Pimienta Bistro and Bar is a buzz on weekend nights, cars spilling out of the parking lot, crowds milling. The 100-year-old wood panels on the wall give a rustic feel, and the place is permeated with a low happy roar.
Pimienta is a likable place, with a well-stocked bar and a delightful menu of scrumptious and thought provoking food. The wine list is shortish but well chosen, and it rotates enough that you feel triumphant when you score the last bottle of the crisp Cava Lady of Spain. The dining room is nearly full, but the wait is not too long, and no one seems to mind if you step up for a quick plate of truffle fries at the bar.
Chef Blanca Rodriguez has turned this once sleepy corner bistro into the talk of a blossoming Federal Way food scene. This urban fusion of European and Latin American cuisine is appealing in nearly every sense. Rodriguez, born in Guadalajara, Mexico, was raised in a family of restaurateurs who loved entertaining and had an unapologetic passion for food.
Rodriguez, who trained and mastered her culinary skills at the feet of her mother and grandfather, started Pimienta after a decade-long career at Nordstrom Department stores as the overseer of restaurant operations in five states. Rodriguez’s work with the Seattle-based chain also included composing two cookbooks for the high-end retailer, and she has clearly inherited its artistic aesthetic.
Rodriguez loves fresh, organic, locally-sourced ingredients. Her Paella Valenciana, which has been on her menu since the bistro’s inception, may not resemble anything you’ve tasted this side of coastal Spain. The Pasta de la Casa is solid. She is a chef you would trust with trenette noodles and house made pesto and tarragon cream sauce, or with pistachio crusted rack of lamb, with smoky clams and chorizo or with a rib eye steak, and for good reason.
But Rodriguez’s style is not what you might call self-indulgent. So a plate of calamari frites isn’t the seething, oily mess you might get elsewhere in town. It is house-breaded, each piece lightly dusted and fried — proper. Fried chickpeas are crisp and sided nicely with chili lime tajin, and tend to be anything but anonymous in flavor.
On my last visit to Pimienta (which is Spanish for Peppercorn), one of my dinner companions called to say she would be running late. And while we waited for her, we ended up working through a big chunk of the menu, a course or two at a time.
There was smoked pork belly, a neat mound of herby smoked pork pâté with triangles of grilled brioche to spread it on, loosely packed ahi tuna poke with citrus lime drizzle, and brussel sprouts with cipollini onions cooked in — wait for it — duck fat! Delectable.
Somebody ordered quesos + prosciutto, local cheeses, prosciutto di parma with seasonal fruit, nuts and grilled bread. We had butternut squash ravioli in mascarpone sauce with grilled prawns. And panela frita, panko encrusted fresh Mexican cheese with a cilantro cream sauce.
We drank beer named things such as Claymore and Bluestar. Like kids we had a crayon tic-tac-toe duel on the paper covered tabletops. By the time our friend joined us — 60 minutes after we sat down — I realized that this not-quite meal was probably the most fun I’d ever had at Pimienta, nibbling instead of dining, allowing myself to delight in Rodriguez’s bright flavors rather than by her disdain for regional specificity. Pimienta isn’t a stuffy place that takes itself too seriously, and I’m glad it doesn’t, especially when there is crème brulee for dessert.
Pimienta Bistro and Bar is located at 34029 Hoyt road SW. For reservations, call 253-838-2398.
Federal Way resident Robert Colbert is a food and wine enthusiast.