Walk into Del Campo in Chinatown and you’ll immediately get a faint whiff of smoke. Take it as a sign of things to come – pretty much everything you’ll eat has been grilled, smoked, or charred. This includes an array of vegetables and vegetarian items, with some obvious choices like asparagus and tomatoes but other surprises including beets and peas.
The vegetarian asado menu (!) is a splurge at $72 but looks worth it, with tastes of several charred vegetables, peppers, potatoes, smoked ñoquis (gnocchi), ratatouille, and grilled cheeses and ice creams. You need to make a separate reservation to sit at the asado table so plan ahead if you want to go all in.
We chose from the standard menu on our visit, starting with Limonada and Chicha Fresca to drink. The flavors from grilled lemons and smoked applewood syrup didn’t really come through in the lemonade, but the Chicha Fresca was sweet, spiced and refreshing.
Fresh, steam-releasing bread and olive oil and salt, both smoked, got us off on the right foot:
We started with smoked mushrooms and charred beets. While the mushrooms were very well done, the combination of smoky flavor and meaty texture was a bit overwhelming for me – almost TOO meaty.
Charring beets turns out to be a great idea, transforming both the texture and taste to something completely different from the usual boiled or roasted version. They were crisp and tender and just slightly sweet, complemented by a bit of balsamic reduction, boucheron, and grilled onions.
Del Campo’s vegetarian entree is a pasqualina tart, the Italian answer to the pot pie. It’s huge and beautiful, topped with a fried egg and heavily dusted with parmesan. I was particularly impressed that it looked like nothing else on the menu. The chef could have easily phoned it in with a generic vegetarian entree, particularly at a restaurant so clearly geared toward meat. Instead he created something thoughtful, satisfying, and (according to my omnivorous companions), even better than their meat and fish entrees!
The crust is hearty and crunchy rather than buttery, giving way to a tasty filling of bechamel, swiss chard, and more cheese. For those of you who run from runny yolks, order it without the egg – it’d be just as good. I took a substantial chunk of the tart home without knowing how well it would hold up, but it reheated perfectly without getting soggy.
Grilled asparagus with egg and tapenade (the secondary theme here seems to be ‘If you like then you should put fried egg on it’) was well-seasoned, but next time I’ll be tempted to try something else off of the sides menu – maybe charred cauliflower, grilled polenta, or yucca with salsa criollo.
For dessert we had the El Capuchino, composed of a light hazelnut cake topped by coffee mousse. Espresso-flavored crunchies tasted pleasingly burnt, but you might be better off choosing something more along the asado theme like grilled lemon pound cake with grilled strawberries or El Chocolate with roasted banana ice cream.
If you’re a fan of smoky flavors or veggies from the grill, Del Campo is definitely worth a visit. Dine from the regular menu to get a sense of flavors and options before committing to the prix fixe tasting menu. And even if you don’t get to it, aren’t you happy to know that such a thing as an asado vegetarian tasting menu exists?
777 I Street NW (Chinatown Metro)