Blagden Alley’s highly anticipated Peruvian project opens its doors this week with a menu full of scintillating ceviches, shared plates and more than pisco sours to drink.
Cause celebrates the wealth of ingredients, culinary influences and topographies of the South American country in an imposing two-level building nestled in Shaw (920 Blagden Alley NW). The more laid-back upper floor — coined Bar Amazonia — debuts Wednesday, May 4, with a bar, 50-seat patio, lounge, and lush look. The first gourmet tier will go live later this month with a tasting menu format only.
Led by Peruvian-born chef and co-owner Carlos Delgado, the ambitious menu pays homage to Peru’s three main geographic regions: the seafood-rich Pacific coast, where its capital, Lima, resides; the dense Amazon rainforest; and the high Andes. Industry veterans and Service Bar owners Chad Spangler and Glendon Hartley round out the partnership with Causa.
A sleek, minimalist backdrop on the first floor sets the stage for an $85 per person six-course menu that marries elements from the coast and the Andes mountains. A sparkling open kitchen will send up a rotating selection of seasonal and freshly caught fish, with dishes that can change daily.
“It’s a menu where I take you through the flavors as if you were to travel through these regions,” says Delgado.
Seafood on display behind a counter of frozen ceviche will be prepared both raw and fire-grilled. Delgado also plans to sprinkle a few little surprise bites on the tasting menu. Wine and pisco pairings are also available.
The opening menu is also populated with plenty of charcoal-grilled meat, seafood, and vegetable skewers, as well as rocoto peppers and huacatay (Peruvian black mint). Causa’s namesake also makes expected appearances. The iconic Peruvian staple includes a variation of yellow potatoes, olive oil, aji amarillo and a protein like tuna. The dish reflects the diversity of Peruvian cuisine, “and [Causa] also means ‘friend’ or ‘pal’ in Peruvian slang,” says Spangler.
The upper level is the “more fun and adventurous” counterpart, Spangler says. The a la carte menu takes diners on a tour of Peru’s Amazon rainforest with snacks, anticuchos (meat skewers), hot and cold shared plates, and leafy jungle-themed decor. Book a seat at Bar Amazonia via Resy Wednesday to Sunday (5 p.m. to midnight). The fixed price tier below will soon start accepting reservations.
The bar area opens onto a sunny rooftop terrace with walk-in bar access. Beyond is an intimate living room and dining room filled with hunter-green sofas and dark-wood furniture, all overseen by intricate floor-to-ceiling animal murals by a Peruvian graphic designer.
Delgado offers street food like chunks of maduritos (fried sweet plantains) topped with fatty pork and covered in cheese, and lagarto (alligator) croquettes laced with turmeric and cilantro. He also cooks up playful dishes on Peruvian favorites like a patarascha, a jungle dish of grilled fish served in plantain leaves. The same leaves hide under crunchy patacones (fried green plantains).
“This restaurant is all I learned and a memory of my life’s experiences. I want to show what’s really happening culinary-wise in Peru right now,” Delgado, a Lima native and longtime executive chef of China Chilcano, José Andrés’ Peruvian mainstay, tells Penn Quarter.
Peru’s hearty Criollo cuisine weaves together Spanish, West African and indigenous elements, while later waves of East Asian immigrants contributed to the rise of Japanese-influenced Chinese-style Nikkei and chifa dishes. .
“We want to teach people about Peruvian cuisine and history through our meals,” says Delgado.
The team sources as much as possible from Peru, especially the less perishable ingredients. Other items, like the alligator, come from Florida.
Drinks pump up the Peruvian party.
“Like Carlos does with his food, we want to showcase Peru’s biodiversity and geo-diversity through our cocktails,” says Hartley, who oversees the bar and beverage programs.
To that end, Bar Amazonia’s menu includes a next-level gin and tonic made with native Peruvian cinchona bark – the main ingredient in tonic water – as well as hierba luisa tea with lemongrass and smoke. aromatic of burnt palo santo wood. Other Amazonian cocktails lean into bold, fruity ingredients like cocoa, banana, and chili, as well as Peruvian “mission” grapes. Hartley creates a section dedicated to pisco-based elixirs but notes that Peruvian drinks “are more than pisco sour”.
Drink options on the lower tier will be more complex and subtle, and may include ingredients like yuyo (seaweed).
Causa’s extensive pisco collection hopes to one day “be the largest in North America,” Hartley says, with around 100 bottles to start. He and Spangler will host pisco lessons and offer tastings of the beloved national spirit.
The roots of the project date back to 2012, when Hartley and Delgado helped open Peruvian restaurant Ocopa on H Street NE. As Delgado departed for China Chilcano, Hartley and Spangler turned their attention to growing Shaw’s Service Bar into one of the hippest cocktail bars in town.
The brick-lined address of Causa was once supposed to house Village Whiskey, a gourmet burger bar by Philadelphia restaurateur Jose Garces, but its bankruptcy filing bothered. The trio were introduced to the newly available building in 2018, but the pandemic and other related delays pushed back Causa’s initial timeline.
Causa is filled with an impressive assortment of colorful decorations, artwork and accessories straight from Peruvian markets and street shops. Peru-based design team Exebio came up with the entire look.
“Peru has experiential gourmet restaurants [like this]“, explains Delgado, “and we want to show here what has never been seen before.