Halifax doesn't exactly boast a broad scope of South American, Portuguese and Spanish cuisine, so the mere existence of Pipa is a delight for those who are looking to broaden their gastronomic horizons.
Pipa is a clean, simple restaurant with pops of bold colour through the cozy, homey dining room and the expected soundtrack of bossa nova and Latin easy listening.
The menu is heavy on seafood and stews, but has a spicy authenticity that feels accessible to both the adventurous foodie and the apprehensive eater. The service is exceptional; the server is more than happy to answer our questions about ingredients and the food in general.
It turns out that we've happened in on a two-for-one caipirinha ($6) night, which is an unexpected delight. I go for the special, and double up on the meaning of two-for-one with the server letting me know she'll just bring 'em as I need 'em. The drink is everything I hope for: big, fresh chunks of lime and ice sit in a mix of sugar and cachaca---liquor made from fermented sugar cane. A perfect mix of sweet and tart, it's a nice companion to the rest of the meal.
We start with the salada de rucula ($9) and the cheese and cassava bread ($5). The salad is a generous pile of spicy arugula, well-matched with fresh figs, salty presunto de parma and a sweetly acidic balsamic coulis. It proves more than enough for two, especially since we have four tiny loaves of bread to pair with it.
Breaking open a spongy loaf of the cheese and cassava bread reveals a puffy texture similar to Yorkshire pudding. It's served with a green chili sauce that packs plenty of heat---a touch is enough, and it plays nicely against the lightly cheesy taste of the bread.
The frango piri piri ($18) is beautifully cooked. The chili pepper marinade is less spicy than I'd like, but the baked chicken is moist and incredibly tender and flavourful. It's served with white rice and a simple salad of lettuce and tomato.
A rich stew of black beans mixed with smoked beef, pork ribs, ham hocks and sausage, the feijoada ($18) is served traditionally with white rice, collard greens and sliced orange. The dark, creamy broth is simply seasoned, letting the black beans shine. There's also a side of farofa---cassava flour, chives and smoked meat---to sprinkle on top, bringing a salty crunch to the dish.
Much to our continued delight, the feijoada comes with seconds. Even though the initial serving is quite generous, if you haven't quite gotten your fill, the server will bring you additional heaping bowls of stew and rice. We totally go for it.
We are pretty much bursting at the seams after the second helping of stew, but like Corey Hart, we never surrender. For dessert we get the boto de banane ($7) and the Portuguese custard tarts ($6). The tarts are wonderful; so warm and fresh that we wouldn't be surprised if the hand that delivered them was still in an oven mitt. The pastry on the pair is flaky and golden. There is icing sugar and cinnamon to sprinkle on top, which practically dances on the custard.
The thick slab of warm banana cake is good, but pales in comparison. It's topped with a light caramel sauce and homemade tapioca ice cream. The ice cream has some crystallization, which is a bit of a letdown. It interferes with the chewy tapioca and distracts from the light flavour.
The restaurant is not busy---with only two other tables being served during our near three hours, making me want to place a citizen's arrest on the rest of the city. My meal here makes me think that an empty table is nothing short of a crime.