Falling in Love with Peru All Over Again: Seven Signs the Culinary Trend is Here to Stay with Ocopa, the Peruvian Brothers and China Chilcano – Et Voila! Hides in Plain Sight – Elizabeth’s Gone Raw: Elegant Vegan Dining – Mosaic District Adds Gourmet-To-Go Spot with Mom & Pop’s – Blackwall Hitch Sails Into Old Town
Follow the Signs to Peru
Peru is floating around in the ethosphere of my mind. And though it’s been a dog’s age (use your seven times multiplication tables here) since I have visited, I still have haunting memories of its power and mystique. The lure for many seekers is the cosmic center of Machu Picchu, and it was for me too. So in 1972 I took the train from Cuzco to the summit where I became inexplicably drawn to its highest peak, Mt. Huayna Picchu. This craggy peak, seen in the distance of most postcard images of Machu Picchu, lured me like a siren and I scrambled along on a foot-wide path to get to the top – a mission better undertaken by a seasoned mountain climber or sure-footed llama. When the fog closed in and barely three feet in front of me was visible, I tried to turn back. Suffice it to say, I am here to tell the tale. The rest is forgettable as there were a handful of local leaves involved in this ridiculous stunt.
Back in Lima I had a more memorable experience at a restaurant, then notable as one of the world’s finest. I doubt it’s there now. This was the early 70s. I want to say it was The Golden Door, in Spanish of course, but it’s been too long and I was a college student crisscrossing South America with my mother.
The restaurant was housed in a grand Colonial-era building and boasted a lavishly appointed dining room. Gentlemen arrived in three-piece suits and ladies sported silk dresses and matching hats some even wore kid gloves. Tables were set with amber-hued goblets and linens were the color of summer wheat. Three waiters attended each table and dishes arrived under silver domes. I remember vividly the sunlight pouring in from heavily draped Palladian windows and the sense that my mother was fulfilling a dream in this elegant watering hole.
From the ethereal to the earthly, we left the capitol and the leaf vendors and flew to Iquitos, a dirty town that skirts the headwaters of the Amazon. Along with a trio of journalists from Paris-Match we climbed aboard a palm-thatched ferry that churned up mud as we chugged along the river as gasoline fumes wafted up from a rickety motor. After awhile a small dock came into view and we continued our journey via a series of dugout canoes crossing small streams and hiking overland on slippery, vine-draped islets. It was the rainy season and invisible, stinging insects slowed our progress (I am purposefully leaving out all talk of snakes).
After several hours we reached a cluster of mud huts and a local tribe with ink black hair and broad coffee-colored faces, painted bright red from the juice of local berries, came out of the brush to greet us. A few tribal dances were performed and gifts were exchanged. Nowadays these encounters are well organized for tourists, but I imagine the bugs and mud still prevail. For me, it was an early and fascinating introduction to Peru’s culture and cuisine.
Here’s why I feel the compass needle is currently pointing toward Peru.
- In a break from past programs that featured several countries and select U. S. states, this year the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival chose a single country – Peru – and featured its customs, cuisine, dance and indigenous culture.
- The National Museum of the American Indian has opened the intriguing “The Great Inka Road” exhibition. See June’s column for more info.
- A few days before the Folk Life Festival kicked off, Peruvian Ambassador Luis Miguel Castilla threw a posh party at the residence featuring Peru’s internationally known fashion designers, complete with catwalk, DJ, and unique creations from the country’s youngest designers, students at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
Delicious Peruvian cuisine and cocktails pleased the guests – – traditional asado from Del Campo, snacks from the Peruvian Brothers, pisco cocktails made from La Diablada pisco from Machu Pisco, tejas and chocotejasfrom Helena Chocolatier, tacos from Taco Bamba; and delectable seviches and potato dishes from P.A.C.H.A., the Peruvian American Chefs Association. Tidbit: There are over 3,800 types of potatoes grown in Peru.
- Recently we embarked on a six-course journey into the tastes of Peru at Ocopa in DC where Lima-born chef Carlos Delgado pairs pisco-centric cocktails and South American wines to each course. Delgado, who has cooked at Boveda and The Caucus Room Brasserie, prepares the dishes in full view of the countertop stools for a riveting evening of food and entertainment.
Delgado, who sports a colorful tattoo of asparagus on his forearm (he says it reminds him that all asparagus grown in Peru is exported, and so is he), loves the informality of his tasting nights, and he encourages questions about his dishes and the unusual chifa ingredients which are a blend of Chinese and Peruvian cuisines.
