Photos By Clarissa Villondo, Words By Logan Hollers
Jose Andres is a goddamn magician. Seriously, like, everything the guy touches turns to gold. Feel like Greek or Mediterranean? There’s Zaytinya, home to the most beautiful dining room in D.C. Want some tapas? You’ve got Jaleo, basically the start of the small plates movement in D.C.. Looking for a more South of the border experience? Head to Oyamel, with its incredible ceviche and guacamole. Special occasion? Minibar’s your play, one of the best restaurants in D.C., full stop. And on and on…and that’s just in D.C. alone!
Add to this list China Chilcano, Jose’s newest venture. China Chilcano’s premise is simple: the influences of Asian migrant culture on Peruvian cuisine. (Which, actually, is a little more complex. Sorry.) The menu really runs the gamut – some classic Peruvian dishes, and lots of Asian influence, especially the Chinese Chifa and Japanese Nikkei cuisines. Open for a few months, the restaurant is hitting full-stride, and racking up rave reviews along the way. Now that they’re settled in, new executive chef Omar Rodriguez and the crew recently jumped on D.C.’s favorite bandwagon: brunch.
You’ve heard this from me before: I don’t like desserts. Well, news flash – I also don’t like breakfast food. Bacon’s great (obvs), but eggs, pancakes, toast, etc.? Just doesn’t do it for me. This is precisely why I flippin’ love the new China Chilcano brunch.
First, of course, the cocktails. Let’s get real here: mimosas are just OK. They’re too sweet, brunches usually use shitty “champagne” (or prosecco or cava), and they inevitably lead to the late afternoon hangover/nap time. Bloody Marys, too – I love salt and savory, and a Bloody Mary always sounds great in theory. Yet every time, I get halfway done and wonder why I didn’t just order a beer. Is a boozy, refreshing brunch cocktail really too much to ask? Jose Andres: “Nope.”
Start with a carafe of the Chilcano Macerado, a mix of pisco, lime, bitters, and Fever Tree ginger ale. Available in three different flavors (strawberry, cucumber, and grapefruit), *this* is what I’m talking about, morning cocktail-wise – bright, light, and refreshing. I’m partial to the light acidity of the grapefruit version, but I’m certainly not turning my nose up at a strawberry-cucumber combo.
I admit, sometimes a whole carafe of booze is a lot to ask, especially before noon. If that’s the case, reach instead for a Jade Garden: pisco, cucumber, cilantro, lemon, vanilla, and … wait for it … a dash of soy sauce (almost imperceptible) to add some umami oomph. It tastes…green. Just what I want to clear out last night’s cobwebs.
Like the cocktails, Chef Rodriguez’s menu turns the concept of brunch on its head, offering some truly innovative dishes that veer away from the American brunch concept of “eggs + meat + starch.”
Best of the bunch is the Chicharron de Costillas de Cerdo, a baking dish with four meaty pork ribs. The ribs, first confited then deep-fried, are set in crunchy lettuce leaves and topped with sweet potato, cancha (puffy, toasted Andean corn kernels), and salsa criolla, a mix of sliced red onion, cilantro, and chili peppers. Grab the combo in one hand, pull out the bone with the other, and boom: your own pork rib taco. Outstanding.
Just as good is the Jook, a rice porridge topped with roasted and grilled pork belly, crisp fried shallots, soy sauce, a tea-poached boiled egg, and chiracha, China Chilcano’s take on Sriracha. Salty and bursting with umami, this is hangover food at its most primal. I will order this on multiple winter weekend mornings.
For a lighter appetite, the menu offers a Hiyashi Soba. Chilled buckwheat noodles, cucumber, kumato tomatoes, avocado, and sesame seed make up the salad; a small carafe of ponzu and white soy dressing comes along. The dressing, blasted with mirin, soy, and citrus, goes over the noodles; slurp, enjoy. You rarely see cold dishes for brunch. The bright vinegar/citrus acidity was a welcome change.
There are, of course, at least a few “traditional” brunch offerings. The Tortilla China is a play on an omelet and egg foo young. Stuffed with smoked ham, fresh crab, scallion, and jicama, the dish is topped with bean sprouts and finished at the table with a rich oyster sauce. Along the lines of a regular brunch, but with a definite Asian twist.
Similarly, the Picante de Huevos is a great egg dish mixed with some Latin influence. Poached eggs, Peruvian red pepper, pork belly, potato, and tomato are served in a thin red broth. Break the eggs, mix in the yolk, and crush the remaining sauce with the accompanying bread.
Still want a sweet option? Hit up the Dorayaki: quinoa pancakes with a sweet potato filling, pecan butter, and a spiced maple syrup and toasted quinoa. I don’t like sweet things. I really don’t like pancakes. I tried this. I bet most people would think it was really good.
But enough of normal brunch. Back to the good stuff. Go Japanese with the Futomaki (literally, “fat roll”), a sushi roll filled with sweet egg omelet, bok choy, shitake mushroom, aji pepper, and plantains. A pile of pickled daikon helps rinse out the fat and heat of the roll, and hints of sweetness from the plantain balance out the rich soy glaze. Was this good? Was it still just a big sushi roll for $12? Yep. Stick with the options above.
That amazing salsa criolla makes a final appearance in the Tamalito Verde (green tamale). A steamed choclo (Peruvian corn) and cilantro tamale is wrapped around sautéed chicken, wrapped in a corn husk, then steamed; the result is smooth and savory, with the chicken and hominy combining into a paté-like consistency, great for mopping up the subtly spicy sauce. That salsa criolla keeps everything from getting too mushy.
D.C. has a serious brunch addiction. If you’re tired of the same old, same old, get to China Chilcano and chase away your hangover in style in one of the more interesting dining rooms in D.C. Agradiseyki!