Blagden Alley’s hotly anticipated Peruvian project bursts open this week with a menu full of shimmering ceviches, shared plates, and way more than just pisco sours to drink.
Causa celebrates the South American country’s wealth of ingredients, culinary influences, and topographies in a towering, two-level building nestled in Shaw (920 Blagden Alley NW). The upper, more casual floor — coined Bar Amazonia — debuts Wednesday, May 4, with a bar, 50-seat patio, lounge, and a lush look. The fine-dining first level goes live later this month with a tasting menu-only format.
Led by Peruvian-born chef and co-owner Carlos Delgado, the ambitious menu pays tribute to Peru’s three main geographical regions: the seafood-rich Pacific coast where its capital of Lima calls home; the dense Amazon rainforest; and the high-altitude Andes. Industry vets and Service Bar owners Chad Spangler and Glendon Hartley round out the Causa partnership.
A sleek, minimalist backdrop on the first floor sets the stage for an $85-per-person, six-course menu that marries elements of the coastline and Andes mountains. A gleaming open kitchen will send out a rotating selection of seasonal and freshly caught fish, with courses that can change daily.
“It’s a menu where I take you through flavors as if you were to travel through these regions,” says Delgado.
Seafood displayed behind an ice-chilled ceviche counter will be prepared in both raw and fire-grilled form. Delgado also plans to sprinkle a few surprise small bites across the tasting menu. Wine and pisco pairings are also available.
The opening menu is also populated with lots of charcoal-fired meat, seafood, and veggie skewers alongside rocoto peppers and huacatay (Peruvian black mint). Causa’s namesake also makes expected appearances. The iconic Peruvian staple features a variation of yellow potatoes, olive oil, aji amarillo, and a protein like tuna. The dish reflects the diversity of Peruvian cuisine, “and [Causa] also means ‘friend’ or ‘pal’ in Peruvian slang,” says Spangler.
The upstairs level is the “more fun and adventurous” counterpart, says Spangler. The a la carte menu takes diners on a tour through Peru’s Amazonian rainforest with snacks, anticuchos (meat skewers), cold and hot shared plates, and a leafy, jungle-themed backdrop. Book a seat at Bar Amazonia via Resy from Wednesday to Sunday (5 pm to midnight). The prix fixe level below will start accepting reservations soon.
The bar area opens onto a sun-splashed rooftop terrace with walk-up bar access. Beyond sits an intimate lounge and dining area filled with hunter green sofas and dark wood furnishings, all watched over by intricate, floor-to-ceiling animal print murals by a Peruvian graphic artist.
Delgado offers street food like chunks of maduritos (fried sweet plantains) topped with fatty pork and smothered in cheese, and lagarto (alligator) croquettes laced with turmeric and cilantro. He also plates playful takes on Peruvian favorites like a patarascha, a jungle dish of grilled fish served in plantain leaves. The same leaves hide underneath crunchy patacones (fried green plants).
“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, a Lima native and longtime executive chef at José Andrés’ Peruvian mainstay China Chilcano in Penn Quarter.
Peru’s comforting Criollo cuisine weaves in Spanish, West African, and indigenous elements, while later waves of East Asian immigrants contributed to the rise of Japanese-influenced Nikkei and Chinese-style chifa dishes.
“We want to teach people about Peruvian food and history through our dining,” says Delgado.
The team sources as much as possible from Peru, especially less-perishable ingredients. Other items, like alligator, come from Florida.
The drinks pump up the Peruvian party.
“As Carlos does with his food, we want to highlight the biodiversity and geo-diversity of Peru through our cocktails,” says Hartley, who oversees the bar and beverage programs.
To that end, Bar Amazonia’s menu includes a next-level gin and tonic made with Peru’s native cinchona bark — the main ingredient in tonic water — plus lemongrass-like hierba luisa tea and aromatic smoke from burnt palo santo wood. Other Amazonian cocktails lean into fruity and bold ingredients like cacao, banana, and chili pepper, as well as Peruvian “mission” grapes. Hartley carves out a section dedicated to pisco-based elixirs but notes that Peruvian drinks “are more than just pisco sours.”
Drink options at the downstairs level will be more intricate and subtle, and may include ingredients like yuyo (seaweed).
Causa’s already-vast pisco collection hopes to “be the largest in North America” one day, says Hartley, with about 100 bottles to start. He and Spangler will hold pisco classes and offer tastings of the beloved national spirit.
The project’s roots date all the way back to 2012, when Hartley and Delgado helped open the Peruvian restaurant Ocopa on H Street NE. While Delgado left for China Chilcano, Hartley and Spangler shifted attention to growing Shaw’s Service Bar into one of the hottest cocktail bars in town.
Causa’s brick-lined address was once slated to house Village Whiskey, a gourmet burger bar from Philly restaurateur Jose Garces, but his bankruptcy filing got in the way. The trio were introduced to the newly available building back in 2018, but the pandemic and other related delays pushed back Causa’s original time line.
Causa is filled with an impressive assortment of colorful decor, art, and accessories sourced straight from Peruvian street markets and stores. Peru-based design team Exebio put together the whole look.
“Peru has experiential, fine-dining restaurants [like this],” says Delgado, “and we want to showcase what hasn’t been seen before here.”