To say the opening of Chinatown’s South American restaurant Del Campo is long-awaited is an understatement; Chef Victor Albisu has been waiting nearly all his life.
“This is something I’ve been wanting to do even before I was a chef,” Albisu tells me in his restaurant’s classic dining room. “This is the kind of food I grew up with and I always wanted to see it represented in the right way. I feel like I have this opportunity now.”
The road to Chinatown began decades ago, when Albisu was raised by his mother, Peruvian, and father, Cuban, in his mom’s Latin American market and butcher shop. As Albisu grew older, he noticed that South American cuisine and culture were scarcely represented as individual countries in the United States, similar to what he calls the “Asian food trend.”
“There used to be a lot of Asian food restaurants but now not so much,” he explains. “Now you see the integrity if each individual cuisine more than you used to and I welcome that. I kind of want to do the same here. Even though this is South America represented there are multiple cultures around a grill.”
At Del Campo, the grill is key.
Charring and grilling appears throughout a menu marked by mouthwatering dishes like Grilled Octopus Causa (with tuna confit, ramps, potato and charred avocado), a traditional Peruvian combination of fresh seafood and potato salad that’s almost layered like a lasagna. Drawing on his own European cuisine training, Albisu deconstructs to create a colorful, flavorful display.
“I think The most important quality of South American food is vibrancy,” Albisu notes. “Its flavor, its style; it’s just vibrant.”
Vibrant is certainly the correct word for it; as I shot plate after plate, it was clear that each dish was its own thrilling and bright creation, be it a seared goat cheese salad stacked high with lettuce and garlic or Pork Belly Chicharon sliders topped with sweet potato, onions and mayo.
Taking over the old PS7′s space with a nod to the estancias in Mendoza where Albisu used to eat as a child, Del Campo combines Old World rustic elegance and charm. Beautiful chandeliers hang throughout, juxtaposed with leather gaucho hats and the occasional saddle harnessed to the wall.
One step through the door and the distinction between Latin and South American is clear; you’re on a vineyard in Mendoza or a ranch in Argentina.
Just in time for spring, Del Campo will offer a happy hour and a 40-seat patio a few weeks from now, along with an entire Grilled Cocktail selection–think grilled pineapple syrups and, somehow, grilled lemon juice. The best part? You can enjoy all of this as early as next Monday, April 22nd, with reservations available now.
I ponder the restaurant’s impressive menu and ask Chef what it’s like to see a childhood vision near completion. ”It’s the beginning of a dream come true,” he says, taking in the dining room. “It really is.”