When Pio Pio, Sipan’s successor, opened its doors a few months back, chicken lovers of the UWS rejoiced. This popular New York chain has something of a cult following, built on its reputation for brilliant roast chicken. Unfortunately, the UWS outlet, at least—owned and operated by the same crew that had run Sipan—leaves quite a lot to be desired. Pio Pio seems to have inherited all of Sipan’s flaws—an acoustically challenged dining room so loud that even when it is half full, one has to yell to be heard, slow service, and mostly mediocre food—but not Sipan's graciously appointed space.
My SO and I tried Pio Pio for any early (5:30) dinner on Sunday night. There is some basis to the reputation: the chicken is good—but it is no better than, say, Flor de Mayo or Gabriella’s, and everything else was much worse, almost comically bad.
We started with the cebiche limeno and blue corn tamales, a holdover from the old, Sipan menu. Conceptually, the tamales were good (smoky blue corn meal wrapped, Peruvian style, in banana leaves instead of corn husks), but the execution was just fair, meagerly filled with tough, rubbery chicken. The cebiche was entirely disappointing, the whitefish was “fishy” (clearly less than fresh) and cut in too large of chunks to marinate thoroughly. It was so bad I couldn’t eat more than a few bites.
For our entrees, my SO had a half chicken with sides of French fries and avocado slices, and I ordered the white fish with asparagus, over mashed potatoes. I say ordered and not “had” because my dish didn’t actually come. The waiter tried to serve me a camarones plate, and after I politely pointed out that I hadn’t ordered shrimp, he sighed deeply, ambled back to the kitchen and didn’t come back to our table again for another 30 minutes when, despite his best efforts to wait, my SO had already finished his entrée. It didn’t seem to be an isolated incident: The table right next to ours had the exact same problem. Eventually, at the end of my SO’s meal, I tried to cancel my order, but the waiter refused, saying that it was almost ready. It took another fifteen minutes to come.
I ended up having it wrapped to take home, but I’m not sure I should’ve bothered. The fish was—again—distinctly non-fresh and overcooked, the mashed potatoes as gummy as half-dried Elmer’s glue. The yellowish sauce that smothered the plate tasted of flour and hot peppers, but not much else.
Though the owners are the same and the space substantially similar, Pio Pio has removed all of the classier elements of the Sipan dining room and added far more tables. Gone is the giant mirror that overhung the room, replaced by a clashing, unaesthetic combination of a dark wood Virgin Mary surrounded by thirty or so gaudy images of children. Gone is the soothing green wood, painted over with a too-quickly applied streaky yellow that does almost nothing to disguise the underlying green color. Tables are so close together that one cannot pull out one’s chair far enough to sit comfortably.
To be fair, the restaurant does have redeeming qualities. First, there's the chicken, moist and full-flavored, served with beautiful, ripe avocado (and less impressive hard, winter tomatoes). Second, there's the tasty, though oversalty, creamy green aji, similar to green mojo served in the Canary Islands. And finally, there are the better-than-average sangrias, adult drinks as they ought to be and not just fruit juice. (No mention of the (in)famous pisco sours on the menu.) If these three things are all one cares about, one will be very happy here. But for the price tag (more than $70 with tip for the food and two drinks), which would have purchased three good meals for two at Flor de Mayo and charming, efficient service, I am sorely disappointed.