China Chilcano by José Andrés
My family recently took a trip to Washington DC. My youngest brother moved there last year, so the five of us (mom, dad, brother, husband, and myself) palled around the city for a few days of whole-hearted family vacation realness. I’m talking fanny packs, clunky walking shoes, breaks for sunscreen reapplications, the whole nine yards. It also meant food, food, and more food. Our days started with a homemade breakfast at the Airbnb catered by my father/in-home chef. Once we finished that, we would find a spot for coffee and danish. From there we would go to lunch, then more coffee and snacks, then dinner, then post-dinner drinks and of course, a late-night meal. This post highlights the best thing I ate, and I’ll follow that up with a post about the worst. As it happens, the worst thing I hate was also the most interesting and the most fun story to re-tell, so even the worst was great!
Let’s start with the best.
I come from a family of foodies and restaurant industry folk. My parents met while serving in the same restaurant in downtown Milwaukee. When I was very young, my mom would let me skip preschool and take me to work with her, a restaurant owned by my aunt and uncle. I would roll silverware in the corner booth and steal sugar sticks from behind the bar. All that is to say that the food love runs deep. My dad has a habit of stopping to read every (and I mean every) menu that is posted outside of a restaurant to study its various culinary delights. I have a habit of looking into every (and I mean every) restaurant window to inspect its interior decor. China Chilcano stopped both of us in our tracks and we had no choice but to go inside.
China Chilcano is just one of the many DC restaurants opened by their resident celebrity chef José Andrés. It’s menu is Peruvian, and you know what, why don’t I just let him tell you about it. From their website:
“CHINA CHILCANO CELEBRATES THE RICH CULINARY DIVERSITY OF PERU AND BRINGS AN EXCITING EXPLORATION OF THIS MULTICULTURAL CUISINE TO OUR NATION’S CAPITAL. THE RESTAURANT HONORS PERU’S DEEPLY ROOTED AND DIVERSE HERITAGE, INCLUDING ITS NATIVE CRIOLLO, CHINESE CHIFA AND JAPANESE NIKKEI CUISINES; ITS NAME AN HOMAGE TO PERU’S RENOWNED FISH STEW AND ITS POPULAR NATIONAL DRINK, THE CHILCANO. CHINA CHILCANO RANKS CONSISTENTLY AS A TOP DC DINING DESTINATION, AND WAS AWARDED A BIB GOURMAND IN THE 2017 AND 2018 MICHELIN GUIDE TO WASHINGTON, DC.”
Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) was amazing. I ordered the Pegao Norteño Dim Sum; lamb post sticker, norteño, crispy cumin lace, gold flake. Did I order it because I saw “gold flake” listed in the description? Sure I did. Would I order it again regardless of its insta-worthiness? Absolutely. I don’t know how to describe it because I’m a foodie who can’t describe food and am limited to words like “really good” and “super yummy,” so trust me when I say it was really good and super yummy, and it looked to me like a jellyfish which I found delightful. Better than that, it was unlike anything I had ever eaten before. My brother had the fried rice, and it was insanely good. It was a lot like fried rice we’ve all had before, but somehow different. Fresher, more dynamic, more interesting, more “super yummy.” My mom ordered a beautiful dish that was essentially just a bowl of vegetables but damn, it was the best bowl of vegetables! To drink, my dad ordered a simple Arnold Palmer, and he said it was the best he had ever had. It’s not as though it was a signature drink or anything, he just asked for half iced tea half lemon aid, but it somehow came out better than all the rest . I don’t know what it is about this place, maybe it’s the beautiful murals, or the intricate neon lighting, or the historic influence of the menu but it really does create a world for you where everything is different, and everything is delicious. We didn’t save room for desert, which at first was a great disappointment, but looking back it actually makes me happy. It’s always nice to have a reason to go back to a place, but also, what if it had ruined deserts for me? I have quite the sweet tooth, and if I had encountered the best dessert ever there, how could I continue living my happy, ignorant, mediocre dessert-filed life? I’m just not ready for that veil to be lifted quite yet.
If my ultra-lamen food revue didn’t convince you, visit China Chilcano for the chef behind it. Aside from being a culinary artist, José Andrés was one of the driving forces behind starting staring “Bourdain Day” to honor Anthony Bordain’s memory, served government workers for free during the latest government shut down, and founded World Central Kitchen, an action-based non-profit investing in solutions to fight hunger and poverty. So yeah, he seems like a pretty solid dude.
There you have it, that was the best place I ate in DC! I’ll be posting about the worst soon, I promise it won’t be a rant session. The food was terrible but the experience was one of my favorites.