Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Pisco y Nazca Ceviche Gastrobar Food Review

Lomo Saltado at Pisco y Nazca Ceviche Gastrobar

I've always fancied myself as a bit of a world traveler; but to this day, I've never been to Peru. I've been close (Brazil) but last week's visit to Pisco y Nazca Ceviche Gastrobar gave me a taste of what I've been missing... in addition to jettisoning to the top of my ever-changing bucket list.

You can thank Executive Chef Pedro Lopez for my sudden change of heart. Sure, I've had Peruvian chicken (at multiple locations throughout the DMV.) Many times, in fact, and I like (most of) the flavors. But Chef Pedro's menu transcends what I thought was Peruvian cooking. Addictive beverages (Chica Morada) succulent entrees, and a pair of starters that easily crack our (unannounced) top 10 bites of the year. And I haven't even mentioned dessert yet. Needless to say, I'm calling my travel agent as soon as I finish this review. Or better yet, how about a return trip to the best Peruvian restaurant in the nation's capital?

Normally, I'd kick off with comments on the atmosphere, design and service; but I ate a tremendous amount of food last Wednesday, and want to write about all of it. Suffice it to say, Pisco y Nazca checks all of the above boxes, especially the latter. The staff literally bends over backwards to make sure you remember this meal for a long, long time. This means numerous visits (and recommendations) from a friendly server (Yousef) to runners a-plenty, ensuring food is delivered nice & cold or piping hot (depending on what you order.) Managers keep a watchful eye on the humming dining room, and even Chef Pedro stops by (at different tables, multiple times) to make sure everything is to your liking.

Tacu Seco de Cordero

It's hard not to like love what Chef is promoting... with unrivaled pride, I might add. Our first exchange began with an enthusiastic declaration that almost everything on the menu came straight from Peru. Lopez's homeland is a matter of great honor. A lot of top chefs talk up their ingredients, but I've never met anyone who shows them off with such conviction and joy. I was salivating from the word GO, and I'd only had a few cancha corn nuts to nibble on. The aforementioned opening bites are complimentary, and addictive if you're not careful.

Causa Sampler

Ditto for Peru's signature non-alcoholic beverage, the Chica Morada, a delectable blend of apples, cinnamon, pineapple, purple corn, and sugar, on the rocks. It's unlike any other drink I've had in a while... one, I'm determined to try and replicate this weekend (wish me luck.) From there, it's on to as varied a lunch as you'll likely find in the Golden Triangle. My friend Alex (a local restauranteur, who knows his stuff) couldn't stop gushing about the Conchitas a la Parmesana, a creamy mix of scallops, garlic chips (for crunch) and lime, smothered in a crusty parmesan cheese sauce. Boy, was he right. They're also beautiful to look at (open scallop shells) and topped off with individual wedges of crispy ciabatta bread. Nice and gooey, with bigger-than-average scallops tucked inside. It's the priciest starter ($15.50) on the menu, but well worth it... especially if you love cheese.

Conchitas a la Parmesana

Although technically not a starter, it would be a crime to not order at least one ceviche. We received a trio of choices, but I immediately singled out the Passion Fruit as mine (and only mine!) It's shrimp, plump choclo (corn) and a few cancha nuts, atop the most amazing Passion Fruit Leche de Tigre sauce in the world, which goes down the hatch like a chilled soup (yes, I emptied the cup.) Portions are generous, and it ended up as my second favorite dish of the day, second only to...

Passion Fruit Ceviche

Causa Crocante. Remember the name. It's basically a cold whipped potato, with a panko fried shrimp (plump, juicy) and zesty rocoto aioli. It's only 11 bucks (I'm getting two next time) and it's literally the perfect mix of hot & cold. Terrific texture too (creamy & crunchy) with loads of bite. It comes with chicken salad and tuna as well, but I was fixated on the shrimp, and it proved to be the best decision I've made in weeks.

Entrees are exciting but BIG, so be careful. Especially if you loaded up on starters beforehand. I opted for the Lomo Saltado ($27.50) which features all kinds of goodies, starting with superbly seasoned beef tenderloin, stir-fried in rich oyster and soy sauces, with diced onions and tomatoes, and a starch double header (french fries and rice.) My beef was a little chewy, and looking back, chicken probably marries better with those fish sauces, and costs almost 10 dollars less.

Meat lovers should opt for the Tacu Seco de Cordero, a lusciously braised lamb chop that literally falls off the bone, swimming in a yummy cilantro sauce with spicy ají amarillo paste and carrots & peas for good measure. The shank sits atop an almost burger-like vegetable pattie, which was creative, but ultimately disappointing. Rice might be a better option, but then again, I was already stuffed at this point. Still, for only $25, a lamb shank this big, flavorful and tender, is a steal.

Chocolate Dome

Before we get to dessert (yes, I found room, don't ask how) I'd like to mention the bustling open kitchen in the back, which adds an additional buzz to an already energetic room. All that energy comes at a cost however, as it gets plenty loud with a full house. On the plus side, all that noise covered up at least half a dozen audible oohs and aahs from yours truly.

Pionono a la Mode

As for the sweets, I was instructed (by a lot of people) to try the Chocolate Dome, which comes with a fancy presentation I failed to record (shame on me.) I'm sure you can find it online somewhere, but it's worth ordering, just to see it in person. It's a lot of dark chocolate (not necessarily my thing) but I loved, loved, loved the sweet potato custard that surrounds it. Bonus points for creativity (sweet potato!) and the aforementioned presentation.

Chica Morada

An even better choice (in my humble opinion) is Pionono a la Mode, a duo of jelly cakes (minus the jelly) stuffed with dulce de leche and Nutella respectively, and drizzled with caramel sauce and a scoop of Kahlúa ice cream (yum.) It's only 10 bucks (3 less than the Chocolate Dome) and tastier too. The Nutella is a little strong, but the former caramel-colored Latin American favorite is spot-on perfection. They have a similarly adorned cheesecake too (Arroz con Leche) that I have circled in my notebook for next time.

Front entrance & patio

It goes without saying, I'll have a myriad of choices for my next visit (hopefully soon.) The former tenants (Mackey's Public House) had an almost 20-year run before moving further downtown (and eventually closing.) Something tells me, Pisco y Nazca is going to be around for even longer. The patio's great for happy hour/people watching, and the food (as I think I've demonstrated) is almost without equal. Sounds like a winner to me.