Pipa: Stews and Sangria

Originally posted on March 13, 2010

From the moment myself and a friend entered Pipa for dinner this past Friday evening, we were overcome with rich, flavourful aromas and welcomed by an inviting and warm atmosphere. The vibe was cozy and intimate in the half-full restaurant when we arrived, gently warming us from the cool air on a buzzing Argyle Street.

After being greeted enthusiastically, we were told we could sit anywhere we wanted. Choosing a tiny window sear on the lower level near the bar we almost immediately ordered a pitcher of Portuguese Sangria with fresh fruit. I just may have eyed that one out on the menu online prior to arriving. The Sangria was very clear, almost looking just like red wine with chunks of fruit added, yet it was still a tad sweet, and definitely too easy to drink (dangerous for when their patio is open).

Eager to try some new and interesting dishes, we began with the Warm Crab with Tapioca Crisp. Somehow in the midst of not having any expectations for this dish it was still nowhere near what I had pictured. The crab was warm and flavourful, yet I am almost certain that it came from a can. The tapioca crisp was the part which surprised me as I had never seen anything even similar to this before with tapioca. The texture just a bit too dried out and full of air I think to add much to the dish, serving as more of just a vessel for which to eat the crab with.

As an additional appetizer we opted for one of the Brazilian Pies from which there are four rotating varieties to choose from daily. We chose the vegetarian pie: Black Bean and Ricotta, which was delicious. The black bean and ricotta filling thick and rich enveloped in a pastry similar to that of a pot pie, also rich and heavy in its own right, yet still flaky and enjoyable. Just to add some variety in flavour I used a couple small spoonfuls of the salsa verde-like sauce which had been provided for us to accompany our meals. This green chili salsa packed a lot of heat and provided a great accompaniment to spice up and cut through the rich and filling flavours of our food.

Going along with the theme of trying the most interesting and traditional fare we could get our hands on at Pipa, for my main I decided on the Halibut Stew: Moqueca de Peiexe (Brazil’s oldest dish, made for over 300 years). This dish consisted of large chunks of slow cooked Halibut accompanied by large pieces of sliced tomatoes, onions, red and green peppers, cilantro, herbs and garlic in a very rich and thick tomato broth. The stew was in its own receptacle and served with a plate of steamed rice and buttery green beans and carrots. I was told to pour some of the stew on top of the rice mound and eat them together, which I did excitedly. The stew was robust and heavy, again I used my salsa verde to add some heat and to help bring out the distinct cilantro and garlic flavors. The Halibut was so tender the dense chunks of fish were falling apart and melting in my mouth – similar to meat. It was delectable!

My dinner date chose the Shrimp & Cashew: Vitapa which is oven-baked shrimp, palm oil, coconut, cashews and tomato. She also enjoyed this dish – no room for sharing or dessert after all of the rich heaviness of our meal.

I found the service at Pipa to be a superb balance of professional and tactful yet friendly and grateful. I truly felt our server enjoyed being there, was proud to be a part of the establishment and to share her (extensive) knowledge of the menu items with us.

The food I feel (knowing next to nothing about neither Brazilian nor Portuguese culture and cuisine) was prepared in a way that I perceived as traditionally and with care. Similar to other flavourful ethnic cuisines prepared in their customary methods, the dishes end up being all about the flavours and not so much about presentation or creativity. I am more than okay with that – I love knowing I have the option of stopping in a Pipa and receiving a highly enjoyable, rich and flavourful dish in a very inviting atmosphere…

…and onto the Shoe Shop it was for a drink!

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