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Josh

Ocopa, Peruvian on 13th and H Street NE - Chef Yuki Nakandakari Replaces Carlos Delgado in a Partnership with The Owners Of Chicken Tortilla - Closed

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I stopped by yesterday after work to meet a friend and try out this new spot in the neighborhood. It's good. I'm glad it's here. First of all, the space is quite small. I didn't actually count all of the seats, but I believe there were only maybe two or three traditional tables (with at least four seats). The rest of the dining room, such that it is, features side by side seating along the wall, as well as somewhere in the neighborhood of perhaps 14 bar seats? Six seats facing the cooks, four seats facing the bar, and four seats along the wall opposite the bar. They're in the process of finishing off what looks like it will be a very nice patio in back, which according to my bartender should be open some time in September. The space looks great. We sat at the bar (every seat is set up for dining, there's not a typical bar, per se), and my one complaint is that they need to get rid of their stools. I can't ever recall complaining about the actual seats in a restaurant before, but these are terrible, difficult to balance on, and increasingly uncomfortable the longer you sit there. We left after our meal to get another drink elsewhere because we didn't want to continue to perch uncomfortably on their barstools.

Anyhow, on to the food and drinks. I know very very little about Peruvian food, so please bear that in mind. That said, we liked what we tried. Of the cold dishes, the scallop crudo-type dish was the winner, Sweet scallops, a bit of spice, the right amount of acidity. Loved it. The Nikei ceviche (lime, scallion, soy, yuzu and wonton) tasted good, but all of the flavor kind of blew away the tuna itself. Of the hot dishes (and, by the way, pay no attention to the numbers next to dishes on their website, there's no correlation between those numbers and the actual prices on the real menus, which is frustrating) we had the Octopus Anticuchero (grilled octopus with a potato puree and two different sauces) and Carapulcra (a stew with pork belly, potatoes and beans). Both were really good. The octopus was cooked well, not tough and with a nice grilled flavor. The potato puree was fantastic. And the pork belly stew was our favorite, just wonderful comfort food.

On the drinks, the guys behind the bar appear to know what they're doing, and are extremely friendly. The Pisco Sour was great, the other cocktails we tried weren't quiet as successful in my opinion. And the wine list right now is quite limited, although they said that they will be adding a bunch more wines (including a number of Peruvian wines) and ciders in the near future.

Anyhow, based on one visit, I'm glad they're there. They're extremely friendly, they seem to be trying to put out good food, and to be doing something different than the rest of the places on H. That's a good thing.

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Based on our visit last night, Ocopa is a place that should be getting more love than it is.  We sat at one of the few tables along the wall, so I can't comment on whether or not they've remedied the bar stool situation Mark described above.  The space is nice...smart looking and edgy without trying too hard.  It is quite small, but didn't feel cramped.  Granted, they were only about 60% full last night, so that may not hold true if it's packed.

Service was competent and friendly, though the wait for drinks was a bit excessive. (Sietsema also commented on that in his First Bite column.)  While we waited for our cocktails, we munched on addictively salty corn nuts, and sipped on a kind of fruit punchy concoction that was brought out to each table gratis.  My traditional Pisco Sour was well made, and the care that went into making it was obvious.  My wife had the "Chief" Pisco Sour, which added some herbal/savory notes to the standard recipe (I think thyme made an appearance, but I don't remember for sure).

The classic ceviche was fantastic...bite-sized, meaty chunks of mackerel (the fish changes based on what was fresh and available that day), slivers of red onion, and marinated sweet potato cut into a perfect brunoise.  The leche de tigre was pleasantly but not aggressively spicy, with a nice backbone of ginger.  At this point in the meal, it was clear that however the rest of the night went, we would gladly come back for more Pisco and ceviche.

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Next up was the corazon anticucho.  Two skewers of fantastically tender and perfectly grilled beef hearts.  Another course, another big win.

