Words by Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Photos by Clarissa Villondo
I will forever remember my experience at Del Campo, Chef Victor Albisu’s flagship restaurant inspired by the lifestyle and food culture at a South American vineyard, as the night that I ate the most meat ever in one sitting. Not only the most, but possibly some of the best.
The first indication was my drink order: the Asado.
Angels Envy Bourbon makes up the bulk of the drink, with black cherry liquor, grilled lemon juice, and peppercorn syrup for a well-balanced and flavorful libation. The glass was rimmed with burnt onion salt, and the metaphorical cherry on top was three sizeable chunks of prime hanger steak.
The Asado is one of five of the “Bite my Cocktail” drink series, described as “garnish-forward.” Meant to be enjoyed as the literal representation of a food and beverage pairing in a glass – every drink in the series is inventive and substantial. Another unique example from this series is the Jardín, a mezcal and cabernet cocktail topped with a skewer of pistachio-crusted avocado.
Another standout in the drink category was the Smoked Mezcal Negroni. Prepared in front of you at your table, a member of the wait staff lays out a wooden plank. Atop the plank sits a small pile of wood chips, an orange peel, a large scotch rock, and a small bottle containing Fidencio Mezcal, Aperol, Carpano Antica and orange bitters.
They light the wood chips aflame with a small torch, and sit a rocks glass upside down over the smoking wood. After this they place the rock in and fill the glass with the alcoholic concoction, finishing it with a twist.
The finished product is extremely aromatic – woodsy and fruity. The flavor of the smoke builds as you sip and is most apparent in the aftertaste. It’s the kind of item that you order and then catches like wildfire throughout the restaurant. Once you have it, everyone else wants to try it.
When the first course arrived, I was delighted if not slightly overwhelmed by the amount of food put before me. The “Chinatown” Chirashi was placed in the middle of the table, and like a pretty girl at a party, all eyes were instantly on it. I knew right away I had to talk to her, I mean, eat it.
A medley of tuna, scallops, corvina (a saltwater fish native to Central and South America), and rice – the chirashi was a sight to behold. Chef Victor Albisu outdid himself when he walked around the table, ladling spoonfuls of a brown butter soy sauce on onto our plates.
Another standout from this course was the grilled calamari. It had great texture, and was not chewy – something we all hope for when ordering calamari. The presentation was extremely clean and beautiful, with Aji “Kosho”, avocado, and fennel completing the dish.
From the second course, the rock shrimp & ink gnocchi stole the show. Chef Victor jokingly pointed out that he was trying to be “on trend” by curing the gnocchi in squid ink, and by adding an artful “swoosh” of burnt pea pesto to the plate. The best part of this dish was not how on-trend it was, but the variety of textures it offered.
The entire meal was building up to this point: the third course. A plate of spiced Long Island duck breast was placed before me. Next to that was a platter of lamb mixed grill, which included the most succulent lamb tongue and ribs. The prime tomahawk ribeye with chimichurri Del Campo was what I couldn’t stop going back to though. Tender and flavorful, it was impossible to tear myself away.
The rest of the course included a pork mixed grill, dry aged beef ribs, a spicy burnt bok choi street noodle dish, maitake mushrooms, and a “chaufa” fried rice. The street noodles were a bit too spicy for some, but I found them to have a good kick without being unbearable.
We rounded out the meal with three desserts, but the one that really did it for me was a chocolate pot de crème with black mint ice cream and candied blood orange. I don’t have the biggest sweet tooth so this was perfect for me, a great depth of chocolate flavor and smooth texture, that was brightened by the mint and orange.
During our time at Del Campo, Chef Victor explained to us his vision for the restaurant. He essentially wants to bring it back to basics – ripping away the curtains of stuffiness and white tablecloths in exchange for a more comfortable dining experience. He wants people to be able to share plates, laugh, and relax.
If you’re looking for a place with strong, quality cocktails and delicious, hardy dishes (and aren’t on a strict budget), then I’d strongly consider giving it a visit. If you’ve been feening for a steak and bourbon cocktail since you started reading this review – you should probably head to Del Campo right now.