The forthcoming trolley along two-plus miles of Washington’s H Street corridor will make it easier than ever for diners to sample the area’s expanding restaurant scene in Northeast. Two newcomers highlight Peruvian and health-conscious menus, respectively.
Every time I eat at Ocopa, I wonder what took Carlos Delgado so long to show off the flavors of his native Peru. Glimmers of the chef’s strong suit surfaced at Bóveda, the Latin speakeasy inside the Westin Georgetown, but not until he opened a place of his own did I experience his deft touches with more than just ceviche.
And potatoes and chicken and herbs that he grows himself on-site. No other Peruvian kitchen of my acquaintance serves sliced tubers (blue as well as white) as artful as these; streaks of sunny yellow cheese sauce and strategically placed black mint help the cause. Roast chicken is good on its own but blossoms with an underliner of emulsified aji amarillo, the iconic Peruvian pepper.
First things first. A welcome of corn nuts begs for a chaser. The bartender takes his time mixing the signature pisco sours, but I haven’t had better in the city. Based on white brandy, the cocktails are bold but elegant, with frothy caps of whipped egg white that hint at the drink’s flavor with their garnishes: A purple line of lavender buds crosses the foam on a pisco sour made with sparkling wine.
Dish after dish suggests Ocopa may be the best thing playing on H Street right now. Among the cold appetizers is chifa de atun, scarlet bites of raw tuna hidden under puffed black rice, strands of pickled daikon and snowlike sesame powder in (ha!) a small tuna can. From the grill come little skewers of winey lamb and beef showered with minced chives and fried sweet potato threads for color and crunch. Munch, munch, gone. Pasta with lamb ragu and a powder of Parmesan sounds as if it drifted over from another restaurant — Bibiana, by the fine taste of it.
Will the city be hungry for salads of cool raw fish in winter? It’s a question the chef ponders as he rewrites his menu for the next season. (The list is evolving.) All I can say is, I’d gladly eat supple folds of uncooked mahi mahi revved up with fiery chilies, lime and canchita — or “corn on steroids,” as the server says — any time of the year.
The same attention to detail expended on the plates is disbursed in the dining room. Fewer than 30 seats, it packs in abundant style. Colorful water glasses rest on handsome woven placements, elegant graffiti sets off the walls, and even the restrooms impress. (Check out the castle-like locks on the heavy wooden doors.)
Every seat has something to recommend it. The counter facing the sidewalk would be the voyeur’s choice, while the ceviche bar, just a handful of stools, offers a chef’s-eye view of the exhibition kitchen. Chunky wooden tables hugging one wall are perfect for two or more. A rear patio was expected to open by now, with heaters but no roof. As such, diners who opt to sit there will be offered a menu of dishes that can be eaten in a few bites.
The bill comes with a gratis treat: alfajores, miniature cookies dusted with powdered sugar and layered with dulce de leche. Unlike the memories of meals here, they’re gone in a flash.
Ocopa: 1324 H St. NE. 202-396-1814. www.ocopa.kitchen.
Open: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Prices: Appetizers $7 to $14, entrees $16 to $22.
Sound check: 72 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.
Like the mom who sneaks spinach into her meatloaf to get the family to eat more vegetables, DC Harvest is a restaurant that doesn’t make a big deal about feeding customers mindfully.
Nowhere on the menu are there calorie counts or fat grams. But threaded throughout the list (and landing on your table) are signs the kitchen cares about what goes into your body. Diners settle in not with bread, but with sweet potato chips. Pastas are coaxed from whole wheat and spelt, and vegetables sometimes take up as much space on the plates as the proteins they’re meant to support. Turkey as an entree outside Thanksgiving is a rare bird. DC Harvest trots out a tender turkey breast served with the ancient grain called kamut, bulked up with Swiss chard. Lemon butter keeps the fowl moist — and dinner from becoming a sermon.
The owners are also brothers. Meet Arthur and Jared Ringel. The former, from Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle, serves as chef. The latter worked as a manager for the Homemade Pizza Company in Northern Virginia and reprises that role here. Assorted family members have pitched in to dress up the brick interior, two floors and 59 seats big. A cozy bar off the entrance leads to a spare dining room that feels like an afterthought. Ask for a table upstairs, and near a window, for more of a view.
If you were to start with a bowl of sweet potato soup and segue to a pasta, chances are you’d put the September baby on your restaurant rotation. The soup is of broad interest, thanks to apple cider, crisp pork belly and micro-celery in the bowl, and the pastas include house-made linguine made with spelt (from the wheat family). Mixed with crumbled lamb and Swiss chard, the pasta whispers of fresh mint. Whole-wheat pappardelle topped with woodsy mushroom ragu is best ordered by the half-portion. A few bites in, and the cold-weather comfort becomes repetitious. The same is true of the sliced steak, which comes with a forest of Brussels sprouts, carrots and potatoes. The plate sounds better on paper.
Blink and you’ll miss the wine list, a handful of average selections. DC Harvest comes up short in other ways, too. One night, its sweet potato chips are light and crisp; another visit finds us pushing away a soggy snack. The sorriest beet salad in recent memory mingles watery marbles with chewy fried chickpeas. A thin cut of grilled swordfish proves dry. A dab of smoky romesco on the dish does the best it can to right the wrong.
Desserts play the heavies here. Far from virtuous, the s’mores pot de creme — chocolate custard and caramel sauce paved with bruleed marshmallow — is one of several sweet surprises. Alongside the confection are fine, house-baked graham crackers. A request for the Concord grape semifreddo comes with a translation: “That’s half-frozen,” says a server with smoke on his breath. The dessert trumps its delivery.
DC Harvest has its heart in the right place. The newcomer just needs to be more consistent about pleasing the palate.
DC Harvest: 517 H St. NE. 202-629-3296. www.dc-harvest.com.
Open: Dinner 5 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; brunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Prices: Appetizers $7 to $14, entrees $18 to $25.
Sound check: 71 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.
For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit WP Magazine.
Follow the Magazine on Twitter.
Like us on Facebook.
E-mail us at email@example.com.