Dining Out D.C.: Inside José Andrés’ China Chilcano

This celebrity chef’s multicultural restaurant serves up a mixed plate of Peruvian Criollo, Japanese Nikkei and Chinese Chilfa cuisines.

When star chef José Andrés takes a trip, he brings back more than recipes. His visit to Japan with Nobu Matsuhisa, for example, yielded insights put to fine use at his new Penn Quarter homage to the foods of (surprise!) Peru, where Chinese and Japanese citizens affect the culture with homeland traditions.

As spirited servers are likely to explain, however, diners won’t find at China (say CHEEN-a) Chilcano the dishes they’d taste in Peru. Plates here derive from three cuisines there—Peruvian Criollo, Chinese Chifa and Japanese Nikkei. One dish (poached Spanish octopus with avocado and cilantro) has the most telling name: Rosita Yimura. So expect chef Omar Rodriguez and team to pair native ingredients in fresh ways with brilliant, sometimes surreal color, and look for cocktail masters to be inventive with one of North America’s “largest libraries of pisco.”

A classic pisco sour

Even the dining zones signal this diversity—the “market” with “packing crate” décor and a Peruvian fantasy mural, the dim sum counter with a trio of chefs at work and the “tatami” pavilion with hidden legroom for westerners. Above it all, neon swirls that guests may recognize as elements of the Nazca lines, mysterious forms carved long ago in stony dust on a high plain of the Andes.

Hawaiian sunfish ceviche

Highlights of multi-culti feasting: ceviches like Hawaiian sunfish with Japanese-style tiradito, watermelon radish and white soy ponzu; duck tongue skewers with cape gooseberries; lamb pot sticker with cumin and gold flake; Hong Kong “silver” noodles with tomato stew and black garlic; and “concolon” (as in “came with Columbus”!), a crispy fried rice pot holding three kinds of pork, daikon, shiitakes and bok choy. Finishes include coconut “birds nest” soup, fruit popsicles, shaved purple corn ice or the unusual fried spiral cookie with chocolate and Algarrobina ice cream.

“Concolon” fried rice hot pot

Andrés himself reps the ultimate émigré success story. A naturalized U.S. citizen, the Spanish native has created with Think Food Group an empire of 18 restaurants, some in chic hotels, plus food trucks. Add to that resume the man’s righteous credentials—James Beard Outstanding Chef, TV shows and cookbooks as well as collaborations with museums and devotion to serious causes and culinary education.

No surprise, in light of Donald Trump’s comments—re: immigration—Andrés and company withdrew from the contract to run a flagship restaurant within the Trump International Hotel. Trump has sued (for $10 million), and Andrés has countersued (for $8 million), while that luxe project, underway and slated to open later in 2016, transforms the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, the capital’s ceremonial Main Street. Stay tuned.

Jean Lawlor Cohen
About the author