Image: Skewers from Causa
Last Updated: November 2022
Current Status: They are both open for dine-in service. Tasting menu only at Causa.
Chef Carlos Delgado is doing something special in these paired spots. Causa is a tasting menu restaurant on the first floor. Upstairs is Bar Amazonia that does shareable plate options centered around a bar that faces both inside and out. The food is Peruvian, but not just in the sense that it draws on the cuisine of the people of Peru, but also in the sense that it draws on Peru’s land for inspiration.
To say Causa feels personal is an understatement. In both vision and execution it is clearly the work of Chef Delgado. This is his place. These are his dishes. He is not just serving you food he is sharing his country. Dishes may include herbs not generally found elsewhere, like the thin leafed huacatay. It may include a dish that uses a cousin of the cocoa bean, macambo, that he claims is not used in a dish by another restaurant in the United States. He is willing to take chances, like doing a frozen crumble version of leche de tigre over the kanpachi cebiche. Be prepared for a little adventure, but also trust you are in the hands of someone who can make it work and understands that in the end the food has to taste good. The two best bites were a paired set of skewers, with one holding a delicate piece of salmon belly and the other beef. Both with a mild sauce built around the rocoto pepper that slightly accented the rolling delicious flavor in the fraction of an ounce of meat.
The menu has multiple options to do upgrades, including a whole fish with one portion cooked and the other served as cebiche (which is probably overkill for two, but looked to work for a nearby table of four).
We did do the beverage pairings, which reflected much thought. It included a surprisingly restrained Côte Rôtie and a California skin contact blend, as well as a cider from Virginia. They also offer a pisco sampling. If you don’t go the pairing route there are two to three options under sparkling, white, orange/rose, and red. The bottle list is not deep and leans on France to supplement the South American choices. Prices, however, are more than reasonable. Sharing the address with the bar upstairs gives the advantage for pisco and cocktail options.
Given the ambition and creativity, whatever we had in the fall of 2022 may not be on the menu when you go – other than the opening bite of classic causa. But we have no doubt the bounty of ideas and commitment to showcasing what food from Peru and Peruvian cuisine can do will not dissipate.
As you enter the building, the welcoming space is cramped. It may be overrun by those waiting to get into the bar upstairs. But that momentary traffic jam is quickly forgotten. Causa’s space runs long, after you enter through a partly decorated glass door that gives you a peak into the other side. Bar then kitchen occupy one side, tables along the other. There is an air of pretension as you begin, starting with a notice that you will be seated as soon as the chef is notified of your arrival and is ready to start (the couple after us was diverted upstairs for a complimentary drink while the prior table was wrapping up). But the initial posture relaxes in an open space with a preserved industrial element and no tablecloths. It is a bit cramped and far from stuffy, with the successive waves of servers dropping and explaining dishes adding some hustle and bustle to the ambiance. One of those visiting the table will almost certainly be the chef, who adds a finishing touch – and commentary – to some of the dishes.
The food here comes from the same kitchen as downstairs, but Delgado came up with almost a whole new menu from scratch. Starches take center stage at first, whether yuca, plantain, or potato. Yucas rellanas, is a fritter-like construction with a crisped exterior and meat interior that somehow manages to be somewhat delicate. Madurito is a crowd pleaser with plantains, meat and cheese that scratches the same primal spot in the brain as nachos but must be enjoyed bite by bite due to its density. Causa norteña is a layer of the classic whipped potatoes, but with mound of vinegary onions in red sauce on top and the mild flavor of the shrimp to cut through.
Some dishes reflect the multi-cultural aspect of Peru. Bay scallops with parmesan are exactly that. Chaufa putamayo is a Peruvian take on fried rice with sausage, reflecting the huge impact the Chinese immigrants had on the country’s cuisine, it has bits of egg and sausage that resembles its Asian counterparts, but a little fluffier rice keeps it from being too heavy. The menu goes on, including expected dishes like skewers, cebiche, bomba rice, lomo saltado. We could also go on in our admiration, but hopefully you get the sense that each dish is prepared with care, is creative and deeply satisfying.
Like the food, the cocktail menu is not just slinging standards. They tilt toward tropical flavors and Peruvian spirits as the base. Of course, there is a pisco sour. At the top of the menu is a spritz that can change with the seasons. Other beverages, including wine and non-alcoholic choices are also available. There is a sense that more than just a shared kitchen is leveraged to support both upstairs and downstairs, with food and a longer wine list elevating the bar and cocktails and spirits enlivening the tasting menu below.
The deck is destined to be one of the great outdoor spaces in D.C. It faces the bar, with stools on one side and is open to the larger Shaw skyline on two of the other sides. Reservations recommended. Our last visit was a warm, clear autumn night, so we are waiting to see how it is used through the winter.
Gift Cards – House accounts that can also be redeemed at Service Bar.
Cuisine: South American (Peruvian)
Neighborhood: Mt. Vernon/Convention Center
Address: 920 Blagden Alley NW, Washington, DC 20001
Reservations: Resy on Website
Washington Post: Tom’s review was very positive. Tom’s review of Ocopa in 2014 when Delgado was the chef was lauding.
Washingtonian: Preview focused on Bar Amazonia
DonRockwell.com – no thread yet, but the old thread on Ocopa saw the rising talent.
Washington City Paper: Laura Hayes did the backstory before the story took a few twists. Nevin Martell did a first impression soon after Bar Amazonia opened.