Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Pisco y Nazca Ceviche Gastrobar Food Review II

Kam Lu Wantan at Pisco y Nazca Ceviche Gastrobar

Sadly, the world is still being held hostage by COVID-19; but it's high time to get back to some sense of normalcy. In my case, that means returning to what I do best... eating. After months of home cooking and takeaway, I decided to visit one of my favorite restaurants in DC, Pisco y Nazca Ceviche Gastrobar. Their bustling patio along L Street, NW was literally calling yelling out my name; and who am I, to say no to the best Peruvian food in the DMV?

My previous visit (back in October of last year) resulted in one of our highest reviews of 2019, thanks to Executive Chef Pedro Lopez and his stellar team in the kitchen (not to mention, one of the most professional front of houses in the District.) Lopez left a few months ago, but his replacement (Juan Rivas) hasn't skipped a beat, continuing the Miami-based restaurant's storied history of delicious food & the finest Peruvian ingredients. For my most recent visit, Rivas has added a Chinese Cantonese fusion (known as Chifa) to their already impressive menu. Is it even better now? Let's find out.

Dinner opens as it always does for me. With a delicious non-alcoholic beverage and a small bowl of addictive cancha corn nuts. The latter are as crunchy and satisfyingly salty as ever, the perfect opening bite, that I eagerly washed down with a Passion Fruit Juice (a literal steal at just four bucks per generous glass.) Like its big brother (the Chica Morada) it sports house made syrup, with passion fruit puree and lots (and lots) of ice. And when the temperature is hovering around the century mark, you can't overemphasize the importance of copious amounts of ice. The drink goes beyond refreshing, and it's a miracle I only asked for one refill.

Complimentary cancha corn nuts

Minutes later (service is f-a-s-t) I received two starters. One old, one new. The former was an Empanada Mixta (Aji de Gallina, Carne, one each) alongside a whopping half dozen pork wontons (Wantan Frito, $8.50.) Both dishes exceeded expectations, beginning with the Wantan Frito, which could easily qualify as an entree. The wontons are super delicate (all the deep frying is, but still sturdy) and jam-packed with a pillowy soft pork filling. They're good enough to eat by themselves, but don't you dare miss the spicy sweet and sour sauce that accompanies them. Said sauce combines sweet and sour better than most, but with a volcano of spice that lingers (not overwhelms) for minutes after. So good!

Passion Fruit Juice

Almost as good as the empanadas. The aforementioned frying suits each interior perfectly. Both the chicken and skirt steak are impossibly moist, and bursting with flavor. The chicken features a rich rocoto pepper aioli with just a dash of hot Peruvian yellow chili pepper. Meanwhile, the steak is surrounded by more peppers, onions and oyster sauce. Unlike most empanadas, there's no crunch (or greasiness.) It's almost as if they come with a built-in dipping sauce. I absolutely loved 'em.

Wantan Frito

If I could levy one (minor) complaint, I'd point out the massive portion sizes (at least if you're eating by yourself.) Two starters (and a mouth-watering Leche de Tigre Shot, only $3) can stuff you, especially if you're not pacing yourself. I always seem to forget just how big enormous the entrees are here. The Kam Lu Wantan is no exception, despite it's attractive price point ($20.) You could easily feed two, with another four pork wontons, fried chicken bites and plump shrimp, mixed with a handful of hot pineapple chunks. It's served piping hot, alongside a neatly stacked nest of white Chaufa rice. I found the rice a tad bitter, but the meat was sensational. Even better, when my (fantastic) server Alex brought me a bowl of extra pineapples, after I mentioned how much I liked them. Greatness is found in the small details, and certainly wasn't lost on me. As for the pineapples, they added just the right amount of sweetness (although I'd prefer them cold. This was one of the hottest plates of food I've had in a long time.) Best on the plate? The super crispy chunks of chicken (followed closely by my surplus pineapple.)

Empanadas Mixta

This marriage of Chinese & Peruvian cuisine is very popular back home, as Chef Juan enthusiastically mentioned after dinner... but before dessert. As most of you know, I love dessert, even when I'm popping at the seams. My last visit featured a lavishly presented Chocolate Dome, which I heartily recommend to any first-time diners. But me? I like to try a little of this, and a little of that. I promised to return and try their Arroz Con Leche Cheesecake, and I'm glad I did. Sweet, it's not, save for a delectable dollop of real whipped cream. As far as desserts go, I'd almost call this one savory (in a good way.) It's lush, sure, but the addition of a quinoa crunch at the bottom is equal parts creative and yummy. Ditto for the Con Leche custard that literally melts in your mouth. Thankfully, it's not too big, but it's still a great value at $8.50. Come to think of it, there's great value across the board (even with the ceviches, which are HUGE.)

Leche de Tigre Shot

Arroz Con Leche Cheesecake

Final thoughts? Pisco y Nazca remains my favorite Peruvian restaurant. The food & service are great, and they've gone over backwards to ensure your safety dining in, which, let's face it, beats the you-know-what out of carryout. Of course, it's not perfect (masks are here for the foreseeable future) but the staff manages to stay out of your way, without a single noticeable drop in quality. Delicious and safe? Count me in.