The Dish: quinotto

The Location: Las Canteras, 2307 18th St. NW, (202) 265-1780

The Price: $11

The Skinny: The music seeping into my ears at Las Canteras is no doubt supposed to be the aural equivalent of movie extras: It fills dead space, but you’re not supposed to pay it any mind. Yet I can’t stop grinding my teeth as one sappy pop instrumental follows another: a toothless version of “The Sounds of Silence” one minute, a bloodless rendition of the Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why” the next. I’m trapped in hell, and it tastes like Peru. My nice-guy waiter, a native of the South American country, is similarly all rounded edges. He apologies for suggesting the lomo saltado after I reject the entree and order the quinotto instead. On first taste, chef Eddy Ancasi‘s quinoa dish may seem a little milquetoast, too, but I suspect that’s on purpose. Unlike many rice-based risottos, made overly salty with chicken stocks and the like, Ancasi’s quinoa version goes easy on the sodium chloride. In fact, when I ask the waiter what kind of stock Ancasi uses, he returns with the answer straight from the chef: none. Ancasi apparently boils the quinoa in water until tender, then mixes in a heated mixture of diced red onions, garlic, mushrooms, milk, and parmesan cheese. His approach allows the subtle, nutty flavor of the ivory-colored quinoa—-the “mother of all grains” in Ancasi’s native Peru—-to take center stage. Even more impressive is the dish’s balance: Each ingredient plays its part—-the creaminess of the milk and cheese, the sweet pungency of the onions, the earthiness of the mushrooms—-without any one dominating the other. It’s the kind of balance you crave when the background music has you out of sorts.