Piri Piri is a term the Portugese use for pepper, specifically, the African Malagueta pepper. I've often been told that the Piri Piri is actually Swahili, but I've not been able to verify that. The pepper is hot, many times hotter than the serrano and jalapeno, but less hot that the habanero . My parents used to get these peppers and put them in jars filled with olive oil. The olive oil itself would get SUPER HOT. I remember, as a teenager, sautéing sliced chourico in the oil, then pouring tomato sauce over it to make spaghetti. My family hated this. Basically, I'd run everyone out of the house because the air would become infused with the piri piri causing your eyes to burn badly and you'd choke and cough violently from the fumes. It was ridiculous and awesome. To this day it's one of my favorite meals.
I considered moving to Hoboken, Frank Sinatra's hometown, during my relocation to the NYC area. While checking the one-square-mile city out, and driving down Washington Street, I noticed a small Portuguese restaurant - Piri Piri. I knew I'd be coming back to check it out. So, finally, I took the quick ride to Hoboken on the PATH train from 33rd street in Manhattan, near JC Penney and walked a couple of blocks to Washington Street, then another five blocks or so past a million restaurants until I reached Piri Piri. There were few diners at the time that I arrived and there were a number of open tables outside, so I picked one and sat down. Then, about three or four parties of about two people each came in right after me. Within seconds the server - the one and only server - got flustered and proceeded to give me one of the worse restaurant experiences I've had in a long time. It took about 10 minutes to set my table. Then it took another 15 minutes to get a menu. He asked me for my order about 30 seconds after that - are you kidding? I asked for a drink—sorry, no beer, wine or any other liquor. OK, I'll take a soda. About 15 minutes later came the soda. I'd been there for 40 minutes and all I got is a soda. And just to make it more interesting, my server is calling me "Boss" all night.
I understand that it can get busy, but if you own or manage a restaurant that has about two dozen tables, and you're on Washington Street (restaurant row) in Hoboken on a beautiful weekend night during the summer - YOU NEED MORE THAN ONE SERVER.
Polvo à Galego
Galicia is the region of Spain that lies north of Portugal. Interestingly, the people in this region speak castellano (Spanish) with a "Portuguese" accent. It found it a little confusing the first time I heard them speak. I don't know if they were the originators of this octopus stew, but Portuguese people in Portugal, in the Azores and in Madeira all prepare it in the same way. Piri Piri does add one more ingredient, cilatnro, which you're more likely to find in the cuisine of southern Portugal (Algarve). Cilantro is one of those things that usually people either love or hate. Generally, I'm not a fan of it at all, so I ate around the green leaves, which look exactly like parsley. This dish was pretty disappointing. The flavors were Ok, but it was insanely salty. I'd expect a place with a liquor license to salt up the food, but since Piri Piri does not have a liquor license, I couldn't suspect they had ulterior motives for over doing it. And then the price. This must be the worst value I've ever had in an appetizer. It was $15 and there were about three real bites to this dish. I've had octopus stew in Portuguese restaurants as a main course, prepared much better with potatoes and a richer wine sauce for less money and at least ten times the amount. Plus bread to dip in the sauce! I don't expect a mountain of food, but I expect value. If the food is simple and there's just a little of it, the cost should reflect that. If the dish is small, but you can see that there was effort and imagination in the preparation, or the ingredients are rare and costly, then I can see the value. But octopus stew—I know what it costs and what it takes to make it well. This dish was an impolite way of taken my $15.
Piri Piri specializes in Portuguese BBQ, which you can find in any Portuguese neighborhood around the world. In a way, it's the Portuguese fast food-sort of. It's sometimes called hot chicken. Essentially, it's a whole chicken, split, and grilled with hot sauce. But the menu, which has a number of traditional Portuguese dishes, had an item I've never heard of—Picadinho. I'm not sure if this is a real traditional dish, or a Piri Piri creation. but I had to have it. Served in a small round casserole, the ingredients include pork, shrimp, smoky chouriço and potatoes in a garlic and white sauce. It turns out this dish is very similar to Carne à Alentejana, with shrimp substituting the usual little neck clams. Also, common with Carne de Porco à Alentejana is the addition of picked cauliflower and carrots and, of course, olives. Whether or not this particular dish has history, it certainly taste authentic Portuguese and Piri Piri does a nice job with it.
So after a rough start, my meal ended on a pleasant note. I generally don't expect much in terms of service from a restaurant. For me, the best service is service I don't notice. If everything goes right, my full attention is on the meal and the company whose time I'm enjoying in sharing the meal. If you're thinking about stopping in, take a quick look in first, and make sure that if it looks busy that there's more than one person serving the guests, otherwise, you'll be noticing the service more than your meal.
515 Washington Street
Hoboken NJ 07030