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Every meal has ups and downs, and the only (mild) downturn of the night was the Chaufa (Fried quinoa and rice with lobster).  This was by no means bad...in fact we wolfed it down pretty quickly, but of everything we ate last night, it was the only thing we wouldn't order again.  The dominant flavor was of soy sauce, which is fine for fried rice, but I was left wanting something more.  The chunks of lobster throughout were fine, but not seasoned...seemingly mixed in as an afterthought.  Egg was incorporated as squares of omelet, but I think the dish would be several times better if it were served with a runny egg on top to tie everything together.

Finally, we had the Carapulcra, and I heartily agree with Mark's take above.  This was fantastic food for a rainy night.  Pieces of stewed pork belly melting together with the dried-then-rehydrated potatoes, and topped with candied peanuts.

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We left feeling pleasantly full and excited to have Ocopa in the hood.  It's great to see a serious restaurant open on that end of H.

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I'm surprised there hasn't been more commentary on Ocopa on this board, given how good the food has been on my two visits (the last this past Saturday).  Ocopa is the first restaurant I've been to on H Street that makes me actively want to return to the neighborhood to eat (which isn't convenient from where I live in NW, but where I end up periodically to visit friends who live in the area).

Fair warning, the space isn't conducive to groups, because there are only a few tables that can comfortably accommodate groups of four or more (probably six max at one table).  On my first visit, we sat at the kitchen bar, which made conversation from end to end a bit difficult, but was compensated for by the chance to see the kitchen action and chat with the chef (who is extremely personable, in addition to being talented).  However, last time we were initially seated at a counter attached to a wall (near the bar), which was so narrow that I'm not sure how we would have managed the dishes (not to mention the weirdness of staring at the wall).  Luckily, after we asked to be moved, a real table in the front of the restaurant opened up before we even ordered, making both conversation and sharing of dishes much easier. 

Both the classico and Nikei (tuna -- more Japanese in flavor from the soy) ceviches were delicious, although I preferred the dishes involving the excellent leche de tigre (so the classico and a razor clam dish that was essentially ceviche canapes on the shell).  A bay scallop ceviche special was a little too fishy for our taste; it was the only dish we didn't finish.  The ensalada de maiz is fantastic, full of fun texture (I particularly like its use of choclo, the giant, starchy corn kernals that show up on a number of dishes) and dressed in a bright vinaigrette.  Asian-inflected dishes, reflecting Peru's significant Japanese and Chinese populations, are sprinkled throughout the menu.  I loved the quinoa fried rice, an haute version of the Chinese restaurant staple, which got great texture from the crunchy quinoa (although I'm not sure the lobster added much; shrimp or another protein likely would have worked just as well at a lower price point).  We also really liked the well-fried pescado frito, although the soy-and-sesame-heavy sauce was a little one-note (albeit a delicious one), so I was glad we were sharing among four people because I wouldn't have wanted to eat the entire generous portion on my own.  The causitas (balls of whipped potato topped with protein) were too similar to recommend ordering more than one (we inadvertently got the smelt after having ordered the rockfish, so tried two), and while good (particularly the rockfish, with a tangy sauce that shows up in other dishes), they were much simpler and less exciting than the other dishes we tried.  Meat-eating friends loved the pork belly dishes that they ordered. There's no dessert menu, but tiny powdered sugar-dusted cookies sandwiched with dulce de leche, presented with the check, were a perfect little sweet bite.  (When we asked about dessert on our first visit, we ended up with an order of fried squash rings with a sort of honey dipping sauce, a weird sweet-and-sour dish that I couldn't decide whether I liked but would have probably worked better not as a dessert.  Not sure whether this was a one-off or if there are dessert plans in the works.)  

Service is friendly but prone to hiccups.  On both occasions, a dish or drink or two were wrong, which is particularly problematic when so many dishes look similar/have unusual enough ingredients that it's not obviously wrong until you taste it (smelt can't be mistaken for rockfish!).  Staff was nice about bringing the correct dish (and there were no bill mistakes, luckily), but I'd rather have the server write down our orders and get them right than attempt and fail to remember everything.  The cocktails are interesting and excellent, but as JoshNE mentioned, the wait for drinks is inexplicably long -- a problem that the restaurant seems to realize; our second round was comp'd for the delay without our even saying anything.  A very nice gesture, but the food and drinks are too good for the service issues not to be fixed so that this can be a truly fantastic dining experience.  Ocopa's style of food is very different, in a good way, from any other restaurant I've been to in DC, and I will definitely keep returning to (hopefully) watch it grow.

