Blame it on Guy Fieri and his barbecue-sushi restaurant, but fusion is often considered a dirty word in culinary circles. Fortunately, José Andrés’ brand of fusion at China Chilcano is rooted in culture and history, not a slot-machine combination of random cuisines. The restaurant’s Chinese-Peruvian (chifa) and Japanese-Peruvian (nikkei) food is born from the melding of flavors and ingredients that happened when Asian immigrants came to Peru in the late 19th century. Today, these hybrid cuisines are as much a part of Peru’s culinary identity as General Tso’s is part of America’s.
The dim sum section is a good place to start on the sprawling menu. The best dumplings are the shrimp, pork, jicama, and peanut “siu mai” crowned with soft eggs and a shimmer of gold leaf. When you bite in, the runny yolk oozes out. Fried rice (chaufa) and noodles (tallarines) are another area of the menu not to pass over. Hong Kong-style rice noodles are shaped like translucent green beans and topped with a tomato stew, scrambled egg, black garlic, cilantro, and five spices. The ingredients are all familiar, and yet you’ve probably never had anything like it.
Meanwhile, concolón is quickly becoming one of the restaurant’s staples. Prepared tableside, this clay bowl is filled with aji amarillo-flavored fried rice, fatty pork belly, sweet Chinese sausage, pickled turnip, shiitake mushroom, soft eggs, and bok choy. A server pours a soy and oyster sauce over the dish, then mixes it up, making sure to scrape the burnt bits of rice from the bottom. The dish is topped with chicharrons and served with a hot sauce.
The Japanese-Peruvian section on the menu focuses on the raw fish with ceviches, sashimi, and nigiri that uses potato causa (mashed until smooth) rather than rice. An open fish prep counter and raw bar with a half-dozen seats gives diners a direct view of the seafood’s freshness, as does a lobster tank, from which live crustaceans are plucked for dinner.
In addition to the Chinese and Japanese-influenced dishes, the menu features some Peruvian classics, too—or at least Andrés’ winking take on them. One of the best examples is the sudado de pescado. China Chilcano adds some flare to this slow-poached red snapper dish with tomato, potato, and red pepper by enveloping it in a bubble of clear parchment fastened with a golden ribbon. When it’s untied, an aromatic cloud wafts out. A server then pours a small carafe of leche de tigre or “tiger’s milk”—a lime-based marinade used for ceviche—over the fish and sprinkles on herbs and marigold flowers. It’s the kind of presentation you’d otherwise find on the avant-garde $250 tasting menu at Minibar.
Cocktails are just as noteworthy as the food. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better pisco sour in D.C., but the drink menu gives you a chance to explore a number of other pisco drinks, too, including macerados (pisco infused with fruits, herbs, and spices) like cinnamon-star anise and cherry.
Like all of Andrés’ restaurants, China Chilcano’s funky decor is as much a part of the experience as the meal. Neon lights on the ceiling resemble Peru’s Nazca Lines, a series of huge ancient markings on the ground depicting animals whose full shapes can only be seen from the sky. In addition, shipyard docks were the inspiration for crates and ropes that hang from the ceilings and a wall made from a bright red shipping container. Japanese and Chinese styles of seating are imported, too. A tatami table is built for diners to sit on the ground, while other group tables are outfitted with lazy susans. Just make sure to keep rotating the siu mai to your side of the table.