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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review ~ Del Campo / 777 I St., NW

Bright, bold, bustling, and brimming with smoky aromas, Penn Quarter’s most exciting entry is Del Campo, an Argentinean-framed grilled meats restaurant that stars Victor Albisu. Unfamiliar with his cooking? If you once lunched or dined at BLT Steak, you enjoyed his cooking, for there he was its executive chef.

Eager to create his own dining destination, Albisu took over the vacated space of PS7, empty since the end of 2012. What he has created is a meaty menu that fairly cries out to sample one of everything, from the appetizer ceviches (marinated raw fish or shellfish) to the house specials that range from the Del Campo burger with grilled bacon and grilled veggies to the Peruvian chicken with yucca fries and green chili purée.

But probably the main reason to dine here — assuming you’ve made reservations first and not just dropped in, in hopes of finding seating — are the asados, or wood-grilled and herb-smoked meats that could probably comfort an Argentine raised on the pampas — or possibly a gaucho on a ranch in Peru, Chile, or Uruguay. Albisu, however, takes all his meat preparations up a few notches above and beyond what might be cowboy fare.

Rather than throwing a slab of beef on a grill over a hot fire, he selects quality cuts of beef and lamb, dresses up veal sweetbreads and even tackles the challenge of fire-cooking jumbo prawns. Some cuts come wrapped in bacon; some weigh in at four pounds; some, like the short ribs, come bone-in. All are accompanied by a selection of sauces, from the home-made chimichurri Del Campo (the chef’s rendition of a traditional Latino sauce served with grilled meats), to a traditional chimichurri to three others, all created to add flavor to your order.

With such a complex menu, finding the right selection of appetizer and entrée is challenging, for sure. Focusing on the ceviches provides a light and delicate start to the heavier meat portions, but how to choose between the tuna with grilled avocado or the corvina with black olives and clams. Both are knockouts, so maybe the solution is to dine with a friend and share. More traditional appetizers include grilled octopus with tuna confit, crispy Berkshire pork chicharones, and grilled chopped salad with heart of palm and peppers. Stumped? Start off with the country bread with seared provolone cheese and some herbs. Delicious and a fitting preamble to the main course.

Tempting as the house specials are, the real focus here really are the grilled meats, so aroma-filled and succulent that skipping a bacon-wrapped filet or the rolled Wagyu skirt steak for the grass-fed burger seems unfitting. Both these beef dishes and the lamb shank are outstanding examples of the chef’s skill. And to underscore the entrées, order a side of fried yucca and/or canary beans with Iberico chorizo.

This all may sound too meat-laden for some, but Albisu has very astutely added a vegetarian section to his menu. No, vegetarians won’t get to enjoy smoky meats, but for $42, they can get a fine selection of grilled vegetables and accompanying breads and cheeses plus a selection of complementary wines to make dining at Del Campo an unforgettable experience.

Desserts: from the kitchen’s pastry chef, such treats as tres leches twinkies and passion fruit cheesecake. Amazing sweets, real treats.

Del Campo / Lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner, Mon.-Wed. 5:30-10:30pm., Thu.-Sat. to 11pm, Sun. 5-10pm. Entrée price range: $22-$49. 777 I St., NW; (202) 289-7377; www.delcampodc.com.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.