Sorriso da Dadá
Rua Frei Vicente, 5
Pelourinho, Salvador, Brasil
One of my first days in Salvador, I knew I wanted a moqueca. The word flows off your tongue smoother than the dende-oil infused coconut milk that is the backbone of this traditional Bahian seafood stew, and garnished with farofa (toasted manioc flour, usually with a little dende) and vatapá, there really is nothing like it. I was walking through Pelourinho, operating on the recommendation from a friend to try Panela da Bahia, a place he told me to go if I needed a “moqueca made with love.” Boy, did I!
But, sadly, the “love” would have to wait another day. Panela da Bahia was closed on this Monday, and I had to settle for the restaurant next door, another moqueca-specialist place called Sorriso da Dadá (“Dadá’s Smile). It was not until after my meal, returning home, that I discovered Dadá has one of the most famous restaurants in Bahia. So, to give the readers a luxury I forgot to afford myself, please read the following reviews and ask yourself: would you have gone to this restaurant? From Frommer’s, via NYT:
Dadá has made quite a name for herself and contributed to a renewed appreciation of Bahian cuisine. Brazilians and foreigners come from far and wide to taste her food, journalists write articles about her, and gourmet magazines rave about her restaurant. Her food certainly showcases the best of Bahian cuisine, specializing in seafood moquecas, vatapá, and bobó de camarão. However, Dadá may be coasting a little bit on her success. We found service uninspired and the prices higher than at other restaurants — typically 25% more than elsewhere. The food, however, was still as delicious as ever.
An OK review, I suppose. I’ll take uninspired surface as long as the food is justifiably delicious. However, my own guidebook, Bradt (2010), had this to say:
The restaurant takes its name from the perpetual smile of the former queen of traditional Bahian cooking, Aldaci ‘Dadá’ dos Santos. She began her career selling acarajé on the streets of Salvador. In her heyday Tropicalista & culture minister, Gilberto Gil was a fan of her moquecas & Dadá was serving her spicy, Afro-Brazilian dishes to distinguished visitors to Bahia, including Hillary Clinton. But when we ate here last, Dadá had either taken her eye off the ball or was busy in one of her other restaurants in Salvador or on the Costa do Sauipe. The food was bland, lukewarm & over-priced.
So, what to take from these two reviews? Potentially bland and lukewarm food with uninspired service? Turns out that is exactly what I got. And while the food was acceptable, it was a little pricey for what was received, and I would recommend to anyone they try any number of other solid moquecas in Salvador (three of which will have glowing reviews on ETW in the coming days).
Dadá’s restaurant is not an uninviting space, but I also didn’t find it the most welcoming. The windows to the outside don’t do the best lighting job, and I found the eating space surprisingly dark for always-sunny Salvador. On this day I had the restaurant to myself; an American couple were finishing up their meal just as I arrived, but otherwise the place was empty. Service was a little inattentive by Bahian standards (where service is usually inattentive; it is seen as impolite to bug the customers unless they want to be bugged), though Pelourinho usually operates on a more touristic agenda for the Europeans and Americans coming through seeking an authentic meal.
I decided quickly on a traditional fish moqueca, with a white fish filet cooked in coconut milk and dende, garnished with tomatoes, green peppers, and cilantro, and served with vatapá. It was not, however, served with farofa – something in the coming weeks I would come to cite as a cardinal sin.
Though this was my first moqueca in Brazil, and the flavors were new and inviting, I could tell there were problems. A lack of flavor punch, a watery moqueca broth, and the fish a tad undercooked for my taste (perhaps stemming from the thin broth, which probably needed more time to cook down). “Watery” is a word one should never have to utter in reference to a moqueca, as water is not an ingredient. But it tasted watery to me, and lucky for the restaurant I am not a Bahian, otherwise someone may have made a scene. Portions were generous, more than what was needed for one person at R$39 – but less than what one usually gets in Salvador for the same price, and better quality, elsewhere. The uninspired food left me hungry for what I knew were better moquecas in the city. And our next three posts will let you know: boy, did we find them!
St. George (Oxóssi) stands guard over the cash register at Sorriso da Dadá.