 

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I'm not entirely sure.  The corn salad and two potato dishes (we tried one -- potatoes, queso fresco, a delicious spicy sauce) are vegetarian (as far as I could tell); the salad and one potato dish would probably make enough food for a (smallish?) meal, but without much choice.  If the chef is willing to be accommodating, I think a vegetarian version of the quinoa fried rice would still be fantastic.  It's also possible one of the causitas would be worth getting, or the sides from another dish I haven't tried.  Maybe try calling to see if they are able to do any vegetarian accommodations?  

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I wish Chef Delgado much success with Ocopa. I went in for the first time for lunch and really enjoyed the cebiche clasico and rotisserie chicken. Nikkei cuisine really appeals to me so I want to return to try other items on their menu. The spacing of the restaurant is interesting, it's hard to settle in and get comfortable but perhaps that was the intend of their design. I hope younger chefs and restaurateurs in DC gets more opportunities, it's fun to see a younger perspective in an old city.  

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I wish Chef Delgado much success with Ocopa. I went in for the first time for lunch and really enjoyed the cebiche clasico and rotisserie chicken. Nikkei cuisine really appeals to me so I want to return to try other items on their menu. The spacing of the restaurant is interesting, it's hard to settle in and get comfortable but perhaps that was the intend of their design. I hope younger chefs and restaurateurs in DC gets more opportunities, it's fun to see a younger perspective in an old city.  

Here's an interesting question: Would you consider Ocopa to be "Modern Peruvian," or a fresh take on "Traditional Peruvian?" I'm not sure there's a cut-and-dry difference so much as there is a "tendency" to be one or the other.

A parallel example would be Rasika being Modern Indian and Indique being a fresh take on Traditional Indian.

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Here's an interesting question: Would you consider Ocopa to be "Modern Peruvian," or a fresh take on "Traditional Peruvian?" I'm not sure there's a cut-and-dry difference so much as there is a "tendency" to be one or the other.

A parallel example would be Rasika being Modern Indian and Indique being a fresh take on Traditional Indian.

I would consider Ocopa to be "Modern Peruvian" as there are a lot of Japanese influences in their menu. I believe the Japanese presence in Peru began in the late 19th century and considering the time it would take for the two cuisines to fuse together, it wasn't until the middle of the 20th century for it to be a cuisine of it's own, Nikkei cuisine. And if you consider traditional Peruvian to be in line with the history of Peru, it can reach back to 15th century. When I read their menu, I get more of a Nikkei feel rather than a traditional Peruvian feel.

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We stopped in for a late-night bite last night after seeing "Boyhood" at the Angelika Pop-up at Union Market (which I highly recommend).

Glad to see Ocopa is still putting out great food, even late on a frigid weeknight.  Service was smooth, and the wait for my "Traditional Chilcano" wasn't long at all.  I dug the drink (which is basically a Moscow Mule with Pisco, I think), but I think it would be better in the warmer months.  Our mixto ceviche was fantastic, though the leche de tigre was a bit tamer than our first visit.  They have also moved from a brunoise of sweet potato to larger cubes.  Of course we had to have the anticuchos de corazon again, and they were once again perfectly grilled to medium-rare.  I could eat them all day.  The mixto platter of causitas was interesting, but ultimately not something I would order again.  These were 3 different protein/sauce preparations served over a ball of mashed potato.  The crab and chicken versions were too close in flavor to one another.  They were both very good, I just wouldn't feel the need to get one of each next time.  The escbachado was the best of the 3: fried smelt, pickled red onion, sweet potato, and a beautiful purple sauce whose color I think comes from olives.

I can't wait for warm weather to return so I can sit at the bar overlooking H St. with the windows open, chasing down ceviche with a cold Cusquena.

