Chef/co-owner Rui Correia prepares Portuguese food at his restaurants in Mamaroneck and Douro in Greenwich, CT, but he acknowledges that experience he gained working in non-Portuguese restaurant kitchens helped him become an accomplished and more creative chef.
He cooked at such hip (and non-Portuguese) New York City establishments as the Union Square Cafe, celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and the Gramercy Tavern, where he worked under acclaimed chef Tom Colicchio, the recipient of five James Beard Foundation medals and the head judge for every season of the TV show Top Chef.
“All of these experiences contributed to my becoming a chef,” said Correia.
It will be business as usual on Saturday, July 2, when Piri-Q—which in a short stretch of time has become a popular and trendy Portuguese and Mediterranean restaurant—celebrates its first anniversary in Mamaroneck. “Our customers have their favorite dishes and know what to expect,” says Correia. “No need to celebrate with a special menu.”
Piri-Q is the second restaurant in less than two years introduced by Correia and his partner, and cousin, Maria Correia. They opened Douro, named after a river in Northern Portugal, in Greenwich, CT in September, 2009. Piri-Q’s name is a contraction of piri-piri—a Portuguese hot sauce made from vinegar, spices and roasted malagueta (a hot red pepper)—and the letter Q, short for barbecue. Rui makes his own unique version of piri-piri, which he plans to bottle in the near future.
The menus for the two restaurants are similar but not identical (Douro puts a little more emphasis on Portuguese-inspired Mediterranean entrées than does Piri-Q), but both have the same three best-selling pleasers:
- Frango. Chicken on the bone marinated with traditional Portuguese seasonings and roasted over a wood-fed charcoal fire ($19 for a full serving or $10 for a half serving).
- Ribs. Marinated with the house’s special blend of seasonings, slow cooked and smoked over a wood charcoal fire ($20 for a full rack or $10 for a half rack).
- Bitoque (steak and eggs). A char-grilled choice steak cooked with Portuguese chips, fried egg and garlic/wine sauce ($25).
Popular appetizers include roasted garlic hummus with cucumber and pitas at $8, baby shrimp accompanied by chorizo (fire roasted cured Portuguese pork sausage sautéed in piri-piri sauce) at $10, bolinhos (Portugese cod fish and potato cakes) at $8 and several salads beginning at $7. The lunch menu includes sandwiches priced from $10 to $12, the same appetizers served at dinner, a selection of entrees and a variety of salads.
Rui's path to becoming a chef
Growing up in Oporto, Portugal, Rui looked forward to doing kitchen chores at his grandfather’s restaurant in nearby Gaia, but, when he was only eight years old, his family, including a five-year-old sister, immigrated to America and settled in Yonkers. In his early teens, Rui worked after school as a busboy at a nearby restaurant called Palmer's—a positive experience he says influenced his later decision to pursue a career in the restaurant industry.
In high school, he made the varsity soccer team as a freshman and played for four seasons. He accepted a college athletic scholarship from Concordia University, but, after a year of studying business management, he decided to enroll at a culinary school instead—choosing the New York Restaurant School in Manhattan.
Following graduation, he joined Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe, considered by Manhattan foodies as New York City’s hottest dining spot and ranked first or second in popularity by Zagat survey voters for thirteen consecutive years (1997 to 2010). After eight months, he moved to another Danny Meyer property—the Gramercy Tavern—as a line cook and then on to celebrity chef Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, also as a line cook.
Not long afterwards, he was hired as Executive Chef at Palmer's in Bronxville, rejoining the same operation that had employed him as a teenager as a busboy; he helped Palmer’s parent organization open a restaurant called Washington Place in New York City's West Village (now closed).
In 1999 he opened his own restaurant called Café Porto in Yonkers, NY, ran it for more than five years, and sold it when he became the Executive Chef at Oporto Restaurant in Hartsdale (now closed). Five years later, he opened Douro in Greenwich, CT with his cousin Maria.
Besides the selections appearing on its extensive menu, Piri-Q has a "piri-fixe" lunch offer—guests can select one of three appetizers, one of two sandwiches or an entree and a soft drink, coffee or tea priced at $12 and available on Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m. A "piri-fixe" dinner is offered from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday for $18.
Piri-Q is currently working towards obtaining a liquor license but alcohol beverage service is not available at this time.
Rui and his fiancée Dana Cifone, who manages Douro, will marry in September, 2011 and plan to honeymoon in Portugal and Spain.
Piri-Q has sidewalk, cafe-style seating and private garden seating (with outdoor heaters available during cooler temperatures) behind the restaurant.
Douro, its sister restaurant, is at 28 West Putnam Ave. in Greenwich, CT. 203-869-7622.
Located at 360 Mamaroneck Ave., Piri-Q is open for lunch every day except Monday from 11:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Dinner is served on Tuesday through Thursday from 5:00-9:30 p.m., on Friday and Saturday from 5-10 p.m., and on Sunday from 4-9 p.m. 914-341- 1443.