First Look: Victor Albisu's Del Campo in Washington DC
Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
While still waiting for the long gestating Taco Bamba, chef Victor Albisu (formerly of BLT Steak) has opened up his South American inspired temple to all things grilled, Del Campo, in PS7's former space. With Del Campo, Albisu went back to his Peruvian heritage to create a menu where almost everything has touched the grill (including the cocktails). Even the bread is served with smoked olive oil.
The menu is split up into appetizers, crudos and ceviches, house specialties, and, the main event, asado. The smoky flavors are even incorporated into dishes like a charred beet salad or yellow tail topped with grilled corn. "I char everything that makes sense to char," says Albisu. "I grill meat, but I don't char it. I prefer to char vegetables. It gives them an interesting flavor and texture." said Albisu, who is careful to make the distinction between burnt and burned.
The real highlight though, is the asado board. Pick from roughly a dozen different cuts of meat and they are wood-grilled and herb-smoked to order. After grilling, the meats are immediately smoked with dry herbs to quickly infuse them with extra flavors. From short ribs to funky veal sweatbreads, the asado menu is a great window into a wide range of South American grilling.
Move over to the cocktail list and you'll find a handful of grilled libations. The Limonada Sucia ($10) is made with Tito's vodka, grilled lemon juice, applewood smoked simple syrup, and lavender bitters. The grilled lemon juice imparts the characteristic smokiness, transforming the flavor of the drink to something more like mezcal than vodka. The smoked simple syrup even smells like bacon. There are also a couple of bottled cocktails (check out the bottled Fernet and Coke).
The former PS7's space has been transformed to convey a sense of rustic South America and Albisu has made efforts to make the Del Campo experience as unintimidating as he can (the inclusion of a massive and messy Chivito sandwich helps). A highlight of the dining room is a kitchen-facing bar designed to draw diners into the experience (prix fixe asado menus will be available there soon). No matter where you sit though, it'll always smell like grilled, smoky meat and, if you've already made the choice to dine at Del Campo, you probably won't complain about that.
Click over to the slideshow for a sample of some of the grilled and charred dishes at Del Campo.