Chef Carlos Delgado and Service Bar owners Glendon Hartley and Chad Spangler have anchored an oasis in Shaw’s Blagden Alley. Causa/Bar Amazonia is a culinary destination rooted in Peru’s proud gastronomic history and culture, serving up dishes rich in flavor, color, global influences and complexity, paired with top-notch mixology.
“It’s one of the first — if not the first — Amazonian experiences in America,” Spangler says.
The concept features a 120-seat, two-floor, two-menu restaurant. On the ground level is the yet-to-open Causa, a 20-set space meant to replicate the look and feel of a restaurant in Lima (most notably by the bare concrete and Japanese minimalism). Causa will offer patrons a high-end tasting menu experience and a “front row” to its open kitchen design.
When fully operational, Causa will implement a family-style fish market menu, offering a choice of the day’s available fresh fish and seafood and the method of preparation.
On the second floor is the vibrant Bar Amazonia, serving up Amazonian dishes or “jungle foods” complemented by an airy bar area with sun-soaked views of its 50-seat outdoor patio.
Spangler depicts Causa/Bar Amazonia as an uncommonly transportive experience, inviting guests to taste, smell and even hear Peru and the Amazon, an area that he considers the world’s “gastronomic destination.”
“It’s the entire mindset, whether you’re eating downstairs, in the bathroom or on the patio,” Delgado says, who considers this his “holy grail” Peruvian restaurant. “It transports you somewhere else for those two hours you’re here.”
The interior design intentionally drives the transportive nature of Causa/Bar Amazonia. As you transition from the first to second level, your senses are flooded with jungle sounds and a shift in the music’s rhythm and volume. Environmental elements of wood, plants and other greenery, earth tones, flourishes of color and the uniquely designed patio also shape the experience.
“It’s very rare to find a full rooftop space on the same grade as the interior,” Spangler notes. “Designing this restaurant and making these two spaces feel connected [was important] so you feel like you’re one with the environment, which is what being in the Amazon is so much about.”
Artist and muralist Lauren Bessette was pulled in at early stages of development to add her creative flair to the upstairs backdrop. Bessette is responsible for the wall art inside of Bar Amazonia’s main space, including the towering green leaves that greet patrons as they ascend the staircase.
“I’ve been working on this piece for quite some time,” Bessette says. “I’ve seen it go from an empty room to what it is now. It’s been really special to be a little sliver of that process.”
Delgado is a native of Callao, the northernmost province in Lima. He came of age cooking with his grandmother and cultivating his talents at restaurants in Peru before coming to D.C. and opening Ocopa (whose namesake is a well-known Peruvian sauce). Later, Delgado studied under celebrity chef and humanitarian José Andrés.
“I wanted to bring something totally different to showcase and teach people about Peru,” Delgado says of the menu. “[Peruvian food] is more than just fast-casual rotisserie chicken.”
Causa’s food focuses on Peru’s three distinct regions: the coast, the Andes and the Amazon. Their cuisine infuses ingredients foreign to even natives of Lima, including plantains, açaí berries, sacha culantro, tamarind and mocambo, a rare jungle superfruit Delgado uses in desserts and cocktails.
Peruvian food is a true anthropological journey influenced by its complicated history, a country conquered by the Spanish and home to African slaves, whose cooking techniques blended with the Peruvians’. After the country’s last independence movement (overthrowing the Spanish), Peru created incentives for work visas, accelerating the arrival of Chinese, Japanese and Italian immigrants — hence the frequent use of olive oil, tangy sauces and parmesan.
Part of the fun for Delgado is locating hard-to-find ingredients: the ones that leave a lasting impression. Unique meats and vegetables from around the world shape the menu, such as alligator from Florida or hearts of palm from Hawaii.
The building’s design, menu and philosophy of authenticity converge for a genuine Peruvian culinary experience.
“Authenticity is paying respect to what something should taste like,” Delgado shares. “There should be no boundaries or structure as to how you showcase that.”
Among the many enchanting dishes is the choice of ceviche offerings, either classic or Amazonian, which Spangler describes as “truly the best [ceviche] you’ll find anywhere.”
Peruvian’s classic take on the raw fish plate is rooted in Japanese cuisine, subtly dressed in leche de tigre (“tiger’s milk”) to surface the natural flavors of the fish. Among other components, the Amazonian style integrates aji charapita, one of the world’s most expensive peppers, procured from the Peruvian Amazon.
Another unique feature of the Bar Amazonia experience is the use of a Josper oven, a Spanish-made utility that burns charcoal and wood, “enveloping” its dishes in a beautiful smoky flavor.
Drinks of the Shaman
The wood-burning oven is also used to roast watermelons for the pisco sour de Amazonia, a cocktail finished with a palo santo smoke, a wood similar to sage and cedar.
The drink encapsulates how seamlessly the food and cocktails blend to breathe life into the experience. The palo santo notes draw from the shamanistic rituals of the Amazonian, where it’s often used as a spiritual cleanser.
One of the sour’s base components is a hausa acholado, a pisco mixture made from a fusion of different grapes. This particular pisco includes four grapes, blended in-house to achieve the desired flavor profile.
The tamaria tonica continues the expedition through Peru’s past. In the 1400s the Spanish arrived, discovering Peruvians making a tea with quinine from the bark of cinchona trees — a staple of present-day commercial tonics. The Spanish eventually took this custom back to Europe. Tamaria is another Amazonia fruit that translates to “almost tomato.”
Tamaria resembles a Roma tomato, with a vegetal seeded center and a fruitier exterior that tastes of mango or strawberry. For the tamaria tonica, the tamaria is mixed with a clarified orange juice, hierba luisa (a dried lemongrass tea) and a water mixture that’s force carbonated and poured on top. Finally, it’s garnished with a flower and wheel made of ash and huacatay, a strong aromatic herb.
A dream eatery for foodies, cocktail aficionados and anyone curious about Peruvian and Amazonian cuisine, Causa/Bar Amazonia offers a place to savor the aromas, flavors and culinary methods that animate and preserve its