A riddle wrapped in a mystery topped with ceviche, Aji continually satisfies even as it fails to transport. We hold them utterly blameless while searching in vain for the source of our tepidness in response. It cannot be the ocean fare (Brazilian seafood stew, grilled scallop, crab stuffed tiger shrimp, whole Branzini) for it is well-imagined and usually executed with great skill. It cannot be the meatstuffs (roasted pork tenderloin, seared duck breast, braised lamb shank) for they honor the palate and are accessorized with sides (e.g. chayote, farofa) and sauces (e.g. smoked tomatillo, chimichurri) that honor their origins south of the Panama Canal.
What, then? The interior and the patio are inviting (the virtual tour on their website proves it – gorgeous!) The bar delivers. The lounge relaxes. The staff plays by the rules. The location can’t be beat. Some establishments manage to exert a magnetic attraction that lays claim to one’s attention over distance, elevating the place to the top of the list when the question “Where to?” is posed. For some reason, Aji seems to rise to second or third, but rarely first. Why? It’s a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, inside an empanada.