On the first night of my conference in D.C., I hung out with a dear friend and two of her awesome business colleagues at our opening reception, then accompanied them on a quest before dinner. We ended up at the Peruvian-Chinese-Japanese restaurant China Chilcano (https://chinachilcano.com/), owned and operated by the now-legendary chef, philanthropist, and amazing human being José Andrés. Chef Andrés is currently a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work in Puerto Rico after the devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017. And on top of all of that, he was also the culinary consultant for one of my favorite shows ever, Hannibal, where he worked alongside food stylist Janice Poon and showrunner Bryan Fuller in making Hannibal Lecter’s Grand Guignol gourmet creations look tantalizing and tasty. It’s an amazing show — far better than the movies! — and you can currently stream all three seasons on Amazon Prime. Trust me on this one. It’s one of the best food shows ever, on top of being a ripping psychological thriller.
The China Chilcano website describes the interesting fusion of three cuisines. Criollo is the native Peruvian style of cooking, “Chifa is where traditional Chinese techniques meet the exotic flair of Peruvian ingredients, while Nikkei features Japanese-inspired dishes using native techniques and ingredients.” I know Peruvian-Chinese chifa was a thing, but I had somehow made it this far in life without ever trying it. I’m sadly not that well-versed in traditional Peruvian food either, but this delightfully delicious dinner convinced me to dig deeper into it back home.
Here’s the menu, even though it’s also on the website:
We were lucky enough to get reservations for China Chilcano on a Saturday night, and it was hopping! When we were first seated, our server brought out a bowl of really crunchy Inca-style roasted corn, similar to the Corn Nuts some people love as snacks. I gotta admit, I wasn’t a huge fan. These were way too hard and crunchy for me.
Lucky for us, we happened to visit during the Ceviche Festival! I sure love sushi and poke, but I’m not nearly as experienced with ceviche, raw seafood “cooked” by the acid in citrus juices, a staple of Peruvian cuisine. My very generous dining companions picked up the tab and went all out. We chose three ceviches dishes and shared everything:
This was the ceviche Nikkei: big eye tuna, soy-cured egg yolk, ponzu sauce, puffed quinoa, avocado, crunchy jicama, red onion, and furikake seasoning. It looked gorgeous and tasted even better.
This was the salmon tiradito, with Ora king salmon, watermelon radish, avocado, and sweety-drop peppers. It was one of the most beautiful plates of food I’ve ever been served, and I think we all agreed on that, but its beauty didn’t stop us from devouring it.
And this was the ceviche anticuchero (my choice), with smoked mackerel, aji panca leche de tigre (a citrus-based spicy marinade made with a fruity, smoky Peruvian pepper), burnt avocado, potatoes, and onions. Delicious.
These were Szechuan chili wontons, a Chifa-style dish with shrimp and pork dumplings, Szechuan chili oil, and fermented black beans.
These were lamb pot stickers called Pegao Norteño, a Criollo-style dish with aderezo norteño (northern dressing?), crispy cumin lace, and gold flake. I felt bougie and weird eating anything served with gold flake, and I don’t think it added anything to the dish, which was already very beautiful. Good pot stickers, though — and I always love any preparations of lamb. The crispy cumin lace was very thin and fragile and easily snapped apart, with the pot stickers easy to remove from underneath.
This was the Aeropuerto, a Chifa-style dish with fried rice, egg noodles, crisp sweet potato, seasonal vegetables, soy bean sprouts, and “airplanes” (see the pink leafy thing on top). I didn’t order this dish, and when our server mentioned it had mushrooms in it, I refrained from trying it.
This final dish was another one of my selections: the Concolon, another Chifa-style dish that was described on the menu as being “perfect for the table.” It was a crispy fried rice pot with pork belly from Heritage Farm in Seven Springs, NC, egg, lap xeong Chinese sausage (one of my favorite ingredients), bok choy, and rocoto peppers. I asked them to serve the shitaake mushrooms on the side, for my sake. I liked the crispy pork rinds on the top and loved the sweet, chewy Chinese sausage, something I’m always happy to see when it turns up in my fried rice.
As you can see, it was a pretty legendary dinner. I am so grateful to my old friend and her teammates, who I am lucky to now consider friends as well, for inviting me along with them and treating me to this sumptuous fusion feast. This was my first visit to one of Chef José Andrés’ restaurants, and it would not be my last!