We watch as he employs a wide range of techniques, from foams and slow braising to the char of a fiery, coal-fired grill. And when the menu lists ingredients like yuzu, leche de tigre, rocoto, kiwicha, huacho and olluquito, there are bound to be questions, not least of all the meaning of the restaurant’s name. We ask. Ocopa is a traditional sauce prepared with milk, peppers and black mint.
After dinner there’s an all-weather patio with retractable roof and a 12-seat tiki bar in back. It’s the closest you’ll feel to sitting in a street bar in Lima.
Be sure to try one of his Peruvian ice creams. Delgado is one of the masterminds behind the CreamCycle gourmet ice cream sandwich bicycles. Ocopa is at 1324 H Street, NE, Washington, DC. For information about the tasting nights and the Saturday and Sunday brunch menus visit www.OcopaDC.com.
- Most quinoa is grown in the Andes Mountains of Peru and quinoa is being incorporated into everything from cereal to frozen foods. The United Nations named 2013 the Year of Quinoa. NASA plans to take the super-food into space and global import has increased 18-fold in the past decade.
- Earlier this year über chef, José Andrés, opened China Chilcano a restaurant that also embraces chifa, the mix of Cantonese and Peruvian ingredients that form the cuisine of both cultures including Japanese and Criollo flavors.
- Launched in 2013 the Peruvian Brothers Food Truck, created by Giuseppe Lanzone and Mario Lanzone, has been voted “Best Food Truck” by many local publications and they were the featured food at the Folk Life Festival. But you don’t need to go by me – the lines snake around the block every day. Follow their locations on Twitter @PeruBrothers.Stuffed Avocado from the Peruvian Brothers
I rest my case…
Et Voila! – A Neighborhood Favorite
Stroll along a tree-lined street in the Palisades neighborhood to a cluster of outdoor umbrellas to arrive at Et Voila! – – a neighborhood staple of Belgian French bistro fare that has been providing Francophiles with moules, steak frites, foie gras, and a distinguished selection of wines, Belgian beers, and aperitifs.
As tiny as it is, the MacArthur Boulevard restaurant has its own Pastry Chef, Alex Malaise, who brings whimsy to the ever-evolving dessert menu. Recently I enjoyed his Pineapple Shortcake – a marvel of orange blossom syrup-soaked brioche swooped with orange blossom crème diplomate. Gilding the lily was a foam of advocaat liqueur, a single tuile and house made vanilla ice cream. Malaise also takes on Oeufs a la Neige, commonly known as Floating Island, a complex French dessert involving soft meringues atop crème Anglaise. Drizzled with melted caramel sauce it’s a labor-intensive treat my Danish grandmother made for special occasions.
This summer he has turned his attention to popsicles made with fresh fruit and juices. Although flavors fluctuate with the season, some of the earlier choices have been Raspberry & Blueberry with sorbet almond milk and popping candy (remember Pop Rocks?), Pineapple & Coconut with passion fruit glaze and shredded coconut, and Chocolate Nutella with crushed hazelnut from the Piemonte region. Stroll in and try one. www.EtVoilaDC.com
Raw Food Dining is Decidedly Upscale at Elizabeth’s
Climb the broad steps of this stunning L Street townhouse, smack dab in the middle of downtown DC, and you enter a realm of calm and elegance – – a world where the service is superb, the décor as chic as Marjorie Merriwether Post’s Hillwood, and the food is raw and vegan. Phil Heyser, a certified sommelier oversees the impressive wine and cocktail program which includes dreaming up delicious concoctions of raw juices mixed with fine spirits.
I came upon the place a few weeks earlier at a press luncheon for the Viceroy Bali, an exclusive Thai resort hotel and spa overlooking the Valley of Kings in central Bali. The hotel had sent its Executive Chef Nic Vanderbeeken to showcase his exotic cuisine to a few select journalists with a four-course meal that began with the country’s national dish, Sop Bobor, a soup of spinach and young coconut and ended with a parfait made with the native calamansi fruit.
The dining room, is a vast two-level space adorned with large porcelain vases set in niches, old tapestries, oil portraits and gold ormolu mirrors lit with bronze sconces and crystal chandeliers. A heavenly midnight blue ceiling contrasts with salmon-hued walls to cast a romantic glow over the entire room. Start with cocktails at the onyx bar on the first floor.
