local architecture firm RODE, who also worked on Gufo and SRV—doesn’t hurt. Large light fixtures draped with loops of copper beads are a focal point of the high-ceilinged space, giving a subtle nod to seafood netting. Limewashed walls, pale yellow banquettes, rounded edges and archways, and colorful tiling keep things light and breezy, maybe pushing you toward that Azores vacation you’ve been contemplating.

A whole fish is topped with chili flakes and sliced scallions, served with a grilled lemon half and a red condiment.

Baleia’s whole roasted black bass with charred lemon, presunto, and anchovy XO. / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

“We’re super excited to celebrate this food and highlight the flavors of this area,” says Hawkins. “We’ve been fantasizing about this restaurant for a really long time.”

Three golden-brown egg tarts sit next to a soft sponge cake.

Baleia’s pão de ló (a custardy sponge cake with egg and olive oil) and pastéis de nata (sweet baked egg tarts). / Photo by Rachel Leah Blumenthal

Baleia opens in early March 2024; watch social media for the exact date. 264 E. Berkeley St., South End, Boston,

A version of this story was published in the print edition of the April 2024 issue with the headline, “Lisbon Love.”