To say China Chilcano's opening has been hotly anticipated is an understatement. The Peruvian restaurant with Chinese leanings is the latest in the successful line of Washington, D.C. restaurants from José Andrés, the Spanish-born chef who led the effort to make "tapas" a household word in the U.S.
The handsome space--decked out in vibrant red neon and bamboo poles--sits on a 7th Street NW block with Andrés' Spanish Jaleo on the north end and his Mexican Oyamel on the other. Just a couple blocks away reside his Mediterranean Zaytinya and gastronomic laboratory Minibar (and its attached bar, Barmini). If you count his roving truck, Pepe (and I wouldn't discount its tasty sandwiches), that makes 7 different ways to enjoy his food in D.C. Top chef indeed.
Although China Chilcano's menu fuses South American and Asian flavors, this isn't "fusion" in the typical sense of smacking together two disparate cuisines. Rather, as explained by our server (and the restaurant's website), the cuisine is fundamentally Peruvian as influenced by the country's Asian immigrant cuisines, particularly Chinese (Chifa, in Peru) and Japanese (Nikkei).
|(top) Cholotini; (bottom) Pisco Sour|
Diners experienced with eating at Andrés' restaurants will find the dinner menu familiar: small plates divided into groupings, some of which are more obviously meant as starters (dim sum, salads and vegetables) and entrees. In the latter camp, China Chilcano's menu features "Chaufas and Tallarines" (fried rice and noodles), the Chinese Connection (the most obvious "fusion" dishes) and "Peruvian to the Bone."
We chose one dish from six of the menu's nine groupings and tried to strike a balance between its more Asian- and Peruvian-leaning dishes. We weren't disappointed with anything we had. China Chilcano's Asian-influenced Peruvian dishes are as enjoyable to eat as they are beautiful to look at.
|(top) Yuquitas Rellenas (yuca fritters); (bottom) Pegao Norteño (lamb pot stickers)|
|Aeropuerto (fried rice and noodles)|
|(top) Lomo Saltado (steak with vegetables and fries); (bottom) Aji de Galina (chicken stew)|
|Ponderaciones de Kiwicha|
The service at China Chilcano has a different vibe than that at other Andrés-run restaurants. At places like Jaleo and Oyamel, I'm used to the dishes coming out pretty fast, often together, making for a speedy sometimes almost rushed dinner. At China Chilcano, the food arrived one plate at a time, sometimes with a significant interval between dishes (and a really rather long wait for our dessert, but hey, they're still pretty new). The entire vibe of the place is just more relaxed, certainly than at Oyamel, which can feel rather manic on a busy weekend night. We were in China Chilcano on a Saturday evening, and it definitely felt more laid back, which was great.
There are a lot of reasons to love China Chilcano, from the food to the drinks to the ambiance. It even deserves a pat on the back for ending one of D.C.'s longest-running teases. After the Olsson's bookstore that formerly occupied the space closed in 2008, Wagamama, a British-owned chain of Japanese noodle bars acquired an interest in the space and put up a "coming soon" sign not once but twice since 2009, finally officially nixing its plans in 2012. Much as I do love Wagamama and had hoped it would come here, I'm more than happy that Andrés has filled the spot with an original vision that delights and satisfies has much as his other nearby establishments. ¡Salud!
China Chilcano, 418 7th Street NW (between D and E Streets NW), Washington, D.C. (Penn Quarter). (202) 783-0941. Reservations: Yelp SeatMe