On Friday evenings the bespoke room converts into a reservations-only restaurant. Owner and caterer, Elizabeth Petty of The Catering Company of Washington is passionate about organic, particularly raw-vegan – – a concept that got a lot of traction from the late chef Charlie Trotter in his 2003 cookbook, Raw. Admittedly the concept doesn’t appeal to everyone (I’d prefer to see carpaccio and seviche included in a raw menu), but the delicate and very creative handling of the ingredients here is inspiring.
Here’s the menu from the evening I dined there. Note Heyser’s distinguished wine pairings.
AMUSE – Parsnip & Chamomile Flan – rosemary crisp
2014 Alphonse Mellot “La Moussiére” Rose, Sancerre, France
STARTER – Yellow Watermelon Soup – French vanilla butter pear, cashew yogurt, lemon zest, honeydew melon
2013 Red Tail Ridge Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York
APPETIZER – Black Seaweed Caviar – red wine cracker, coconut crème, black garlic sauce, horseradish ginger, green apple foam
2007 Gramona “Imperial” Gran Reserva, Penedes, Spain
INTERMEZZO – Red Pepper Sorbet with a drizzle of black cardamom oil
ENTRÉE – Turmeric Saffron Risotto – green pea-mint purée, truffle crème, jasmine candy baby beets
2011 Carrick “Unravelled” Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand
SWEET – Bing Cherry Curd – chocolate marquise, meyer lemon crème, strawberry sauce
2006 Hall Merlot, Napa Valley, California
Reservations only. (202) 347-8040.
Mom & Pop’s at the Mosaic District
A new spot in Fairfax’s Mosaic District is Mom & Pop’s. It’s the latest venture from Robb Duncan and his wife,Violeta Edelman, co-owners of Dolcezza Gelato & Coffee. This snazzy fast casual spot nestled beside Strawberry Park, has joined forces with a variety of local DC artisans like Nathan Anda of Red Apron Butchery, to offer sandwiches and tasty snacks including Dolcezza’s seasonal gelato and push pops. Stumptown roasts the coffee and morning pastries are by, Paisley Fig at Room 11 in Columbia Heights.
As Robb explains, “The name Mom & Pop resonates with us on many levels. First, we are mom and pop at home with our two little girls, and we have always been a mom and pop to all the folks who come and work with us at Dolcezza. Second, the term ‘mom and pop’ has this homemade, family business feel to it, which obviously jives with us.”
Popular sandwiches are the Grilled Cheese with Red Apron’s spicy smoked pimento cheese; or the Smoked Chicken Salad with cranberries, celery, smoked mayo, sour cream, onions and parsley. The Roast Beef has Calabrian aioli, arugula and pickled fennel. Several quiches will rotate according to the season.
If you’re going to the Angelika Theatre, a stone’s throw away, you might drop by for a quick snack before or after the show. Try marinated olives, sundried Tomatoes, or marinated artichokes paired with smoked almonds and Spanish chorizo. Choose from local sodas or a limited selection of beer, wine, and Prosecco, all available on tap.
Blackwall Hitch Sails Into Old Town
The dreary food court along Old Town Alexandria’s waterfront has been replaced with a spectacularly designed space that takes in a sweeping view of the Potomac River. The chic nautical design of Blackwall Hitch has seriously ramped up the style factor in stuffy Old Town. This gorgeous restaurant with its five bars, lounge area, private dining spaces and front and rear outdoor dining introduces a new gold standard for lower King Street.
Turquoise goblets, antique chairs and black leather sofas combine with rustic wood accents and a soaring iron stairway that takes you up to the second level and the Crow’s Nest bar. And when the weather turns chilly you can cozy up to the outdoor fire pit.
I’ve eaten there three times and I have to give the food a mixed review. The higher priced entrees did not impress, nor did the desserts, a raw dough apple dumpling made with flaky pastry and served with vanilla ice cream was disappointing, but the casual food was spot on, if a bit spare with the portions. Stick to salads, the antipasto salad was delicious, though not terribly creative; burgers, big and juicy with the best sweet potato fries ever; and a ceviche, tingling with citrus and fresh seafood and served in an avocado. Michael Wagner is the Executive Chef, a Culinary Institute of America grad who gained experience in fine dining and large restaurants which will will prove crucial for serving the 315-seat space with outdoor seating for 105.
Still I loved the place and plan on returning for the cocktails, freshly shucked oysters, the view, the live music, and a casual bite or two.
Photo credit: Jordan Wright