www.bairrada.ca/ We were lucky to be invited to a Zomato Meetup event at Bairrada Churrasqueira Grillhouse. It turned out to be a spectacular feast of almost four hours of food indulgences in their fun company!
Cheri and I arrived a bit early, after the long stroll from our downtown offices. Bold, serifed letters glowed in orange with a heraldry-like image on the side. In retrospect, the sign did not do the place justice. The stone-clad facade with black mullions helped the place seem authentic.
Our initial welcome was at a tall counter which reminded us of take-out. We entered a long room with the kitchen on one side and a guest-room on the other. The dining area had beige walls and floral pattern (blue & white) tiles on one side, opposing was a brick wall with generic incandescent lights. Simple tables, low lighting - at this point our expectations for the restaurant were pretty low as it didn’t seem that the interior ambiance was an important consideration for them.
We were lucky that our event was in their large backyard patio. A long wooden communal table awaited us under the tall trees. We did find the occasional flat-screen TVs a bit distracting and un-needed, but I am sure Portuguese sport fans would disagree and find it very fitting.
We couldn't resist the urge to stand up and walk around a bit. Their waterfall, little bridge and trellis scene were poetic - a little oasis in the city.
A fragrant pig roast greeted our noses, the patriarch of owner family was carving it up for everyone interested to try. We got some pig skin insights from him and learned about how he started Bairrada Churrasqueira back in 1989. The pig itself on a skewer was a very memorable view. We got the full show, as he skilfully sliced the meat off. He was aided by a younger man who helped rotate the roast. The meat was carefully examined after the skin was peeled. The whole process was truly a feast for our eyes.
We started off with some bites from their barbecued pig roast, it was cut in small pieces making it easy to enjoy. They were warm, tender and fresh. Since Cheri and I haven’t had pork for some time, we found the meat quite pungent.
Our waiter, Jerry, had a charming Portuguese accent and was very enthusiastic about all the dishes. He made a fun presentation for the Chourico a Bombeiro, as they set a few sausages on fire and cut them for us. Meat came in unique clay bows that fit them perfectly. Their flavour was unlike any other - juicy, slightly spicy with a lovely thick skin. We enjoyed them as well as plates of Queijo Fresco - fresh, young Portuguese cheese. I should note that quite a few of these dishes were meant for sharing. That created a fun, communal atmosphere at the table. The whole group was also sharing pitchers of their refreshing Sangria, as we went around the table introducing ourselves, helping to further elevate the mood. Our last appetizer was Lulas Grelhadas (Grilled Calamari). All of you calamari fans out there, should try this authentic dish. It came as a bigger piece neatly cut into the stripes. It’s charcoal flavour added slight bitterness which was nicely offset as one squeezed the lemon wedges on top.
Next came individual plates of Gambas a la Plancha (Tiger Shrimp). The two large shrimp came fully shelled with eyes, wiskers and plenty of legs. We should note that a few people were weirded out looking at them, not to mention touching them. I though it was a rather genuine experience as one had to sink their fingers to take them out from their oily sauce and clean them prior to eating. Once we got to the smokey meat - the garlic and parsley which initially topped them came through subtly.
Tomate e Pepino were next to land on our table — a plethora of veggies which we thought was random at first. In reality, it was a salad which took me back to my childhood: cucumber, tomatoes, onion drizzled with vinegar, oil and some salt - light and simple, perfect for the warm weather.
Sardinhas landed on our table a tad after the salad. These grilled sea salted fish were not what we expected (quite opposite from the marinated, jar, store-bought variety). They were medium sized fish covered in dark ash with plenty of bones which is why we asked Jerry for a demonstration on the best way to eat the dish. He politely showed us a coupe of times with a fork and knife - which was quite difficult compared to instinctively using just fingers. Prepare to get dirty as their crispy skin was quite ashed. It was also a bit bitter. Some of the small bones, I thought, even added to the taste. Some folks at our table voiced their concern that the amount of work cleaning the fish was not worth the meat. The concerned voices soon dimmed and went back to enjoying the process. It was a fun experience eating these sardines at the end - a great way to slowly consume something.
At this point we were content with the amount of food, but it turns out Bairrada Churrasqueira had lofty expectations for the sizes of our stomachs. They were not yet done surprising us with dishes. Next, we had their Frango no Churrasco in traditional clay pots. These BBQed chicken wings and drumsticks came with a side of potatoes drizzled with olive oil, steamed broccoli and some pickled veggies. The chicken was tender and crispy, slightly on the spicy side as it was dressed with their house sauce. A special grilling stove was brought in from Portugal to cook bird just the right way: not too dry, not overly juicy.
Last, but not least from our entree dishes was Bife a Casa. Jerry let us know that this dish used to be called Peasant Stake as it came topped with an egg. The new name aged House Steak had an even better explanation, as the meat was topped with palla pala, like shingles on the roof. These were homemade chips which were crispy, greasy and salty, but nonetheless yummy. The homemade gravy all around was also an important part of the Casa, as it added the warmth and comfort. Also we got some steamed veggies on the side, and more of that marinated veggies mix which we both found a very pleasant addition. This wholesome dish was served individually and was a tad too much for us to finish. It was unique and delicious. It was close to 10pm and we were getting stake with a fried egg on top of it. Definitely a challenge, not every brave soul at the table stood up to the task of eating it fully, but Mon Cheri did. According to him, it was one of the best stakes he ever had.
Finally, for dessert we had their Nata do Cei - cream from heaven. It came topped with some cinnamon and looked like rice pudding to the naked eye. The angelic taste was present - smooth, with areas of grainy sense of breadiness, it was light and pleasant to the palate. To top our experience even further, we had some of their recommended porto - smooth and lingering in it's finish. They really went above and beyond to make us feel special. The owner, Dennis, even came a few times throughout the night to check in on us. We got the royal treatment as we enjoyed all their genuine dishes. It was a beautiful food journey which we now want to go back and share with our parents.
PS: In addition, throughout the night we got to know Derek Vieira, an area sales manager at Zomato, who also enjoyed chatting with Jerry in their mother tongue - Poutguese. Pam Westwater and Pardis Parhizgar from Zomato’s community engagement team in Toronto kept everyone entertained and talking. We even had Samantha Singh, visiting from their Ottawa office, who had plenty of recommendations on where to go when visiting the Capital City. We enjoyed spending time with the fun, energetic people behind Zomato.