By Rina Rapuano
Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011
When Ricardo Bopp arrived from Chile 15 years ago, he continued his career in construction. But Bopp, 52, tells a sad story of a business deal gone bad, alleging he was the victim of a fraud that cost him his home and the majority of his savings.
He and his wife were tempted to take their twin 4-year-old girls back to Chile, but the Bopps decided to give it another try, using the last of their savings to open a restaurant in Columbia Heights earlier this year. Bopp says they have a strong concept: serving Chilean food, which is decidedly scarce in this area, with an emphasis on freshness. "Here, nothing is frozen," he says with pride. "When we run out of food, we close the door."
Bopp's wife, Daniela, makes the empanadas de pino ($4.75 each) every day at 6 a.m. Stuffed with rich marinated beef, hard-cooked egg, olives and onions, this large, baked hand pie is an ideal takeaway snack. The empanadas de queso ($5.99 for five) are smaller and fried, the two-bite wonders benefiting from a dip in the pebre (akin to pico de gallo) that comes on the side.
Hot dogs may be all-American, but Chile has its own versions. We tried the tasty Italiano ($5.99), an all-beef dog topped with tomato, avocado spread and a thick smear of mayonnaise. But it's the chacarero ($7.99) - marinated beef sirloin tips, tomato, jalapeno, avocado, mayo and green beans on a toasted bun - that has us itching to go back. It comes with a side of chips and pebre; ask for extra jalapeno if you crave more heat.
While Bopp admits that fish tacos ($6.50 for two, $9.50 for three) aren't Chilean, they have a following among regulars. The corn tortillas brim with flaked tilapia, shredded cabbage and an avocado spread but could use more seasoning. Similarly, the porotos Don Raul ($5.99), a vegetarian stew of navy beans, squash and linguine that Bopp named for his late father, was much improved with a few shakes of salt.
The tiny red-and-blue-walled restaurant will soon have a juice and coffee bar and an expanded menu, particularly for breakfast offerings. (The restaurant's name refers to the pan in which eggs are often served in Chile.)
And although it's not the life he envisioned, Bopp says he finds plenty of satisfaction in his new career.
"When people come, they are very happy to eat my food," he says. "I believe when you do things right, it will work out in the end."