A speak-easy where it's still easy to speak
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
It seems everyone wants a swell restaurant that doesn’t cost a lot, a place with space for flocks of diners but also with sound levels that don’t rival power mowers. Few such spots exist. If the kitchen delivers the goods, people are expected to follow and make merry, right?
Boveda sports the kind of good looks sought out by after-hours worker bees and bachelorette parties alike. Never mind that the cavernous “Latin speak-easy,” which opened in September but remains something of a secret, is tucked inside the Westin Georgetown. Veteran Washington restaurateur Larry Work has created an inviting interior from stone, wood and burnt-orange hues that can be whatever a visitor wants it to be: party venue, neighborhood bar, lounge (with nests of chairs on wheels) or intimate dining space (thanks to some broad booths, separated by screens, hugging the wall).
Boveda means “vault” in Spanish, a detail reflected in the ceiling fashioned from reclaimed wood that peaks at 20 feet. A short hall lined with additional booths connects the Latin American concept to another idea from Work, the beefier Caucus Room; customers sitting in this stretch can order from both menus.
The potent pisco sour and flounder seviche at Boveda whisk me to Peru, so I’m not surprised to learn that its chef, Carlos Delgado, hails from Lima. The former executive chef at Smith Commons in the District and a onetime line cook at Volt in Frederick, Delgado is a mere 22 years old but already shows plenty of flair for the food he says he grew up learning to make under the eye of his grandmother back home.
My favorite strategy involves a plank of tacos to start and a cake of potatoes and crab to follow. Delgado isn’t making his own (corn) tortillas — yet — but shredded pork pumped up with orange, jalapeno and cilantro makes a rousing topping for the pliant wrappers. As for that savory cake, once you’ve had potatoes mashed with aji peppers, lemon and lime zest, spread with a cover of crab, mayonnaise and more aji peppers, another round is what you’ll want.
Pampering is not a strong point at Boveda, where, even on a slow night, diners could nod off waiting to catch a server’s eye for more drinks or to get the bill. Delgado’s small plates and big flavors deserve better. So does the setting. Bring on a crowd!