When you eat in restaurants on a regular basis as I do, it’s easy to become jaded and difficult to impress. At this point, a wow for me is really a WOW. Ocopa, the new Peruvian restaurant on H Street, Northeast recently wowed me.
Ocopa, which opened last August, was certainly on my radar. It moved to the forefront of my “must dine here list” when I noticed it cropping up repeatedly on year-end wrap-ups about 2014 best openings or meals. This includes Zagat‘s “10 Epic Meals We Ate in DC This Year,” Brightest Young Things DC Food 2014 Round-Up, DCist’s “Best New Restaurants of 2014,” and Washingtonian’s 2015 100 Very Best Restaurants, where it made its debut at a respectable #52.
The long and narrow space at Ocopa accommodates about 30 patrons. No reservations accepted. I arrive at 6:15 on a Friday evening, in advance of my husband and two friends, who are set to be here at 6:30. There is only one table for four available, and the hostess says she will hold it for us until their slated arrival at 6:30. Ocopa wins my heart immediately with this accommodation.
Looking around the small space, it’s easy to conclude that this isn’t the best place to dine with four people. On the other hand, it’s a plus to have the ability to try as many dishes as possible on a menu that emphasizes small plates. We over-order with no regrets.
Chef Carlos Delgado incorporates a variety of popular Peruvian ingredients in multiple dishes. You can expect aji amarillo (a Peruvian pepper), avocado, lime, and potatoes to pop up time and time again. Not to worry…each dish has a new combination of ingredients that make it unique.
Tuna cebiche gets us off to a rousing start with its classic combo of raw tuna, chili peppers, scallion, and crispy wontons. We’ve had similar dishes elsewhere, but this version has a perfect balance of acid and spice. Plus, our server delivers the dish with an energetic vibe that bodes well for the food that follows.
A trio of causitas- Peruvian finger food- looks compelling as we witness their delivery to surrounding tables. Roasted chicken with aji amarillo, cangrejo with crab and avocado, and escabechado with fish, sweet potato, and olives are small bites that offer up jolts of flavor. Our enthusiasm for the meal builds with each dish delivered to the table.
“Cositas frias” translated as Peruvian cold items, should be mandatory at Ocopa. Corn salad with avocado, large kernels of Peruvian corn, and a bright vinaigrette could be on a list of DC’s best dishes. Competition for the title comes from Papa Con Ocopa, featuring a mix of potatoes, eggs, ocopa sauce, queso fresco, and herbs.
Heartier dishes are listed on the menu as Cositas Calientas (hot dishes) and chef’s house creations. My vote for prettiest dish goes to the Chilean sea bass with botija olive and sweet potato.
Seco de cordero is composed of tender lamb shoulder with cilantro, beer, charred carrots, and the ever present aji amarillo.
We have a sudden urge to add an order of polla a la brasa to our already full roster of dishes. While it’s a struggle to eat another bite, we can’t resist doing so. The chicken is juicy perfection, and crispy wedges of fried yucca add to an already appealing plate.
A small taste of my friend’s order of hanger steak, fries, fried egg, and plantain convinces me that this is a dish to put on the list for a future visit.
Don’t go to Ocopa expecting to enjoy coffee and dessert. Ocopa currently does not offer coffee service, and there is only one dessert on the menu, which isn’t particularly notable. But this shouldn’t stand in your way of enjoying Chef Delgado’s bright and powerful flavors, along with a cocktail (try the Pisco sour).
I don’t hesitate to venture downtown to dine, but I have long considered the H Street neighborhood to be a shlep. No longer. All it takes is one excellent meal at Ocopa, featuring an uninterruped succession of wows, for me to realize that the barrier is only psychological.
Ocopa, 1324 H Street, NE, Washington, DC
Washington Post review by Tom Sietsema: “Ocopa rises to the top on H Street”
Washingtonian review by Todd Kliman: “At Ocopa, Carlos Delgado wows with his masterful ceviches and Peruvian potato dishes.”
Washingtonian 2015 100 Very Best Restaurants, #52