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After having finally tried China Chilcano, we returned to Ocopa tonight.  I look forward to seeing how China Chilcano evolves, but right now Ocopa is better.  Indeed, this was the best of three meals I've had there.  Chef Delgado has added a number of new menu items and expanded/created a dessert menu.  (On an earlier trip, there was one dessert, which then disappeared).  He seems intent on slowly adding more ambitious menu items.   We started with a classic ceviche that was perfectly fine, but was eclipsed by several other dishes.  A dish of heavily roasted carrots with quinoa was phenomenal --  bright lime on the quinoa, nice spice, and a number of Peruvian flavors that I'm just learning about.  (For the poster who asked about vegetarian options, this one should not be missed).  A Peruvian take on pea risotto with scallops was stellar.  The risotto was unusually rich and bright at the same time, leaving my companion and me to debate whether this was coming from a queso fresco, aji amarillo, or some other magic ingredient.  A grilled scallop dish was solid.  Our other favorite savory item was a grilled calamari.  The calamari was so soft as to almost take on a fudge-like texture. Bites in which we also got tiny tear drop tomatoes had the perfect burst of acid.  (The one shortcoming of the dish may be that bites without needed a bit more acid.  Perhaps more tomatoes would do it).   We split a dessert that was a modernist take on white chocolate, pineapple, and a Peruvian fruit called guanabana.  The dessert was great.  The ingredients were transformed into a number of textures, including meringue and powder.  I often think that chefs like molecular tricks in desserts just to show that they know the tricks.  But here I thought that the textures really added to the dish.  The food here continues to improve.  I can't wait to see what the chef does next.

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It took me a long time to get to Ocopa, but based on my meal last night (a generous gift from a friend), I would be surprised if there's a better restaurant on H Street (at least one that's not owned by Erik Bruner-Yang). The initial impression isn't necessarily great--while the restaurant was empty at 5:30, we still had to take bar seats at the back because of upcoming reservations, and the staff didn't quite have it together. Asking for the happy hour menu, they couldn't locate them, and the prices quoted were half-again as what I had seen on line. But the bartender put us at ease, and slowly we decided to go beyond our pisco sours (terrific, $9 each) and causas (with crab and avocado, $3 each) to a powerful sangria and entrees. The aji de gallina ($20)--confit chicken with potatoes, pecans, parmesan, rice, and an olive puree--is like Peruvian comfort food, a large bowl that is not exactly hot-weather dining, but when it tastes so good, who cares? Bob's grilled pulpo ($21?) with more causas and sauces, was a long, tender, and smoky tentacle, perfectly cooked. And the small taste of our friend's jalea pescado ($21?)--beer-battered, ungreasy, and a generous portion--suggested this was something to return for. Ocopa isn't cheap, and one of its major annoyances is uncomfortable seating (including the bar seats) and tiny tables, but the food is so good that they seem worth enduring. And with a new back patio opening in a few weeks that will nearly double their space, this has the potential to be the next hot spot on H Street, if the bar and kitchen can keep up, and they can keep prices under control. (BTW, the online menu does not match the current offerings or prices; they need to do a better job of keeping it up to date.)

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Stopped by tonight for a "last meal" before heading to GWU Hospital at 5:30am tomorrow for the birth of our 2nd boy...the wife was craving raw fish.  The classic ceviche had mahi tonight and was fantastic, as was the thinly sliced scallop tiradito.  We shared a number of other dishes, but the standouts were both from the grilled section.  The brussels sprouts are out of this world - sweet, spicy, savory, charred bits of goodness with cubes of a pork product along for the ride.  Best version of a played out vegetable I've had...maybe ever?  They are neck and neck with a deep fried version from Momofuku Ssam I had years ago.  The sweatbreads were perfectly grilled - juicy and tender but with a nice char.  The entrees were solid, but I think the game here really is to mix and match ceviche and small plates of grilled things.

We sat out in the new (covered and climate controlled) patio space and had excellent and timely service.  My only complaint, and it is actually a major one, is that the music alternated between a mixture of latin music at a reasonable volume, and hip hop and loud dance music at a deafening volume.  I twice asked for the music to be turned down...The 2nd time was after a dance song came on with a vocalist gleefully singing "I love this motherfucker."  Charming.

