Causa, named for Peru’s iconic national dish, sailed into Blagden Alley this week with an ambitious, prix-fixe format that aims to capture the bounty of the South American country in one sitting.
The anticipated fine-dining venture makes a fashionably late appearance behind Amazonia, its color-soaked, more casual counterpart that debuted one level above in May (920 Blagden Alley NW). At Causa, six-course menus ($85) send diners on a seafaring voyage along the Peruvian coastline and into the Andes Mountains. The intimate space with just 22 seats lends itself to an immersive, personalized experience captained by Peruvian-born chef and co-owner Carlos Delgado.
Reservations for Causa and Amazonia can be made through the same Resy page. Causa currently carves out room for two seatings per night, and reservations are pre-paid.
“This restaurant is everything I’ve learned, and a recollection of my life’s experiences. I want to show off what is really going on culinarily in Peru now,” says Delgado, who previously helmed the kitchen at José Andrés’s Penn Quarter ceviche stalwart China Chilcano.
Industry vets and Service Bar owners Chad Spangler and Glendon Hartley co-lead the two-piece Peruvian project.
Latin tasting menus are having a major moment in D.C., and two just earned one-star Michelin ratings this year: Northeast’s 22-course Colombian marvel El Cielo and West End’s Imperfecto, which meticulously melds Latin and Mediterranean flavors at Enrique Limardo’s chef’s table. This summer, the Venezuelan chef went the tasting menu route at his a la carte Latin standby Seven Reasons.
At newcomer Causa, a prix-fixe spread celebrates two of Peru’s three major geographic regions: the Pacific Coast and the high-altitude Andes (the other is the Amazon, which provides the inspiration upstairs).
“I want to be a Peruvian ambassador,” says Delgado.
Lush, plant-filled Amazonia swings “fun and adventurous,” says Spangler, starting with a realistic rain forest soundtrack going up the stairs. A maximalist space exploding with leaves, lively murals, jungle vibes, soft jade stools, and vanilla-scented walls sets the stage for generous goblets of pisco cocktails bobbing with seaweed, shimmering ceviche, and street snacks like fried sweet plantains topped with chunks of fatty pork. The sensory overload up top is a stark contrast to minimalist Causa, where a laser-focused menu and sleek, neutral-toned backdrop takes tips from cutting-edge restaurants cropping up across Peru’s cosmopolitan capital of Lima.
Causa tapped Exebio, the powerhouse design team behind Lima hotspots like Frida and Flora y Fauna, to put together a look that includes hanging tapestries and woven, rainbow-hued coasters sourced from Peruvian markets.
While ingredients, preparation, and presentation will vary week by week on Causa’s menu, the six set courses will follow the same path: raw fish, vegetable, anticucho (skewer), rice, meat, and dessert.
Each purposeful dish will draw inspiration and name from a city or region, as Delgado aims to provide a cartographic expedition from place to plate. For example, one recent dish transports taste buds to Lima’s hip seaside enclave of Barranco via salmon belly married with the hot rocoto pepper and cooling mint-like huacatay herb.
The third “anticucho” course makes good use of Causa’s charcoal-burning robata grill. The skewered street food arrives dressed in traditional spices like aji panca, a dried pepper, plus oregano and cumin, among others. The most common anticuchos thread beef heart on skewers; Causa will grill anticuchos with a range of proteins and vegetables. In addition to the six formal courses, Delgado promises a couple “house treat” surprises to reinforce the story.
Beyond the set menu, Delgado encourages diners to dive into an underwater add-on adventure for the table dubbed the “Fish Market” experience. Fresh fish, gleaming on ice in a display case by the front door, can be broken into cold (ceviche, tiradito, or sashimi) and hot (like a stew) preparations. Other rotating seafood delicacies conchitas (Peruvian scallops) come sizzling out of the wood-burning Spanish Josper oven.
Of course, the eponymous causa will also play a starring role across the meal. This pre-Colombian dish is a riff on potatoes, olive oil, aji amarillo, and a protein like tuna. The dish has a historically significant backstory, receiving its name while being made and sold to support the cause (or “causa”) in the independence fight against Spain.
“In Peru, every restaurant has their own variation,” says Delgado.
Causa will be no different. In some cases, the causa will be a vessel to showcase a unique fish flown in that day from Japan, or it may remain entirely vegetarian, with different spices, layers, or flavors. The occasional causa may even get dressed up with luxe ingredients like caviar, hints Delgado.
Spangler and Hartley oversee the optional wine pairing program ($65 per person). Nearly the entirety of the selection is natural wines, using “really cool natural wines with indigenous varietals,” says Spangler. Early days of Peruvian winemaking used imported grapes; today, vintners grow local grapes used for pisco that are more appropriate for Peru’s unique Pacific climate. A small cocktail list also accompanies the dinner, using indigenous ingredients like pisco or herbs like huacatay.
—Tierney Plumb contributed to this report