I understand the desire to have some edge, but frankly, if that music, at that volume (such that we simply couldn't have a conversation at the table) becomes the standard there, the frequency of our visits will drop off.  I would give some leniency if this were 10pm on a weekend, but this was 7:45 on Wednesday in a 3/4 empty restaurant.  It was really off-putting, and totally out of sync with the rest of the restaurant.

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My wife and I tried Ocopa for the first time yesterday, and were immediately struck by the skeleton crew: one chef (Delgado?) and another at the ceviche station.  There were probably 15 other diners on the premises.  I ordered a 3 Stars beer and it took around 10 minutes for it to arrive (perhaps I was behind a queue of pisco sours).

The Clasico (halibut ceviche $19) was a refreshing textbook starter.  We agreed that the assertive sauce really shone to the detriment of the underlying fish, although its texture was really nice.  I have no reason to believe it wasn't prepared expertly, we just couldn't taste the halibut.  The Ensalada de Tomate ($13) was beautiful but a bit of a disappointment, as the heirloom tomatoes were chilled and its flavor muted, and the mozzerrella wasn't really anything distinctive.  Probably should have gone with brussel sprouts or potatoes.  We both loved Corazon Anticuchos ($11), about two ounces of beef heart grilled and in really nice aji amarillo.  The charcoal oven is really cool, and defintely adds a nice character to the grilled meats.  We were interested in getting a Peruvian chicken but didn't see it on the menu.

We were comfortable in our seats and sitting adjacent to each other like at a bar counter on the floor.  Timing was definitely slow and we probably ate faster than we wanted to once our plates began arriving.  Still, it made for a very nice light dinner and we will make it back.

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Thank you to cheezepowder for bringing this to my attention:

"Yuki Nakandakari In at Ocopa" by Missy Frederick on dc.eater.com

I talked to Chef Delgado when I stopped in back in June.  He said the Peruvian clientele wanted more traditional items whereas he wanted to do more cutting edge dishes that you might find in modern Lima restaurants.  Not sure what percentage of the clientele was Peruvian, but it appears the traditionalists won out.

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I wonder how long Delgado has been transitioning out and not fully at the helm there. It's really disappointing to see him go (with all due respect to the new chef, whose work I have not yet tasted).

And just to toss a little debate bait out there:

Ocopa had a ton of unrealized potential...the food they were putting out was miles ahead of how the restaurant was run from a FOH perspective.  I would, with a straight face, put some of Delgado's best dishes up against some of Silverman's at Rose's, but the experience of eating at Rose's is on an entirely different level.  This restaurant could have/should have been a smash hit with 2 hour waits like Toki & Maketto.

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I wonder how long Delgado has been transitioning out and not fully at the helm there. It's really disappointing to see him go (with all due respect to the new chef, whose work I have not yet tasted).

And just to toss a little debate bait out there:

Ocopa had a ton of unrealized potential...the food they were putting out was miles ahead of how the restaurant was run from a FOH perspective.  I would, with a straight face, put some of Delgado's best dishes up against some of Silverman's at Rose's, but the experience of eating at Rose's is on an entirely different level.  This restaurant could have/should have been a smash hit with 2 hour waits like Toki & Maketto.

I totally agree with JoshNE,

Seconded. The food has always been fantastic, but everything else lags way behind. 

Yep. Our go-to was always to wait until a few counter seats overlooking the kitchen and grills opened up. Actually being able to chat with the chefs and get steered in the right direction was a huge improvement over the service otherwise throughout the restaurant.

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We had fine service on several visits here and I think they make really terrific pisco sours, but I agree with Josh that the food Chef Delgado was turning out was outstanding, unique and delicious.   I'm really sorry to see him go.  Not sure when he left, but I will admit to not realizing he wasn't in the house and finding my meal was similarly delicious to prior ones when we ate there a week ago, so perhaps it wont change too much.  I certainly hope not.

Anyone know where Delgado is going or have anything more about the new guy's background?

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